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Do We Truly Crave Chocolate?

Some scientists say we do. Chocolate contains almost 400 chemicals, some of which produce feelings of well-being. Caffeine and a chemical in chocolate called theobromine boost brain function and increase alertness. Also present, the chemical phenylethylamine influences the nervous system in such a way that it may induce feelings similar to being in love.

Tyramine and tryptophan, which are converted to serotonin and dopamine in the brain, enhance perceptions of pleasure and lift your mood. Plus, anandamide, a flavor enhancer added to the cocoa, sugar and fat in chocolate‚ may provoke a mild addiction, but only if you eat 25 pounds of it at once!

No one is likely to go that far, but last year, almost 17 billion dollars of chocolate was sold in the U.S., where the average person is said to indulge in 11 pounds of chocolate each year. We fall behind the Swiss, the world leader in this competition, who consume more than 21 pounds per person each year.

Some people may say they eat chocolate‚ especially dark chocolate – for the health benefits. Chocolate is said to lower blood pressure and cholesterol. Cocoa beans, once considered so valuable that they were used as currency, contain powerful antioxidant properties known as flavonoids which are said to reduce the risk of stroke and heart attack. Chocolate also contains numerous vitamins and minerals including magnesium, calcium, iron and zinc.

In truth, most people eat chocolate for its flavor, aroma, texture and appearance. We also associate chocolate with expressions of love and an aura of luxury. Even the ancient Aztecs considered consumption of chocolate to be a divine experience. Their legends taught that the god Quetzalcoatl brought cacao seeds from heaven.

Self-described chocoholics, passionate aficionados and loyal fans all agree: It doesn’t matter why we want it – just pass the chocolate!