Sweet Tooth | April Zuo
Updated: Oct 25
Hey, you, yes you. Let’s play a round of word association.
Ready? 3, 2, 1…
What was the first thing to come to mind?
For me, it’s comfort food, and consequently at least three pounds up on the scale. But, focus on the first part. Seeing as we’re all high school students here, I’m not even going to go into all the stress we’re dealing with because man, you would know. Which is why, if I’m being honest, and I will be, I’ve been eating a tad more chocolate than usual lately. In fact, I’m tearing through a fun size pack of M&Ms and a Twix bar as I write. And you know the drill, you’ve heard the term “comfort food” before, and you’ve most likely indulged at some point in your life. Then, why chocolate? Why is this little brown square of sweetness (or bitterness) so associated with serotonin? Why does it provide us comfort and dull our pain receptors?
Or, if we back up a little, does it?
Because the thing is, there have been studies supporting both sides of the argument.
A study by researchers at the University of Minnesota found that there was no significant difference between an improvement in participant mood regardless of the food that they ate after a distressing experience. Even though 81% of the participants were confident that eating a comfort food would make them feel better than another food they enjoyed, and the most popular comfort food chosen was chocolate, maybe it really is just a psychological effect. In fact, some experts have pointed out that negative emotions dissipate naturally over time, and it is very plausible that people simply attribute this process to the food that they've eaten. A placebo effect, if you will.
However, it is later found that the act of eating chocolate does, indeed, produce dopamine, essentially an anti-stress hormone that is released every time you do something that brings you joy. Surprisingly, though, it isn’t just the act of eating that produces this chemical, and chocolate is actually one of only ten foods that have been found to significantly increase dopamine levels when eaten. Also, chocolate contains amounts of magnesium, a micromineral that some people, especially women, and especially especially women on their periods, lack.
For some of you reading, that explains a lot, doesn’t it?
Furthermore, a study by the University of Chicago in the early 2000s showed that eating chocolate or drinking water reduces rats’ responses to a hot stimulus. We are, of course, more interested in the former.
In this experiment, rats were given a chocolate chip to eat while a lightbulb is turned on below their steel wire cage. Usually, this stimulus would cause the rats to lift up their paws. However, it was found that they were much slower to raise their paws while eating the chocolate. Again, the study found that eating something pleasurable dulls pain receptors, as a region in the brainstem, called the raphe magnus, is turned on. This reaction is easy enough to understand in the context of natural selection, as animals would not want to be distracted during the rare times they would be able to eat. Apparently, this evolution in the brainstem has continued to carry over, and evidently very quickly became one of the reasons so many people fell in love with chocolate.
Besides, believe it or not, chocolate is good for you. Dark chocolate has been scientifically shown to lower blood pressure, reduce risk for diabetes, and boost mental performance. Dark chocolate also contains flavanols, compounds that activate enzymes that lead to better blood flow, which is good for your heart.
So, we’ve made it to the end, and did you really need to know all of that? I don’t know man, I think that’s up to you to decide, but hey, now you certainly have a lot more information backing up your decision to satisfy your sweet tooth.
Now, go eat some chocolate.