Article by Richard Geres
As you may suspect, you are not alone with your chocolate cravings. The question is where are these cravings coming from? Cravings for chocolate or sugar can occur for a number of reasons, and the first step in deducing your craving is to understand why you are craving it the first place.
While several factors may contribute to chocolate being your sweet vice, part of the problem may be that you have a magnesium deficiency. Many people are deficient in magnesium, and chocolate is often a source of this important mineral. According to Dr. Carolyn Dean’s book, The Magnesium Miracle, magnesium has been largely ignored in health care, yet it has been scientifically proven to be a vital part of our overall health. In America nearly two-thirds of the population are deficient because of the high amount of junk food in diets. If you are eating more junk foods and highly processed foods, you are not getting enough of the right vitamins and minerals into your body.
Benefits of magnesium
Magnesium is required for over 300 biochemical reactions throughout the body. Magnesium is vital for the following:
- Maintenance of healthy muscle
- Nerve and heart function
- Bone and teeth health – just as important as calcium!
- Regulating blood pressure and blood sugar levels
- Maintaining tissue sensitivity to insulin
- Detoxifies toxic chemicals and eliminates heavy metals from the body
Interestingly, clinicians often note that magnesium deficiency leads to sugar cravings and chocolate cravings that disappear as soon as magnesium levels are brought back to normal. Because large amounts of magnesium are found in the hippocampus (the “emotional, thought and memory center of the brain”), deficiencies may form the emotional environment which encourages carbohydrate cravings.
A number of both animal and rat trials have shown that stress triggers chocolate cravings, which may in turn be related to noradrenaline and dopamine levels in the brain.
Dopamine has been called the “pleasure neurotransmitter” and evidence shows that dopamine is a magnesium-dependent neurotransmitter. It is possible that low levels of magnesium trigger low levels in dopamine in the brain, possibly triggering desires for chocolate as a biological attempt to increase dopamine and thus increase pleasure.
According to the Nutrition Guide for Clinicians, magnesium deficiency can lead to migraines, particularly menstrual migraines. Other serious conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, asthma, bronchial diseases, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s may be partially attributed to magnesium deficiency, as these patients often have low levels of this mineral.
Magnesium-rich foods include spinach, black beans, halibut, pumpkin and squash seeds, okra, whole grains, scallops and cacao/chocolate.
Now, back to chocolate…
Does this mean you should run out and stock up on chocolate bars? Unfortunately, no. Most chocolate treats are also loaded with refined sugars, which are harmful to your body. To receive the true benefits of chocolate, including its high magnesium content, it’s important to find the purest form of chocolate. That means the higher cacao content, the better.
Cacao is the pure, original form of chocolate. The cacao plant has small beans containing the cacao, which is harvested, processed and turned into your favorite chocolate bar. There are dark chocolate bars with 60, 70 or 85% cacao content. While these are much better than their milk chocolate counterparts, they still contain sugar and other added ingredients. The healthiest option is to consume pure, raw organic cacao in powder or nibs form. Cacao is not only high in magnesium, but this super food is also an excellent source of dietary fiber, polyphenols and flavanols.
How to eat cacao
Cacao powder is delicious in a smoothie! Try combining the following ingredients in a blender – or experiment with your own – to make a super smoothie for breakfast or lunch. It’ll help give your body a major boost of essential vitamins and minerals and help curb that chocolate craving.
- 1 tsp cacao powder
- 200ml rice or almond milk
- ½ ripe avocado
- ½ banana
- 1 T raw, all natural almond butter
- ½ cup raw kale, stems removed
Because it is likely that mineral deficiencies are widespread, particularly in the dieting population, it is important that some assessment of mineral status be made. Correcting mineral deficiencies can go a long way toward helping the frustrated dieter control her impulses to eat something sweet, something fatty, or something devoid of nutrition in an attempt to satisfy an inner compulsion.
Richard Geres is an ACE-certified Personal Trainer