With Easter just around the corner, supermarkets are already filled with delicious, decadent Easter eggs. James Collier, registered nutritionist, co-founder and head of sustainable nutrition at leading nutritionally complete food brand, Huel, spoke exclusively to Express.co.uk about why we crave chocolate and how we can navigate this.
James began: “It’s been a few thousand years since chocolate became a thing. It started in Mexico, I believe, and it was used in rituals back then as well.”
But why do people have an obsession with chocolate in the modern day?
The nutritionist explained: “The chocolate we have available here is very sweet and obviously tastes lovely.
“There are some active components in it, one of which is something called theobromine, also found in tea, which is a stimulant a bit like caffeine. And it gives us a positive feeling.”
Consequently, anything that gives the body or brain a positive feeling is “going to be something that we crave”.
This means that chocolate lovers are not at fault for their sweet tooth; they are practically programmed to want to eat it.
“A lot of what applies to chocolate applies to a lot of food that we crave.
“The cravings are built, typically when we’re younger, because we’re given these things and therefore have fond memories of them.”
Going back tens of thousands of years, “when our hunter-gatherer ancestors were out and they were looking for food there would be an impulse to go for fruits”.
The hunter-gatherer instinct is still there, but now “we don’t have to go hunter-gathering – we’ve got to go to the supermarket at worse, and more often than not we have chocolate in our cupboards”.
Dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in motivation and pleasure, encourages us to “get up, go to the kitchen, open the cupboard and get that chocolate bar out”.
Eating chocolate also releases endorphins, feel-good chemicals known as the body’s natural painkillers.
But if chocolate makes people feel so good, how can they manage their cravings?
“The good thing is, those positive effects can also come from dark chocolate, not just the lovely Cadbury’s milk chocolate or Hershey’s bar.
“It has got sugar in it these days – without it, it’s quite vile – but it’s not as bad, so a small amount of dark chocolate might help a craving.”
So many brands offer healthy alternatives to high calorie chocolate bars, with James recommending Huel’s vegan cocoa-coated high protein and low calorie bar.
“And don’t go shopping on an empty stomach. That’s a basic rule, and it won’t just stop you buying the chocolate but also the crisps and everything else that goes with it.”
For those after the hit of endorphins, James suggested that moving the body more might just do the trick.
“If you’re feeling a bit glum, chocolate will cheer you up, and that’s partly related to the endorphins.
“Exercise will also help release endorphins, which can help combat the craving.”
Another thing that exercise does is increase appetite, and while slimmers may see that as “a total disaster”, James dispelled this fear.
“When you’re hungry, genuinely hungry and not just peckish, you’re much more likely to eat anything, in which case you can choose a healthier option.”
Still desperate for a sugar hit? James recommended fruit.
“As a practical suggestion, is it really a craving for chocolate?
“You can get lovely sweet apples, berries, and melon is great and really low calorie for those trying to watch that.”
Having a cup of tea is also handy when the chocolate cravings kick in, as it contains the aforementioned theobromine.
But while these tips are all super effective in combatting cravings, there’s no harm in the occasional indulgence.
Huel’s James concluded: “If you’ve really got a craving and your diet is otherwise impeccable, knock yourself out, it’s not going to do you any harm.”
Huel is a world leading, plant-based nutritionally complete food brand. Huel products provide you with all 26 essential vitamins and minerals, protein, essential fats, carbs, fibre and phytonutrients your body needs.