Food cravings do not, unfortunately, always mean that your body “needs” something that is in the food you’re craving. The hormones that govern sensations of hunger and craving are complex, and they don’t work alone – they’re tied in to your body’s other systems that report on stress (good and bad), sleep, and other facets of your beautiful existence. (Check out a little bit of chocolate science, if you’d like.)
However, there are at least two “good” reasons that we crave chocolate, and there is nothing wrong with honoring this craving – especially if you do it with a little bit of thought. One is that dark chocolate is a great source of magnesium and an adequate source of iron, both of which often run low for women. The other is that chocolate’s unique chemicals may boost your mood (although this study says otherwise…but it was done on men, so….).
Even if it’s all psychosocial conditioning, chocolate can be pretty awesome, so here are my recommended craving busters that will fit seamlessly into your life every day without bringing any hidden sugar or other unwanted pals to the party:
1. If you’re standing in front of the pantry feeling the need to nibble on EVERYTHING, especially chocolate and processed carbs, you may be low on iron.
I’m not a doctor, but your health professional can pretty easily test you for anemia (so common and so easily fixed). If you find this endless kind of snacky craving around a certain week every month, you might want to try boosting your consumption of iron-containing foods (some ideas here). Again as your non-doctor, I do not recommend taking an iron supplement often without being tested for anemia, because too much iron can be pretty bad for you pretty fast!
Where’s the chocolate in this equation? Under careful portion control. It’s not worth giving in to this type of craving – by the time you ate enough chocolate to satisfy your iron need, you would have some wicked diarrhea. (Sorry, but true.) So have a square or two to get the taste that you’re looking for, but no matter what it tells you, your body DOES NOT need three chocolate bars back to back.
2. If you want chocolate because you feel really stressed out, you may be low on magnesium or calcium.
Many of you have heard my story about how my Dr. Pepper craving at work was actually a calcium craving (science suggests that the phosphoric acid in dark sodas might leach calcium and magnesium out of our bones..) – magnesium and calcium play key roles in our sense of well-being, so it makes sense that when you’re stressed out you turn to a friendly source of these nutrients (and now you know all about that pint of stress Ben & Jerry’s!). Chocolate isn’t, unfortunately, going to help you with your stress as well as better sources of magnesium and calcium, so check out those links for ideas on other options that will get you feeling better faster than chocolate can. (The chocolate “pudding” recipe below helps with both nutrients if you top it with strawberries or sunflower seed butter.)
3. If you just want some chocolate…
Here are my favorite “recipes” (we’re stirring things into other things, relax) to bring chocolate into your life in an everyday way. They all rely on a good quality cocoa powder. I love the one on the right (Divine, available in the baking aisle at HEB, Whole Foods, and Central Market); I don’t recommend cheaping out on cocoa powder, because the health benefits of chocolate disappear when it’s manhandled. This cocoa powder has a super-rich chocolate flavor, so even though it’s more expensive than some big American brands, a little will go a long way. Dagoba is the most readily available organic brand here in Houston, but I far prefer the flavor of Divine even though it’s not organic.
Easiest: chocolate milk or hot chocolate.
Mix 6-8 oz of warm or cold milk or “milk” of your choice with 1 heaping teaspoon of cocoa powder and, if desired, a teaspoon of maple syrup to sweeten. A small whisk, a milk frother (it’s like a tiny immersion blender!), or a fork make for lump-free mixing, or you can shake it in a shaker bottle.
Just as easy: chocolate “pudding”.
Mix 1/2-1 cup of plain Greek yogurt with, you guessed it, 1 heaping teaspoon of cocoa powder and, if desired, a teaspoon of maple syrup to sweeten. This one will be less lumpy, so you can just stir it all up with the spoon you will soon use to devour it.
Bonus: chocolate froyo or ice cream bars.
Take that chocolate Greek yogurt you just made and freeze it for up to 90 minutes in a freezer-safe bowl or spoon it into a popsicle mold and freeze it until it’s solid. (If you forget the bowl in the freezer, it will be tough to eat it unless you thaw it at room temp for about 20 minutes.)
To recap, chocolate is awesome.
But chocolate as candy isn’t always the best choice for your chocolate cravings! Arm yourself with these super-simple everyday chocolate choices and conquer everyone’s favorite craving for good.