Give me a Kiss, Hershey or Otherwise

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Where did you go the last time you felt rejected by your significant other? Did you go to the kitchen to check out the refrigerator, just to make sure everything was still there? Or, did you leave the house and head to Publix Supermarket because there was something you really wanted and didn’t quite know what, but you knew it could be found at the local grocery store.

It’s 9:15 PM, you enter the store, cruise the aisles. What do you want: Is it bread, sweets, ice cream, or maybe, just maybe… chocolates! Finally, you somehow find yourself in the chocolate section. There’s Hershey almond bars, Reese’s peanut butter cups, and even the truly exotic Lindt Swiss Chocolate with raspberry fillings, luscious to the plate, a mild euphoria to the brain… you want some.

Now, if there was this attractive-looking person standing next to you, eyeing the same shelf of chocolate, and she/he asks you which chocolate is the best, you may realize you are not really there for the chocolate, but for someone to be nice to you, to ask your opinion, to talk with you, to gaze into your eyes, to say “I love you,”… all the while, your desire for chocolates wanes, and infatuation occurs. You are feeling good without the calories. What is happening here? Glad you asked!

Throughout my experience in nutrition counseling, probably the most common food peopke desire is chocolate. Not everybody, but many. Researching the literature, nutritionists, biochemists, and food scientists have found some very interesting phenomena. It seems that when people are either in love or infatuated and that love is returned, the brain produces a substance called phenylethylamine. When people are the victims of unrequited love, on the other hand, or fall out of love, they go through a type of depression in which the brain irregularly produces this substance; therefore they often binge on chocolate during those periods of depression. OK, so why chocolate? Food science has shown that chocolate contains substantial amounts of phenylethylamine, which inhibits chocolate cravings. So remember, in order to reduce the chocolate calories, you should “reach for your mate instead of your plate.” Of course, if your mate is reaching for chocolate as well, you know you have a domestic problem
– ah ha!

Haven’t you ever wondered why chocolate is so popular on Valentine’s Day? Nothing like a double dose of phenylethylamine, or “lover’s high”! Now, I guess that’s the good news. The bad news (which I’m sure you knew was coming) is that chocolate contains a lot of fat and a lot of sugar, but only a little cocoa. The breakdown on chocolate, from Portions of Foods Commonly Used, 15th ed., is: 60- 70% fat, 20-30% sugar, and 4-6% chocolate. The exotic, imported, or San Francisco chocolate contains a significantly better 20-25% pure chocolate. That is sweet or dark chocolate. And for the true connoisseurs, bittersweet chocolate is 35% pure. Hmm… yum! In fact, the gourmet stuff is blended for up to three days, while our common domestic brands are refined for only eight hours. This information is according to the Chocolate Manufacturers’ Association, of which I’d love to be an honorary member.

Other lesser-known facts about chocolate: it contains only 1/10th the amount of caffeine as a cup of brewed coffee. Additionally, a recent study on fats at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center showed that the principle fatty acid in cocoa butter, stearic acid, actually lowered subjects’ cholesterol levels. “So, should I combine a bar of chocolate, a glass of red wine, and a dose of olive oil to lower my cholesterol?” we now ask, swimming in the bits-and-pieces knowledge of nutrition most of us have. As your Victorian grandmother, who lived to be 97, used to say, “Moderation, babe.”

Calorically, we all know chocolate contains lots of calories. Each Hershey kiss contains 25 calories, while your Three Musketeer bar contains 280 calories! So will four Hershey kisses satisfy instead of one chocolate bar? Ask your brain!

Chocolate seems to have a close relative in peanut butter. The nutritional breakdown is: 60-80% fat, 10-20% sugar, and 10-15% protein. So chocolate and peanut butter are similar. My seventeen year-old son, who considers himself an expert on chocolate, calls peanut butter, “The Healthy Chocolate.” Yet, at taste trials, some people report the taste of peanut butter to be an acceptable alternative to chocolate. Think about it! How often do you reach for the peanut butter jar when you are too lazy to drive to the store for a chocolate fix?

So, think about it some more. What do you find on your pillow at night when you and your sweetie are at that romantic bed and breakfast?

It’s truly amazing who you meet at Publix at 3:00AM in the morning, looking for Mr. Goodbar…the chocolate one, that is.

– Freddy Kaye, Ph. D. is a clinical nutritionist in private practice and the faculty nutritionist at Tallahassee Memorial Regional Medical Center teaching resident physicians diet therapy.

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