'Chocoholism' may be a cultural phenomenon for women
February 15, 1999
(CNN) -- Some women think they are born chocolate lovers. But new research says it's more likely they've learned to love chocolate -- especially if they were raised in the United States.
"When you crave something, you go for something that you think is wonderful," says Dr. Debra Zellner, a psychologist at Shippensburg University in south central Pennsylvania. "And here (in the United States), chocolate is wonderful."
But that's not the case everywhere. Zellner compared cravings of American women to cravings of Spanish women and found that their desires ran in divergent directions.
While both groups craved sweets, Spanish women craved cream puffs while American women overwhelmingly craved chocolate.
"It's a very special food for us because it conveys affection," Zellner says. "It conveys love."
The act of eating chocolate
Zellner's is the first study that shows there may be cultural reasons for certain cravings. And it's a new explanation for why so many American women feel addicted to chocolate.
Past research has focused on the chemicals in chocolate and whether they duplicate feelings of being in love or exercising.
"We have no reason to believe that those effects are specific or unique to chocolate," says Marcia Levin Pelchat of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. "Those effects can occur with any of a variety of foods."
And as for the infamous study that says chocolate contains compounds similar to those in marijuana -- researchers point out you'd have to eat 20 pounds of chocolate to experience that type of effect.
So maybe it's simply the sensation of eating chocolate that causes and satisfies the craving.
"It has a has a very complex aroma that is very difficult to duplicate, very pleasant," Pelchat says. "(And) of course, it's sweet."
Whatever the reason for cravings, a "sweet tooth" isn't all that uncommon -- but location may determine what indulgences will satisfy it.Food & Health Correspondent Linda Ciampa contributed to this report.
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