Reader Questions – Cycles and chocolate

Emily writes:
1. On the sweet-tooth: First why do I get seriously poignant cravings for sweets right before I start my period? There are generally certain times of the month when my sweet-tooth kicks into high gear. What’s with that? Second, is it possible to have a genetic predisposition to be addicted to chocolate? 
2. Relatedly, is a small portion of dark-chocoalte a day a healthy indulgence or just one of those things women tell themselves to keep worse indulgences at bay?
Ah, menstrual cycles and carb cravings.  First, a question back at you.  Do you only have intense sugar cravings before your period?  If not, you may be a little carb focused in your metabolism.  If you only crave sugar before your period, your serotonin levels may have something to do with that..  The body does use carbs directly on the serotonin pathway. But, vice versa, the level of serotonin acts on your body’s release of insulin and cravings for glucose.  There is also a connection between the rise in estrogen and a drop in blood sugar as well as a drop in serotonin.  (There has long been the understanding that serotonin is our “feel good” chemical and that is what we often call it.  The reality is a little less cut and dry.  There isn’t necessarily a direct correlation between serotonin levels and feeling good, but I digress.)  In other words, you’re perfectly  normal.  I have found in my experience, the less sugar I eat and the more fat-adapted I have become, the far less dramatic are my cravings.  The cravings would be best met with sweet potatoes, sushi, berries, and full fat dairy if you don’t have a problem digesting them.  And, of course, chocolate.
Full disclosure:  Emily, I know your mother, so I would not be at all surprised if the very real dependence on chocolate be a phenomic expression of your genome.  
Now, question 2.  
Chocolate has been used as a part of the human diet for a very long time.  However, it has been traditionally used for rituals, for royalty, and most often unsweetened, mixed with spices.  It is a fermented food.  (Yep, it is.)  It is brimming over with anti-oxidants (which can decrease photo-sensitivity) and helps to reduce systemic inflammation.  It also helps with blood flow which means that your brain is more alert.  Then, there is theobromine, which is often touted as an aphrodaesiac.  (Might have a little something to do with the increased blood flow? 🙂 )
It has less caffeine than coffee and has the added benefit of being chewable (unless you’re drinking Haitian coffee properly made so your spoon stands up).  
There are only a couple things to know when it comes to chocolate.  
1.  They are not all equal.  Sorry, Hershey’s, but step up your game!  Go for dark.  The darker the better.  I eat a couple squares of 100% cacao almost daily.  I don’t think that anything below 85% is much good except as a rare and special treat.  (I know, it sounds nuts and takes some time to work up to.  I actually had 95% a couple weeks ago and found it far too sweet!)  I also keep unsweetened cocoa powder around to use in my smoothies and to make hot chocolate.  (I always make this in the more traditional way using several warming herbs, like ginger, cinnamon and sometimes cayenne.) 
2.  Theobromine in extremely high doses can be toxic.  So, chocolate can be a healthy PART of the diet, not the whole diet.  Although….I wouldn’t mind risking it.
3.  For anyone with the herpes virus, chocolate can be irritating and lead to outbreaks.  
4.  If you’re particularly sensitive to caffeine or are adrenally exhausted, I’d slow my flow with the chocolate.  
5. High heels making us look better is something that women have totally made up to keep worse “indulgences” (like butt implants…NO…JUST…NO) at bay, but eating chocolate on the regular?  That’s for real.
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