Are premenstrual chocolate cravings fact or fiction? The answer is actually quite complex!
Is There Science Behind Craving Chocolate?Our sex hormones, estrogen and progesterone, influence nearly every part of the body, including the bones, skin, eyes, hair, immune function, digestive system, brain, blood, and of course, reproductive organs. To understand their impact, consider that over the course of one menstrual cycle (or one month), these hormones can increase to 3 to 6 times their starting amount. These fluctuations understandably have an impact on us!
Before your period, progesterone and estrogen surge, hit their peak and then drop off. These hormonal increases are what lead to premenstrual symptoms. Feelings of pain and discomfort at this time often have us reaching for comfort. So, is that it?
Estrogen is also linked to the production of feel-good neurotransmitters, endorphins and serotonin. Pair this drop in endorphins and serotonin with the stress of “that time of the month” and we’re even more likely to feel sad and stressed.
So, does that mean craving chocolate is physiological? Yes, but still not the whole picture. Here are 3 main contributors.
1. Our body may crave foods high in sugar or fat because of the temporary serotonin boost they give us.
In some research, the increase in estrogen before your period has been linked to carbohydrate cravings and the increase in progesterone to cravings for sweetened beverages.
2. Chocolate cravings, and consumption of more “indulgent” foods may also be a part of our “how to cope with PMS” cultural conditioning.
During this phase of the cycle, it’s no surprise that we choose to subscribe to these narratives. We’ve been conditioned to see high-fat, high calorie treats as rewards, and indulging in it is bound to trigger a rewarding dopamine release. Not to mention, diet culture in North America has labelled menstruation as the one acceptable time to do away with restrictive thinking and indulge.
Proof of this comes from a study done on women in the US. Chocolate is the most highly craved food in America and women born in the US report craving it around their periods. Many Spanish women who had recently immigrated, however, experience chocolate cravings while working or after dinnertime instead. Different cultures have different practices and customs.
3. Coping in a world where menstruation is under-studied, under-legitimized, and under-cared for, it makes sense that we seek comfort. Wear sweatpants, watch feel-good movies, and eat comforting foods. There is, of course, conditioned or not, an emotional benefit to engaging in self-care.
Does eating chocolate help with menstrual cramps?Magnesium is a powerful natural muscle relaxer, however, to get its health benefits, you need to eat dark chocolate, low in refined sugar.
There are minimal studies proving a link between craving chocolate and magnesium level deficiency. But if you suspect that you have a magnesium deficiency, try instead to maximize foods high in magnesium including dark leafy greens like spinach, pumpkin seeds, black beans and bananas in your diet, as well as some pure, dark chocolate.
Craving Chocolate Do’sThe best way to cope with the hormonal roller coaster is to follow some nutritional basics in the days leading up to your period.
1. Eat regularly and fill your plates with all food groups. A starved body is more likely to feel cravings, and crave quick energy boosts, like sugar and simple carbohydrates. A nourished body requires all macronutrients including some carbs, fat, and high in protein.
2. Always tend to your blood sugar before indulging. After a meal of colorful vegetables, whole grains and plenty of protein, your blood sugar levels should be stable. This is the best time to indulge with fewer side effects.
3. Avoid eating treats on an empty stomach. Sugar quickly spikes blood sugar and crashes energy levels. Poor blood sugar regulation can exacerbate PMS.
Eat high protein, some fiber and a small amount of healthy fat at every meal to feel satiated and energized for longer periods of time. Protein, fiber and fat burn slower for more sustained energy.
3 Nutritionist Approved Chocolate Recipes for the Menstrual PhaseTry these when you’re craving chocolate but want to avoid PMS.
Hormone balancing smoothies contain fiber (like ground flax seeds), a little bit of fat (some avocado or nut butter), adequate protein (aim for 20g), some dark leafy greens (frozen, to minimize the taste) and low sugar fruits like berries. Include some cocoa powder or choose chocolate protein powder for a hormone supportive chocolate fix!
Opt for chocolate-y treats with a higher cacao content and less sugar to get the benefits of the antioxidants and high mineral count of the cacao, without as much sugar.
If dark chocolate isn’t your thing, always pair your favorite milk chocolate treats with almonds, a bit of nut butter, or a protein-based snack, to make sure you’re doing your body a favor, while also indulging!
Is Craving Chocolate Physiological?Craving chocolate is a mix of physiology, cultural conditioning, and a scientifically backed way of coping.
Use these tips to manage accordingly and give into those cravings in the most beneficial ways!
- Agarwal, Khushbu, et al. Association of Inflammation Biomarkers with Food Cravings and Appetite Changes across the Menstrual Cycle. 1 Feb. 2023, https://doi.org/10.1101/2023.01.30.23285198. Accessed 29 Mar. 2023.
- Cleveland Clinic. “Estrogen: Hormone, Function, Levels & Imbalances.” Cleveland Clinic, 2 Aug. 2022, my.clevelandclinic.org/health/body/22353-estrogen.
- Cleveland Clinic. “Magnesium-Rich Food Information | Cleveland Clinic.” Cleveland Clinic, 2014, my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/15650-magnesium-rich-food.
- Krishnan, Sridevi, et al. “Menstrual Cycle Hormones, Food Intake, and Cravings.” The FASEB Journal, vol. 30, no. S1, Apr. 2016, https://doi.org/10.1096/fasebj.30.1_supplement.418.6.
- “Period Cravings: Explanation and How to Deal.” Healthline, 27 Apr. 2020, www.healthline.com/health/period-cravings.
- “Why Do I Crave Chocolate during My Period? | Psychology Today Canada.” Www.psychologytoday.com, www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/comfort-cravings/201402/why-do-i-crave-chocolate-during-my-period. Accessed 26 Oct. 2023.
- Zellner, Debra A, et al. “Chocolate Craving and the Menstrual Cycle.” Appetite, vol. 42, no. 1, Feb. 2004, pp. 119–121, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2003.11.004.