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Chocolate joy, chocolate guilt



A group of researchers were curious about what our emotional responses to chocolate are (Appetite 2006;46(3): 332-336). They asked 37 women between the ages of 19 and 30 to eat either chocolate, an apple, or nothing twice a day over a 6 day period. The timing of the consumption of each food was determined by instructions contained in sealed envelopes. After eating the instructed food, participants were asked to complete a questionnaire at 5, 30, 60 and 90 minutes.

The questionnaire asked them to indicate their feelings at each time, including such things as whether they were hungry, had more desire to eat, felt tension, had increased energy, a change in mood, or felt joy, anger or fear. Mood was rated on a ten point scale and the other items on a 7 point scale.

At the five minute mark there were significant positive effects on hunger from eating both the apple and the chocolate. As time went on, eating chocolate had a slightly more positive effect on hunger. Both eating chocolate and the apple had a positive effect on mood, while eating nothing resulted in negative feelings. The chocolate clearly led to a greater elevation of mood than the apple.

When eating chocolate, however, the participants had increased feelings of guilt when compared to eating the apple or nothing. The guilt feelings improved over the 90 minutes of questioning, but it should be noted that apple consumption resulted in a lack of guilt similar to that of eating nothing.

While it did increase energy, decrease tiredness, elevate mood and offer joy, chocolate also resulted in feelings of guilt. These feelings were most pronounced at 5 and 30 minutes. As more time passed, the emotions experienced were similar to that with apple consumption. The researchers do consider that the results might be influenced by a number of factors, including the sensory experience of the chocolate as well as differences in the caloric content of the two foods. For instance, it does appear that changes in hunger at 60 and 90 minutes were an important factor in the positive emotional effect of eating either food.

What this means for you:

This is a preliminary study, but it does show that chocolate has the edge over apples in improving mood, while apples engender much less guilt. Do as the French do: Eat a small amount of excellent quality chocolate when you wish and feel good about it. Save it for special times and make fresh healthy fruit your usual snack food.

First posted: July 21, 2006