We’ve all been there; you say you’re off chocolate for the month, then your PMS kicks in, and you would give a limb just to have one bite of the chocolate bar you know is at the back of the cupboard, even though it’s hidden under a mountain of healthy snacks. Sometimes chocolate feels like a non-negotiable, especially when your period kicks in. But why?
We’re chomping into this sugar craving to find out why it’s the treat on everyone’s mind at certain points in their cycle, when to try and kick the habit, and when to listen to your sweet tooth and embrace the health benefits (yes, health benefits) of those cocoa cravings.
There are a few theories as to why chocolate is one of the most popular pantry picks when your period rolls around. Sometimes when you’re experiencing cramps and low mood, and you don’t want to go out, chocolate feels like a warm hug. It’s a comfort many of us reach for to distract from PMS frustrations and sadness - but is it habit or hormonal? Maybe a bit of both. Some believe chocolate is the snack of choice due to hormonal imbalances during the menstrual cycle. When estrogen, progesterone and serotonin (the happiness hormone) levels drop, and cortisol (the stress hormone) rises, the result is a sugar craving.
But there’s another theory. One study looked at chocolate cravings of Spanish and American women, and found that while the American women reached for chocolate most often during their period, many of the Spanish women said they wanted chocolate around dinnertime or while working, not specifically during their period, which shows hormones may have nothing to do with cravings - it could simply be ingrained cues that have us reaching for the chocolate.
While hormonal changes might not directly cause our chocolate addiction, they could be a contributing factor, as let’s face it: PMS can make you feel stressed, tired, and well… blerggghhh. And when you feel blerggghhh, chocolate is a nice pick-me-up. We have grown to associate our periods with eating chocolate, and this could be why we now crave it on autopilot at certain times of the month.
Cocoa is made using roasted cacao seeds which have many health benefits, so chocolate cravings aren’t all bad! It offers an energy boost when you’re feeling low (as long as you don’t overdo it), and there’s an argument for treating yourself if you suffer from low mood during your cycle. If you don’t let it become a crutch, it can provide a temporary endorphin boost that’s handy when you feel the blerggghhh coming on. If the blerggghhh turns into a deeper depression, you should always speak to your GP about how they can help.
If you really want to maximise the choco benefits, you’ll want to switch to dark chocolate that contains 70% cocoa. Its health benefits include potentially lowering heart disease risk, and increasing brain function.
Dark chocolate can also be a great source of magnesium (good for easing cramps), it can increase serotonin, and it’s high in iron - handy if you have heavy periods and suffer from anaemia (although remember there are other ways to up your iron levels, like eating tofu, spinach, beans and lentils).
While raw cocoa holds many health benefits, the chocolate we buy from shops uses cocoa mixed with sugar, milk and more, which could be considered less than healthy. The resulting product is often high in fat and sugar, so the benefits of cocoa are often lost. High sugar content can lead to weight gain, which may affect your health if your weight already fluctuates throughout the month or if you suffer from excessive bloating.
The sugar in chocolate is also thought to affect skin, so if you’re already prone to hormonal acne breakouts during your menstrual cycle this could worsen the effects.
Some people also believe that cocoa’s tyramine, histamine, and phenylalanine content can contribute to headaches or migraines, so if you already experience these during your cycle you may want to avoid too much chocolate.
Put simply, chocolate is one of the most common foods people crave before their period, and in moderation, you can embrace this. Binging on excessive amounts, though, could do more harm than good. The best ways to ensure you’re milking the benefits are:
Do you crave chocolate at certain times during your period? How do you make sure you’re staying healthy while enjoying a sweet treat every now and then? We’d love to hear from you! Shout out in our private Facebook group or drop us a note on Insta @itsyoppie. Don't forget that our personalised period box can get organic tampons, PMS supplements and more delivered easily and regularly through your letterbox, which might just help take the edge off those really bad GOTTA CHOC days...!
This article was fact-checked by Yoppie’s nutritionist Shona Wilkinson.
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