It’s a common experience for menstruators to crave chocolate whilst on their periods. As a society, we inevitably often associate PMS to eating mounds of chocolate, whether this stereotype is depicted in movies and shows or in mainstream memes.
But there’s truth to it. I personally can attest that there’s nothing more I love than a good dark chocolate bar when experiencing cramps. Is this craving because the media has taught us periods = craving chocolate, or is there a scientific correlation between menstruation and craving chocolate? As someone who has worked in the period space for years, it’s time that I delve into the science behind one of the most common myths surrounding menstruation: does eating chocolate improve PMS symptoms?
Reasons why reaching for that chocolate bar is practically irresistible
According to nutritionists, your body isn’t really craving chocolate. Rather, your body craves the combination of calcium, sugar, and carbs that are found within chocolate.
One of the top ingredients in chocolate is high amounts of sugar. As nutritionist Emma Thornton writes, “Our bodies often crave sugar during our period because we often feel tired, lethargic, and grumpy. Sugar is more easily broken down than starch, so it gives us a quick boost of energy. The immediacy of this effect may be why we crave chocolate rather than more energy efficient foods like complex carbohydrates.”
We tend to crave chocolate early in our cycles because of the higher levels of hormones circulating through our bodies. Another reason we love reaching for those delicious chocolatey goods? Eating chocolate stimulates the release of endorphins like serotonin, the “happiness hormone” that regulates our mood. During menstruation we often feel low, irritable, or anxious, and serotonin helps reduce these feelings.
Can chocolate be good for period pain?
Chocolate often contains an essential mineral: magnesium. This mineral is involved in over 300 chemical reactions in the body! As you can probably discern, magnesium is vital to keep body functions running smoothly, especially during menstruation. It plays key roles in maintaining the nervous system, the immune system, and energy production. Most importantly for those experiencing PMS symptoms, magnesium may help alleviate cramping as it promotes healthy muscle function and relaxation.
However, there’s no scientific proof that consuming chocolate will reduce your physical pain, but rather alleviate certain symptoms. Most researchers can agree that the impact of eating chocolate is more comforting on a psychological level. A study published in 2007 shows that chocolate can turn around your bad mood in as little as three minutes! When it comes to PMS, that mental comfort is almost equally as important.
So, is it okay for me to eat chocolate while PMSing?
According to an aSweatLife piece by nutrition researcher/dietician Kristin Hoddy, “mindfully eating chocolate has been shown to increase mood over eating chocolate without mindfulness. This means chocolate is best for boosting mood when you really savor it.” So, the important thing here is that we must avoid binge-eating chocolate by being mindful of our food intake, especially at a time when our body is more vulnerable and sensitive.
Also, dark chocolate — with over 70% cacao — has a wide variety of health benefits! Dark chocolates typically contain some sugar. But the darker the chocolate, the less sugar it will contain, making it a nutritious alternative to white or milk chocolate. Dark chocolate is also rich in antioxidants, can improve blood flow, lower blood pressure, and even aid brain function! Beware though because there are plenty of deceiving ads and unhealthy options in the market. Here’s a guide on how to find the best quality dark chocolate.
So, when your next chocolate craving resurfaces while PMSing, feel free to indulge—just be sure to do so mindfully and choose your chocolates wisely!