Consumption of carbohydrates stimulates the pancreas to produce insulin, which sets in motion a chemical chain reaction leading to the production of the brain neurotransmitter serotonin, which in turn produces a sense of calm and well being .
There in lies partially the appeal of chocolate sweets. Although a potato would do the same thing, chocolate tastes and smells better to most people, judging from consumption figures. In addition to the sugar added to the product, chocolate contains a perker upper, theobromine, a relative of caffeine.
And it contains a little phenylethylamine (PEA), an amphetamine-like brain chemical that we may produce when we fall in love. Scientists say that chocolate isn’t addictive and that the PEA content isn’t enough to make any difference, but there are those of us in love with chocolate. (Chocolate lovers are tipped to the female side. Apparently a male often prefers a beer to a candy bar
In the United States, smoking declined dramatically, paralleled by a rise in sugar consumption. While this can’t be interpreted as a cause and effect relationship, recent studies indicate that carbohydrate consumption by abstinent smokers may be a kind of self-medication for tension, fatigue, and depression related to nicotine withdrawal.
Others, with conditions unrelated to smoking, may use carbohdyrates in the same way, as a “mood food.”
In one study, psychologists found that both cigarette smoking humans and nicotine injected rats chose fewer sweet foods. When nicotine was withdrawn, they both showed a preference for sweet carbohydrates.
Also, humans who abstained from smoking were less anxious and hostile and twice as successful at staying off tobacco when they consumed a diet high in carbohydrates. Alcoholics are often helped through withdrawal with sweet desserts, and anecdotal evidence from methadone clinics suggests that former heroin addicts consume great quantities of sweet carbohydrates.
The researchers suggest that the physiological mechanism underlying all sorts of drug dependence may be a neurochemical of the food pathways; the body may misinterpret certain foods sugar in this case as drugs.
Other studies of obese patients who claim to have an irresistible craving for carbohydrates, as well as of patients with wintertime depression, suggest that these people load up on sugar and starch to alleviate fatigue and improve their moods.
Fooling the Tongue: Sugar Substitutes
Sweeteners make many foods more desirable, diluting the bitterness of chocolate, for instance, or the sourness of grapefruit. But sweeteners are blamed for contributing to obesity (a major correlate of
adult onset diabetes), dental caries, and hyperactivity of children, not to mention sugar highs and crashes.
Sweeteners are all but impossible to give up, however. Our sweet tooth was adaptive in a primitive world. We’re products of our evolutionary heritage in a world that now has an overabundance of sugar.
What to do? Can we find a substitute that is sweet without the calories? Something that satisfies our tongues without making us overweight?