Our bodies are incredibly intelligent, and they are constantly telling us what’s what, if only we’d listen. Food cravings usually come with their own strong messages, usually that something is missing, although sometimes they can indicate an allergy – you can read all about food cravings over here.
But I wanted to make a separate post specifically about chocolate cravings in pre-menstrual and menstruating women.
Why is this a predominantly feminine phenomenon?
A lot of women crave chocolate either soon before or during menstruation. Although seeking comfort in something that tastes like heaven and which seemingly freezes time for a moment while it’s melting on your tongue – weather you’re feeling crummy or NOT – makes perfect sense to me ANYWAY, there are at least a couple other things probably going on in your favour at the same time:
Just before and during bleeding are times when a lot of women experience cramping. Magnesium is a mineral that acts as a muscle relaxant, making it very beneficial for cramps. And guess what food is high in magnesium? CHOCOLATE! Way to go body, you sure are smart!
And there’s more, too!
If we’ve had a rough month – whether it was a bumpy ride emotionally, filled with bad stress OR good stress, physical illness, not enough sleep, and so on – then our adrenals are more likely to be tired. Adrenals are the miracle-working glands that help us to cope with stress. If they’re feeling a bit worn out, it can affect us in myriad ways, but guess when we’re likely to feel it the most? Yup, you guessed it. If you haven’t dealt with these stresses before your period came around, then this is the time when it’s all going to come back up and you kind of have to deal with it.
Stress and Emotional Health
…Which means that if you want have to have a happier period, then facing life’s challenges face on, more or less as they happen, can make a huge difference in how you experience your menstrual cycle. Of course there may be more going on than that. But it is a significant factor in how we fare each month. Do what you can to alleviate your stress. Acknowledging your emotions and honouring your needs, and working through the dark times instead of suppressing your emotions (and bottling up until you feel ready to explode come moon time) goes a lonnnnng way. More about that to come in a later post. But for now, suffice it to say: being good to your emotional heart and respecting your inner self = being good to your physical body and respecting every aspect of your self, including your adrenals, ovaries, and womb. (Eeeeverything is interconnected.)
So back to those adrenals. Say it’s been a trying month and your adrenals are feeling run down. Well there are a few particular nutrients that feed and help to restore your adrenals. Those include the B vitamins, vitamin C, and magnesium. Hmm, wasn’t there something high in magnesium that we tend to crave when our hormones are off? Oh yeah, CHOCOLATE!
I’ll say it again: Way to go, body! You sure are smart!
But wait! Don’t reach for that chocolate candy bar yet!
Candy VS Real Chocolate
When I talk about the goodness in chocolate, I’m not talking about the stuff that comes in colourful foil wrappers at the gas station. Milk chocolate bars are candy. Eat them as a treat if that’s your thing once in a while, but don’t kid yourself that it’s doing anything good for your physical health.
Dark chocolate bars – that is, with no milk and less (or no) sugar – are a massive step up, but the heat processing used to make them destroys some of its nutritional value. The magnesium will still be there, but you lose the added benefit of the antioxidants present in raw chocolate. That’s right: chocolate is also a great source of antioxidants, that is, until it’s tortured into candy-form. Antioxidants are important for repairing daily wear and tear on our bodies.
So back to the idea of raw chocolate. Let’s talk about raw chocolate terminology, so that you can waltz into a health store and shop for the good stuff with the confidence that you know what you’re doing.
The cacao bean is what is used to make chocolate. You can break that up into small pieces called nibs – think of them as nature’s chocolate chips. They’re great in trail mix, granola, baking, protein bars, on top of porridge, and so on.
If you take cacao beans or cacao nibs and grind them until smooth, you get cacao paste. This paste is solid when you buy it, but can easily be melted (although be careful not to actually cook the stuff – that sort of defeats the purpose of buying it raw; a double boiler is the best way to work with it) and is the easiest way to make delicious concoctions with the whole bean.
Now if you take that cacao paste and separate out the fat, you get two products: cacao butter (the fat; and it is glorious, healthy fat), and cacao powder (everything else that makes up the bean, which is where the magnesium and antioxidants are).
About the whole heat-processed VS raw thing:
So what is cocoa? Well! Take that nice raw cacao powder we just separated out from the whole cacao paste, and heat process it, and now you have cocoa. Note the slight spelling difference. It’s subtle, but it means a lot. Antioxidants are very sensitive to heat, so this process destroys them. Your chocolate’s healing power has just been diminished.
Traditional chocolate is made by fermenting the cacao beans in the sun. Conventionally, the beans are roasted. But even if they are fermented and kept raw at this stage, it’s easier to separate out the fat by blasting the beans with heat, in order to get powder and butter. To gently coax this process below cooking temperatures requires a bit more delicacy, so cacao powder (raw) is more expensive than cocoa powder (heat-processed), but for good reason.
There are great companies producing ethical chocolate using traditional methods that include roasting, so that the chocolate is not raw, but that’s okay! If it’s both sustainably and kindly produced (most commercial chocolates can still be traced back to child-labour where the cacao trees are, sad to say – so ask questions and support the good guys!) then that’s great. You’re still getting minerals like magnesium, good fats, deliciousness, and are supporting more sustainable practices. Good job!
If you want the full-blown nutritional shebang, antioxidants and all, then go for the raw stuff! It seems to me like any company that goes through the effort of producing their chocolate in raw form does so because they care, and so I’ve yet to come across a raw chocolate company that wasn’t fairly traded and sustainably produced (and definitely without child labour, at that), however it’s always a good idea to ask questions when you’re not familiar with the brand.
Raw chocolate bars are readily available, as well as bags of raw cacao powder, cacao butter, cacao paste, cacao nibs, and even whole cacao beans.
Whether you’re buying roasted or raw, if you want the good, kind, ethical, and healthy stuff, you’ll probably have to venture into a health food store or a farmer’s market. …Which I encourage you to do anyway. You won’t be sorry.
Make your own!
If you’d rather buy individual cacao ingredients rather than a finished bar, you can use these items to make your own goodies: try making some raw chocolate bark, or if you wanna get fancy, check out this recipe for Raw Chocolate Coconut Pie! There’s also an easy chocolate avocado pudding over here. But it can also be as simple as adding raw cacao powder to warm almond milk with a pinch of stevia or a bit of raw honey to make a comforting drink.
Back to Magnesium
And all that being said about chocolate, if the reason you’re craving it in the first place is a need for magnesium, well, there are other good sources of magnesium than good quality chocolate, too. To name a few, spinach, pumpkin seeds, and kale are all great sources! If you are a woman having hormonally-driven chocolate cravings, you could also try including more of these foods in your diet. Or you could take a magnesium supplement: they come in capsules, powders, liquids, and tablets (and I recommend any but the tablets). Magnesium is a generally safe mineral to supplement, although individual dosage requirements can vary substantially. If you’re not sure, it’s best to check in with a holistic health practitioner of some sort (oh, hi there!).
If you are concerned with menstrual cramps, hormonal mood swings, and imbalanced hormones, I don’t mean to imply that chocolate is the best thing to do. There are lots of important steps to take in order to rebalance hormones (and walking women through this process is one of the things I do).
What I AM saying is that there is a reason that so many women absolutely love chocolate, and tend to crave it around or during menstruation. And if you are one of them, I hope you are able to smile at your body’s wisdom and make an informed choice about how to proceed.
Shine on, you crazy cacao beans! (Because, sorry Marilyn, but cacao beans are a girl’s best friend.)