Chocolate is a sweet, creamy treat made from fermented, roasted, and ground cacao tree fruit.

People have enjoyed chocolate and similar treats made from cacao fruit for thousands of years. Today it’s eaten in many different ways and is arguably among the most popular foods — so you may even wonder if it’s addictive (1, 2).

This article compares healthy and unhealthy relationships with chocolate and addresses whether chocolate and its ingredients may be addictive.

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Though this is still a controversial topic, a growing amount of research supports treating food addictions like other types of substance addictions (3, 4, 5, 6, 7).

Addictive foods impact many of the same brain and nervous system pathways typically affected by drug addictions. They might also elicit behaviors similar to those caused by other addictions (4, 5, 7, 8).

Thus, food addiction may occur when specific foods or nutrients repeatedly trigger your brain’s reward system.

Addictive properties

Some foods are believed to be more addictive than others.

Highly processed foods that are high in sugar and fat — like many types of chocolate — are often considered more addictive than less processed foods like fruits and vegetables (5, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12).

Here’s a look at how much sugar, fat, and carbs an average 1.5-ounce (45-gram) serving of chocolate contains (13, 14, 15, 16, 17):

Dark chocolateMilk chocolateWhite chocolateChocolate fudgeChocolate syrup
Sugar44% of the Daily Value (DV)46% of the DV53% of the DV66% of the DV54% of the DV
Total fat19% of the DV17% of the DV19% of the DV6% of the DV0% of the DV
Total carbs10% of the DV10% of the DV10% of the DV13% of the DV11% of the DV

As you can see, one serving of chocolate may contain up to half the DV for sugar and one-fifth of the DV for fat.

High carbohydrate foods — including chocolate and other sugary sweets — may cause addiction-like cravings. They also alter your blood sugar and hormone levels in ways similar to other addictive substances (5, 11).

Plus, these changes in blood levels affect dopamine in your body. Dopamine is a chemical messenger that plays an important role in your brain’s motivation and reward pathways (5, 6, 18, 19).

Measuring chocolate addiction

The Yale Food Addiction Scale (YFAS) is a tool developed at Yale University to measure food addiction and assess how addictive certain foods may be. It’s been one of the most commonly used tools by food addiction researchers to date (20, 21).

One study including more than 500 adults who used this tool found that chocolate was consistently ranked as one of the most problematic foods for addictive-like eating behaviors (22).

Similarly, another study including 100 children with overweight identified chocolate as the single most addictive food when using the scale (23).

Scientists have been investigating chocolate addictions for over 25 years now (24, 25, 26).

Still, some scientists believe that it’s not enough to rely on subjective self-reported data from tools like the YFAS and that a deeper understanding of food addiction is still needed in order to fully diagnose and treat the condition (3, 27, 28, 29, 30).

SUMMARY

Early food addiction research suggests that sugary foods like chocolate are more addictive than less processed foods. However, some scientists might say it’s too early to classify this treat as addictive.

Different types of chocolate contain different ingredients, though most have a few key ingredients in common. Some of these could be related to chocolate’s potentially addictive properties.

The main ingredients used to make chocolate are (31):

  • Cocoa mass. Fermented, roasted, de-shelled, and ground cocoa beans create this mass, also called chocolate liquor. It’s solid at room temperature but melts when heated. It’s often further processed but can also be eaten as-is as raw chocolate.
  • Cocoa butter. This is pure, natural cocoa bean fats that have been separated from the rest of the beans and concentrated.
  • Sugar. The amount and types used vary, and sometimes other natural or artificial sweeteners are used instead.
  • Milk. Dehydrated milk powder is often added to milk chocolate varieties, while condensed milk is used in fudge and truffles.
  • Vanilla. This is used as a flavor enhancer or to cut the bitterness of some roasted cocoa beans.
  • Other ingredients. Vegetable oils, natural and artificial flavors, emulsifiers like lecithin, and other additives help preserve chocolate and maintain a smooth texture.

You may have heard that certain types of chocolate have some health benefits. These are mainly attributed to antioxidants and other beneficial plant chemicals found in the pure cacao ingredients, which are the cocoa mass and cocoa butter (1, 32, 33).

Though cocoa butter has its perks, it’s also high in fat. This contributes to chocolate’s potential to be an addictive food — especially when combined with the large amount of sugar in some varieties.

Some scientists also question the role that food additives play in addictive eating. Food additives like flavoring and artificial sweeteners are often added to highly processed and hyper-palatable foods like chocolate (28).

So, one way to avoid the most potentially addictive types of chocolate is to eat varieties of chocolate that are less processed and lower in sugar and fat, especially in trans fat.

Many dark chocolate varieties are lower in sugar. Plus, dark varieties tend to have the greatest concentration of antioxidants and other healthy nutrients (33).

SUMMARY

The most addictive types of chocolate may be those highest in sugar and fat. Opting for dark varieties that are lower in sugar and fat may be a more nutritious way to enjoy this treat.

Though you may worry about eating chocolate and other foods that could be addictive, remember they can still be enjoyed from time to time as part of a healthy diet.

Signs of a healthy relationship with chocolate include:

  • allowing yourself to eat it as desired
  • not feeling upset, guilty, or shameful after eating it
  • enjoying it in moderation and overindulging only occasionally
  • being mindful of how much of it you eat and when
  • feeling at ease when eating it
  • feeling good about the balance you have with it
SUMMARY

All foods — including chocolate — can be enjoyed as part of a nutritious diet. Signs of a healthy relationship with this sweet treat include enjoying it in moderation and feeling at ease when you do so.

Developing an unhealthy relationship with chocolate — or any food — is possible.

Some behaviors that could relate to a chocolate addiction are:

  • labeling chocolate as “bad” or “off-limits”
  • often feeling stress or anxiety when eating the treat
  • putting strict rules in place about how and when you eat chocolate
  • completely restricting chocolate
  • constant cravings for chocolate
  • the desire for the treat overrides your body’s hunger and satiety cues
  • compulsively eating unusually large amounts of chocolate
  • hiding how much chocolate you eat from friends and family
  • feeling like you can’t control how much chocolate you eat
  • eating the treat until your stomach hurts
  • binge-eating chocolate

Another sign could be if chocolate is contributing to weight gain or health problems.

It’s normal to occasionally feel one of these ways after eating chocolate. However, if you feel like this more often than not, it could be a sign of a bigger problem.

Can it become a problem?

Not only might a food addiction cause you distress, but it could also lead to greater health problems.

Food addictions appear to be closely related to eating disorders and obesity, and people who already live with these conditions may be at an increased risk for developing a food addiction (34, 35, 36, 37, 38).

And struggling with food addiction might make someone at risk for feeling depressed or anxious (34, 39, 40).

If you think you could have an addiction to chocolate or another food, consult with a healthcare professional you trust, like:

  • your doctor
  • a licensed therapist
  • a psychiatrist
  • a dietitian

These trained professionals can help you deal with food addictions and other related disorders.

SUMMARY

Signs of an unhealthy relationship with chocolate include feeling upset after eating the treat and being unable to control how much you eat at once. If you repeatedly notice these signs, it may be time to reach out for help.

Chocolate is a sugary confection made from ingredients like cocoa, sugar, milk, and other additives and flavorings.

The treat is adored by many and is even referred to as the “food of the gods.” However, some scientists believe that it could also be one of the more addictive foods.

Healthy ways to enjoy chocolate include having it in moderation and choosing varieties lower in sugar and fat.

If you notice signs in your life of an unhealthy relationship with chocolate, reach out to a qualified healthcare professional who can help you manage it.