For inexplicable reasons, as a young child my son refused all things chocolate. When trick or treating, at home after home he would ask the people handing out Halloween candy, "Do you have anything not chocolate?" (That is, until I was able to impress on him how rude his question was.) At birthday parties, parents who knew of his chocolate dilemma would have a vanilla or strawberry cupcake on hand for him. Early in elementary school he joined the mainstream, the ranks of chocoholics. And that turns out is a good thing.
Crabby Boss? Crabby Friend?
Researchers in five separate studies found a link between sweet taste preferences and pro-social personality and behavior. In one study, for example, researchers found that the people randomly assigned to eat chocolate helped another person more than those randomly assigned to the control group who ate crackers or nothing. Dr. Brian Meier at Gettysburg College explained the group of studies: "Taste is something we experience every day. Our research examined whether metaphors that link taste preferences with pro-social experiences (e.g., "she's a sweetheart") can be used to shed light on actual personality traits and behavior."
One of the studies suggests that "people believe that a person who likes sweet foods like candy or chocolate cake (compared to foods from the other four taste types) is also more agreeable or helpful." In reporting their findings, one of the psychologists said, "It is striking that helpful and friendly people are considered 'sweet' because taste would seem to have little in common with personality or behavior.
Then, does loving chocolate make you a "sweetheart" of a person? Based on these studies, the authors claim that sweets eaters are more agreeable and more likely to volunteer. They conclude that you "can predict how helpful or nice someone is, based on the extent to which whether he or she prefers eating sweet foods."
Thank goodness my son discovered his "sweet tooth." Apparently, the grumpy people in your life might not be eating enough sweets.
Pregnant and Craving Chocolate?
"No need to wait until after you deliver your baby to indulge," says science writer and PT blogger Jena Pincott. The list of foods forbidden for pregnant women is lengthy-from raw fish to alcohol. It is a delight to know that chocolate is not among them. In her cutting-edge book, Do Chocolate Lovers Have Sweeter Babies?: The Surprising Science of Pregnancy, Pincott reveals the science behind everything from morning sickness and stretch marks to why girls prefer the color pink. It is a treasure trove of research based information about pregnancy and the developing fetus.
In the book's introduction, Pincott writes: "I've asked myself: If I'm not in control, so who is? It's the fetus-at least in some ways, some of the time. The little ones manipulate us long before they're born. This helps explain some pregnancy weirdness, like how we might turn up our noses at delicacies we once loved (good-bye bitter greens, sayonara sardines) in favor of the sweet or simple foods of childhood." One of them is certainly chocolate.
Pregnant women need to watch their sugar, fat, and caffeine intake and follow their doctor's advice, but they can eat chocolate. "If chocolate is your only source [of caffeine], it should be safe to gorge on about ten ounces of dark chocolate [the healthiest and least fattening] daily," Pincott says. Who knew?
Will you have a sweeter baby if you eat chocolate during pregnancy? Pincott reports on a study conducted in Finland during which mothers of newborns were asked about their chocolate consumption during pregnancy. The researchers checked up on the babies six months after birth to evaluate their temperaments. It appears that something in chocolate protects growing fetuses against prenatal stress. And the babies whose mothers "ate chocolate daily gave birth to babies who laughed easily, soothed regularly, and responded well to novelty." Is this evidence that answers all the questions? No. But the possibilities that the soothing effects of chocolate as a stress reliever strongly indicate its benefits to babies.
Knowing this, I wish I could remember how much chocolate I ate while pregnant with my son. Why was he turned off to chocolate as a SWEET young boy with an easy-going personality, but loves it now as a SWEET grown young man? Like some aspects of the chocolate research findings, it remains a mystery to be solved.
Note to Chocolate Fanatics: Chocolate manufacturers, like most food companies, are always looking for ways to tempt us with new taste sensations. The USDA Agricultural Research Service discovered three new types of cacao beans in Peru's Amazon rainforest. NPR headlined its report, "In Peru, A Hunt for Chocolate Like You've Never Tasted It."
Like wine, the region of growth influences the ultimate flavor. The newly found cacao trees and the beans they produce take five or more years before chocolate makers have enough to add sugar and turn the cacao beans into delicious, edible confections for us to sample. Be patient.
Meier, Brian P.; Moeller, Sara K.; Riemer-Peltz, Miles; Robinson, Michael D. Sweet taste preferences and experiences predict prosocial inferences, personalities, and behaviors. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, August, 2011. -doi: 10.1037/a0025253
Pincott, Jena. Do Chocolate Lovers Have Sweeter Babies?: The Surprising Science of Pregnancy.
Free Press, 2011.
Copyright 2011 by Susan Newman