Why chocolate is women's flavour of the month

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The Independent Online
WOMEN who cannot resist the urge to eat chocolate and other snacks before a menstrual period are trying to cheer themselves up, researchers believe.

They say that chocolate might become the flavour of the month because women learn that it makes them feel good.

Dr Peter Rogers, of the Consumer Sciences Department of the Agricultural and Food Research Council's Institute of Food Research in Reading, Berkshire, has begun a study of how food affects mood and the relationship between bingeing and the menstrual cycle. He will tell a British Psychological Society meeting at the University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield, today that premenstrual snacking may not be triggered by hormonal changes alone.

While biological changes play a part, cultural influences may be as important, as women expect to feel more sensistive before a period. He says, controversially, that social influences may lead women to overemphasise the effects of the premenstrual days.

'Feeling low may be a good excuse for eating chocolate. Chocolate does make many of us feel good, it is associated with gifts, treats and rewards. Eating too much is seen as indulgence. We are expected to eat chocolate with restraint,' he said yesterday.

Dr Rogers, who is head of the psycho-biology research section at the institute, says that chocolate is the food most frequently mentioned by women for its mood enhancing effects, although cravings for high fat and sugary foods are also reported by women with premenstrual tension.

'The motivation to limit food intake and avoid fattening or 'forbidden' foods may also be lessened at this time. After all, negative moods are known to induce overeating in dieters,' he said.

He believes that the mood-lifting qualities of chocolate may have more to do with its 'happy' cultural associations than with its chemical properties.

Dr Rogers said that attempts to unravel the relationship between food and mood might lead to better understanding of other types of craving and addiction.

Other research to be discussed at the meeting shows that men eat more sweet snacks than women, probably because they are less concerned about weight gain, and that people aged 12 to 17 eat fewer snacks than other age groups.