• “There’s no naturally occurring food that combines fats and sugars; there is no chocolate tree. So in evolutionary terms our brains are going, ‘wow fantastic'." (iStockphoto/Getty Images)
It may not be entirely your fault if you eat milk or white chocolate Easter eggs until you feel sick.
By
Yasmin Noone

17 Apr 2019 - 10:48 AM  UPDATED 17 Apr 2019 - 11:51 AM

If you’ve got a weakness for milk and white chocolate, then Easter could result in your unhealthy undoing, as your consumption of Easter eggs goes into overdrive this weekend.

But according to Australian researchers, your tendency to binge on sweet-tasting chocolate treats until you feel sick might not just be because you lack willpower.

Director of Deakin’s Centre for Advanced Sensory Science (CASS), Professor Russell Keast, explains chocolate contains the right combination of fat and sugar to drive consumption and increase our eating pleasure.

“The combination of these things leads to a strong positive liking for chocolate, and even if we eat too much and start to feel ill, we easily forget this feeling, and the next time we have a chance to overindulge, we do it again.”

“There’s no naturally occurring food that combines fats and sugars; there is no chocolate tree,” Professor Keast says. “So in evolutionary terms, our brains are going, ‘wow, fantastic, consume more’.

“The combination of these things leads to a strong positive liking for chocolate, and even if we eat too much and start to feel ill, we easily forget this feeling, and the next time we have a chance to overindulge, we do it again.”

Even though humans have learnt to avoid foods that made us feel sick, chocolate has always been an exception.

“We can overcome the short-term over-consumption that makes us feel ill, because the high energy density is received positively by the body – so you just remember the joy of consumption.”

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Your sweet tooth may be genetic

Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Queensland Diamantina Institute, Dr Daniel Hwang, throws another reasoning for chocolate egg adoration into the mix: your preference for sweet-tasting chocolate could be in your genes.

Recent research led by Dr Hwang, awaiting publication, has delved into the workings of our sweet taste receptor gene.

“Everyone has this gene but people have different variations of the gene,” Dr Hwang tells SBS.   

“Think of it as being just like the sex chromosome. Males have XY and females have XX. But in this gene, some people might have AA or CC or AC. People may have a different genetic coding, which is why some people will find the same spoonful of sugar or piece of chocolate sweeter than another person.”

“We looked at the total sugar intake as well as the total sweet intake – which included candies and chocolate – and believe that this gene explains why African Americans may eat more sugar than European and Asian people.”

Dr Hwang says his team found that African American people have a specific genotype that may lead them to eat more sugar than Asian or European people.

“We looked at the total sugar intake as well as the total sweet intake – which included candies and chocolate – and believe that this gene explains why African Americans may eat more sugar than European and Asian people.”

However, he says, our genes account for half (or less) of our dietary behaviour. “The other half can be environmental and cultural affects.”

So if you have European ancestry and will be devouring multiple pieces of chocolate this Easter, your actions could be more nurture than nature.

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Bitter dark chocolate may help your sweet chocolate cravings

The positive news is that if you want to break your sweet chocolate obsession, it’s totally possible by switching to bitter dark chocolate.

Senior lecturer at Deakin University at the school of Exercise and Nutrition Science, Dr Gie Liem, says that repeat exposure is key to develop a preference for bitter tasting dark chocolate.

The more years we spend consuming bitter flavours, and in particular bitter dark chocolate, the more likely we are to enjoy the taste of dark chocolate in adulthood.

He explains that the two basic tastes in chocolate – among a wide variety of other flavours – are sweet and bitter.

“It’s been shown that people feel more satisfied or full, and feel less desire to eat something sweet, fatty or savoury, after they consume dark chocolate compared to milk chocolate.”

“Most chocolate contains a considerable amount of sugar, with milk chocolate being approximately 45 per cent sugar and dark chocolate going from 0-to-45 per cent, depending on brand and type,” comments Dr Liem.

“A dislike for bitter taste is actually rather functional, because many toxic foods in nature taste bitter.

“So children, in general, dislike bitter notes in foods, while adults learn to enjoy some bitter foods such as coffee, alcohol or dark chocolate. This is likely to be related to repeated exposure and the positive post-ingestive consequences of these foods. We feel good after we eat them.”

Dr Liem says choosing bitter dark chocolate over sweeter milk or white chocolate has one main advantage: we may end up eating less of it.

“The intense flavour of bitter chocolate and the usually harder texture causes us to stop sooner than if we were to eat milk chocolate.

“It’s been shown that people feel more satisfied or full, and feel less desire to eat something sweet, fatty or savoury, after they consume dark chocolate compared to milk chocolate.”

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