Journal

The Chocolate Gene

by | Jul 7, 2014 | Editorial

The exact nature/nurture divide is still being debated, but when it comes to chocolate, I have it from both sides.

I was raised in a household with a father who loved chocolate and a mother who loved to bake.

It was considered normal to have chocolate cake or cookies for dessert after breakfast and essential to have chocolate ice cream before bed. I went cold turkey and gave it all up over thirty years ago, when I began exploring nutrition therapy for migraine prevention.

Then in recent years along came the ubiquity of dark, artisanal chocolate. Extremely dark, high cacao, organic, kosher chocolate. My very dear friend Marjorie, who had talked me out of chocolate chip cookies back in the day and introduced me to my nutritionist, made a radical suggestion. She said that perhaps this high-antioxidant, high magnesium-content, serotonin-producing bit of dark decadence might actually help my migraines. And so it has.

When I feel a migraine coming on, a square or two or three will often head it off, or at least lessen the intensity. Sometimes a migraine will wake me at dawn. I will let a bit melt in my mouth and sink into another hour of sleep, peaceful and headache-free. The chocolate has saved me from that awful, creeping migraine that often sneaks up on me while I’m driving in stop-and-go traffic on that scourge of LA known as the 405 Freeway. I am never without my supply.

I eat bars of 80% cacao or higher and buy it by the case in the health food store. And yes, I do occasionally get odd looks from the clerks. After all, hard-core, ultra-dark, bitter chocolate is supposed to be the province of the health-conscious. What exactly am I doing with this stuff? When I tell them it’s my migraine medicine, they smile; it makes perfect sense to them.

Caution dear Reader: As I’ve said elsewhere, for me it brings relief or at least reprieve; for others it may wreak havoc. So be judicious. Also, as one of my daughters pointed out, the higher the percentage of cacao, the higher the caffeine content. So you might not want to indulge before bed. A further caution: A number of very high quality dark chocolate bars are made with soy lecithin, which for me is a big migraine trigger. And always beware the rebound effect. If every time you nibble chocolate one day, you wake up with a migraine the next, be sure you’re not having withdrawal – that one day’s remedy isn’t the next day’s pain. If it is I’d nix the chocolate.

That said, back to the nature/nurture debate. Wherever you come down on that, I am convinced there is a chocolate gene. In my family we have it and it’s definitely dominant, not recessive. So, naturally, my grandchildren have been enthralled that Nana, who eats mostly just green stuff, began carrying a chocolate bar in her purse. So, naturally, they wanted to taste. So, naturally, I obliged.

Oh, dear Reader: The faces. The grimaces. The looks that said, “How could you do this to me?” or “How can you eat this stuff?” or “Where’s the garbage?” just before they ran to spit it out.

With one exception. My little granddaughter, now four years old, first tasted “Nana’s chocolate” when she was barely three. And loved it. And still does, and loves to tell people that “only Nana and I like this chocolate because it’s very, very dark and very good for you.” My granddaughter, by the way, has also instinctively known, since she was eighteen months old, exactly how to hold a pen. She practices letter formation with me and is waiting for me to teach her calligraphy. Naturally, I intend to do so, as we sit together nibbling our very, very dark chocolate.

It was considered normal to have chocolate cake or cookies for dessert after breakfast and essential to have chocolate ice cream before bed. I went cold turkey and gave it all up over thirty years ago, when I began exploring nutrition therapy for migraine prevention.

Then in recent years along came the ubiquity of dark, artisanal chocolate. Extremely dark, high cacao, organic, kosher chocolate. My very dear friend Marjorie, who had talked me out of chocolate chip cookies back in the day and introduced me to my nutritionist, made a radical suggestion. She said that perhaps this high-antioxidant, high magnesium-content, serotonin-producing bit of dark decadence might actually help my migraines. And so it has.

When I feel a migraine coming on, a square or two or three will often head it off, or at least lessen the intensity. Sometimes a migraine will wake me at dawn. I will let a bit melt in my mouth and sink into another hour of sleep, peaceful and headache-free. The chocolate has saved me from that awful, creeping migraine that often sneaks up on me while I’m driving in stop-and-go traffic on that scourge of LA known as the 405 Freeway. I am never without my supply.

I eat bars of 80% cacao or higher and buy it by the case in the health food store. And yes, I do occasionally get odd looks from the clerks. After all, hard-core, ultra-dark, bitter chocolate is supposed to be the province of the health-conscious. What exactly am I doing with this stuff? When I tell them it’s my migraine medicine, they smile; it makes perfect sense to them.

Caution dear Reader: As I’ve said elsewhere, for me it brings relief or at least reprieve; for others it may wreak havoc. So be judicious. Also, as one of my daughters pointed out, the higher the percentage of cacao, the higher the caffeine content. So you might not want to indulge before bed. A further caution: A number of very high quality dark chocolate bars are made with soy lecithin, which for me is a big migraine trigger. And always beware the rebound effect. If every time you nibble chocolate one day, you wake up with a migraine the next, be sure you’re not having withdrawal – that one day’s remedy isn’t the next day’s pain. If it is I’d nix the chocolate.

That said, back to the nature/nurture debate. Wherever you come down on that, I am convinced there is a chocolate gene. In my family we have it and it’s definitely dominant, not recessive. So, naturally, my grandchildren have been enthralled that Nana, who eats mostly just green stuff, began carrying a chocolate bar in her purse. So, naturally, they wanted to taste. So, naturally, I obliged.

Oh, dear Reader: The faces. The grimaces. The looks that said, “How could you do this to me?” or “How can you eat this stuff?” or “Where’s the garbage?” just before they ran to spit it out.

With one exception. My little granddaughter, now four years old, first tasted “Nana’s chocolate” when she was barely three. And loved it. And still does, and loves to tell people that “only Nana and I like this chocolate because it’s very, very dark and very good for you.” My granddaughter, by the way, has also instinctively known, since she was eighteen months old, exactly how to hold a pen. She practices letter formation with me and is waiting for me to teach her calligraphy. Naturally, I intend to do so, as we sit together nibbling our very, very dark chocolate.

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