If you’ve ever wondered if your love affair with chocolate is a one-sided relationship, don’t worry. The latest nutritional research has some very good news.
Because February is “Heart Month” as well as the month for Valentines Day, we will give you all the reasons why this delicious food is so good for you!
Your Brain On Chocolate
The cocoa bean contains a wide array of psychoactive properties, each of which nudge your neurons in different way.
- Chocolate’s theobromine can act synergistically with its own caffeine to create a sense of pleasure.
- It also contains phenylethylamine, known as the love drug because it is also released naturally when people fall in love or experience intense pleasure.
- In addition to all these other feel-good chemicals, chocolate also contains tryptophan, which can be converted into serotonin. The levels of tryptophan and serotonin are both associated with your emotional state: if they’re low, so are you.
- Brain PET scans reveal that chocolate consumption light up the pleasure areas of the brain. This is also related to the chocolate-stimulated release of endorphins.
This is all very suggestive, because chocolate is associated with all these
neurochemicals linked to positive mood. But the real question is intensely practical and personal. When you eat chocolate, does your mood actually improve? Are real world measures of anxiety changed, and in what direction?
The answer turns out to be yes and no. While that non-answer isn’t interesting, what is very interesting is the fact that “chocolate brings the happy” under specific conditions. So once you know what those are, you can make sure all those upbeat brain chemicals work for you!
Chocolate As Prevention
Here are some basic outcomes data. Eating 40 grams of high cocoa chocolate (about 8 thumb-size pieces, or 1 ounce) every day for 2 weeks can help lower stress levels. How? Consuming this amount of chocolate for this long is actually associated with a decrease in the stress hormone cortisol that floods your blood, can trigger fatty deposits, adrenal exhaustion, and even muscle wasting.
But does the statistical decrease in cortisol actually translate into you feeling less crappy? Less stressed? Less anxious? It’s one thing to measure a hormone in the context of some research study and show that the cortisol level in your blood stream moves up or down. But the real question is whether eating chocolate results in improved feelings in the long term.
As the continual bearer of good news, let me just tell you that the answer is a big, chocolaty yes. A 2010 study looked at the impact of cocoa polyphenols on two groups of people over an 8-week period. They gave one group 85% cocoa chocolate and the second group something that tasted just the same (it even had the same number of calories).
Those eating the 85% cocoa chocolate reported a 35% reduction in fatigue, a 37% reduction in anxiety, and a 45% reduction in depression. By comparison, those who ate the very same product without cocoa’s polyphenols reported slight increases in every one of those measures.
By the way, if you’re wondering how eating the equivalent of 9 thumb-size pieces of 85% cocoa chocolate daily impacted their weight, there was no weight gain at all after 8 weeks of eating this amount. Zero.