The effect of Chocolate on mood is getting more attention lately. Chocolate is delicious and there is nothing else that satisfies quite like it, but maybe more than that, chocolate makes you feel good.
The Back-Story on Chocolate
Chocolate has been in use in one form or another since the twelfth century B.C. Exotic and tropical, chocolate comes from the cacao tree, cultivated in Mexico, Central and South America. Cacao trees grow under the moist, nurturing canopy of the rainforest, preferring shade to sun. The beans – the part that eventually becomes chocolate – snuggle inside ripened bright orange and yellow pods that grow on the trunk of the cacao tree, rather than in the branches. The cacao bears its fruit and flowers simultaneously, year-round.
The flesh of the pod is a desirable fruit on its own and is reportedly softer than an apple, with a somewhat mango-like flavor. Animals of the rainforest eat the fruit and discard the beans. If they only knew.
Once the pods are fully developed, the beans are extracted and then fermented to bring out the flavors. They’re dried and roasted, then transformed into the various nectars, powders, butters and extracts that make up the heady confections and treats we call chocolate.
What’s in Chocolate?
Chocolate may contain as many as 800 trace minerals, nutrients and compounds. One group of compounds, called polyphenolic compounds, contain antioxidants, the lovely stuff that keeps your cells from oxidizing like an old penny. Chocolate also has anandamide, theobromine, tryptophan and phenylethylamine (PEA).
Chocolate’s Effect on Mood
The chemical compounds in chocolate are believed to release feel-good hormones. Nibbling a delectable chunk of chocolate releases endorphins, serotonin and dopamine, neurotransmitters responsible for creating a feeling of calm, well-being, happiness and even elation.
In truth, the rock-solid scientific evidence of chocolate’s effect on mood is a little bit slim. There is some evidence to suggest that people who have mood disorders tend to imbibe more chocolate, but the reason isn’t well known. Some research has also been found that eating more chocolate may actually create a cyclic need for more. There are other foods that contain more of the chemicals found in chocolate, but they don’t seem to have the same effect on mood. It is possible that the pleasure of eating chocolate, the taste, the sensation, the scent and even the psychological aspect is what enhances mood.
What You Should Know
There was a time when it was deemed unhealthy to eat chocolate. Happily, studies that are more recent show this isn’t the case. In fact, it appears the opposite is true; chocolate comes packed with trace minerals and the unique combination of properties may be what makes it beneficial. However, chocolate can be a real diet trap. In general, the darker the chocolate, the better it is for you and you don’t need much of it – only about an ounce per day. Here’s something else: milk counteracts the effects of chocolate. If you get your chocolate fix via hot chocolate or milk chocolate, to name two examples, you may be missing out on the benefits.