There’s something about biting down on a sweet chunk of chocolate – from the moment it touches your lips to the satisfying snap it makes as you take the first bite to the way it coats your taste buds in a rich, velvety layer of pure flavor. Once finished, have you ever had the longing desire for more? If so, there are many explanations for why we tend to crave chocolate, and why eating this delicious candy makes us a feel a certain way.
Perhaps it’s the affect that chocolate has on the brain, the heart, or our overall emotional well-being that explains why we enjoy eating chocolate as much as we do. If you have a few minutes, continue reading to learn more about these ”feel good” chemicals found in chocolate. Or if you don’t have a few minutes, basically where we’re getting at is chocolate has superpowers. End of story.
Chocolate and Endorphins
Have you ever heard that physical exercises release endorphins in the brain?? Well, guess what… Chocolate can do the same thing! Which essentially means we can stop working out, right? We’re kidding, of course, but we’re serious about the link between chocolate and endorphins. So, why not eat some chocolate AND continue to exercise to enjoy more of those happy, healthy feelings?
What are Endorphins, and Why does Chocolate Trigger Them?
Endorphins are neurotransmitters, which is a type of chemical that neurons use to communicate with one another. Endorphins interact with the receptors in our brain that reduce the perception of pain, and can help trigger a positive feeling in the body. Depending on the event, neurotransmitters can directly affect the way people act and feel.
So where does chocolate come into play? Researchers have found that cocoa, the main ingredient in chocolate, causes the brain to release these ”feel good” chemicals (AKA endorphins). But for maximum endorphin release, we need to consider the difference between dark chocolate and its creamier counterpart, milk chocolate. Pure cocoa has a bitter taste, and the chocolate we all know and love is made by mixing it with milk and sugar to balance out the bitterness. Thus the more milk and sugar added, the less pure cocoa the chocolate contains. So, if you really want to get those endorphins flowing, reach for the dark chocolate over the milk chocolate. And remember, more cocoa = more endorphins. Of course, this is not to say that milk chocolate doesn’t also put a smile on our faces.
More about Chocolate and Brain Chemistry
Endorphins are not the only brain chemicals linked to chocolate consumption. Together with dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin these four neurotransmitters form the quartet that is responsible for our happiness and they are all released when we eat chocolate. Hence that warm and fuzzy feeling it gives us.
But wait, there’s more! Chocolate can also help boost your memory. Several studies concluded that people who had higher flavonal intake showed better signs of memory retention. Well friends, guess what else chocolate contains? You guessed it – cocoa flavonals. So there you have it, folks. In more ways than one, chocolate, in moderation, is beneficial to overall brain health.
Chocolate: Good for the Heart
Previous studies have suggested that dark chocolate may protect against high blood pressure and diabetes, both of which are risk factors for heart disease and stroke. Now, this doesn’t mean we can’t get too much of a good thing. It simply means that, like many of life’s pleasures, chocolate – consumed in moderation – could be good for us.
See additional health benefits of dark chocolate, here!
Chocolate: The ‘Feel-Good’ Food
So we know that chocolate is good for the brain and good for the heart. But what else about this delicious treat gives us the “feel-good” affect? As it turns out, several things. Other mood-boosting chemicals found in chocolate include:
- 1, 3, 7-Trimethylxanthine. Hmm, never heard of that before? That’s because the street name is caffeine. It works by counteracting the natural neurotransmitter adenosine, resulting in an increase in heart rate and muscle contraction.
- Theobromine. This stimulant works alongside caffeine to produce the characteristic energy boost many people experience after getting their chocolate fix.
- Tryptophan. An amino acid found in small quantities in chocolate used by the brain to make serotonin, the neurotransmitter that can produce feelings of happiness.
- Phenylethylalanine. Promotes feelings of attraction, excitement and nervousness and is associated with the ”butterflies” we feel when falling in love. Perhaps this explains why the majority of humans have fallen in love with chocolate after one bite; sneaky little thing.
For those that made it through our science lesson, kudos to you! Now you can join the superhero team and share your chocolate knowledge with others. The next time you hear someone feeling guilty about eating chocolate, jump in and save the day by letting them know all of the health benefits and ”feel good” results of eating this delightfully tasty treat.
In the meantime? Why not stock up on gourmet dark chocolate from Malley’s?