Does this experience sound familiar? You're about to eat a piece of dark chocolate and, whether it's in your office (hiding under your desk) or at home (snuggy in bed), you kind of wish you were the only one in the room as you engage all of your senses. From the time you take the first look you feel awakened and recharged. As the chocolate aroma passes your nose you feel the endorphins start to rush. You take a little bite to fully experience the myriad of flavors, creaminess and complexity of the dark chocolate while it melts in your mouth. All of your senses open as your emotions take a journey from peaceful contentment to blissfully aware then, finally ... ahh ... total euphoria.
Could our affection for chocolate and the episodic experience it brings us have actual
merit? Here are six science-tested ways that chocolate may boost your mood.
1. Chocolate takes you on a sensory experience.
Turns out, there may be good reason that chocolate is a familiar courtship ritual. Chocolate offers unique sensory stimulation from the time you see chocolate to noticing the aroma and engaging in the mouthfeel — chocolate can excite your senses. One study found that simply looking at chocolate can trigger a happier mood. Another study found that the aroma of chocolate can increase attention and focus. And, as chocolate melts in your mouth, the sweet and fatty nature (from cocoa butter) can stimulate pleasurable sensations, making you feel happy and blissful.
Try this: snap off a piece of dark chocolate and allow it to melt it your mouth (don't chew!), holding it on your tongue and allowing the the cocoa butter to melt (cocoa butter makes the chocolate hard at room temperature). The heat in your mouth melts the cocoa butter and the result is a sensational cooling effect (like a minty cooling). As the cocoa butter melts, it releases a potent cocktail of fruity, nutty, and earthy aromas and flavors. This sensory experience is part of what makes chocolate so pleasurable.
2. Chocolate contains psychoactive compounds.
Chocolate contains psychoactive compounds, such as theobromine and caffeine, which can give an instant energy boost and improve stamina. Theobromine, present in higher quantities in dark chocolate compared to milk chocolate, is chemically similar to caffeine. It's been shown to lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol, support healthy teeth, reduce inflammation, and act as a natural cough suppressant. Its effects on energy levels is gentler compared to caffeine with longer lasting effects. It may also support cognition as it encourages blood flow to the brain.
The theobromine content in dark chocolate is higher than the content of caffeine (one ounce of dark chocolate has about 35 mg of caffeine).
Chocolate for breakfast? Yep, that's a real thing. Move over, coffee!
3. Chocolate is chock-full of polyphenols.
The polyphenols in dark chocolate create nitric oxide in your body, which dilates the blood vessels and increases blood flow, delivering more oxygen and nutrients to all organs, including the brain. This boost in blood flow may support cognition and improve mood.
4. Polyphenols also reduce inflammation.
Dark chocolate has an abundance of flavonoids that act like antioxidants, scavenging free radicals and fighting inflammation, including inflammation to the brain. This antioxidant activity has been shown to support cognition and alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression.
5. Dark chocolate is an excellent source of magnesium.
There is approximately 65 mg of magnesium in one-ounce of dark chocolate (70–85%). This is over 20% of the RDA, which is 310–320 mg a day. Magnesium is an essential mineral that supports healthy sleep and a good mood. Some research also shows that magnesium may alleviate PMS symptoms, which might be just one reason premenopausal women crave dark chocolate during that time of the month.
6. Chocolate provides prebiotic fiber.
Just one ounce of dark chocolate contains 3–4 grams of fiber, much of which is prebiotic fiber. This type of fiber feeds healthy bacteria in the gut. Research is showing that the gut is like the "second brain" and communicates with the brain in a way that can influence mood, alleviate anxiety, and help with depression. Fostering a healthy gut through foods rich in prebiotic fiber, like dark chocolate, can improve healthy communication between the gut and the brain.
So, can these feelings of love and euphoria after enjoying a piece of dark chocolate be real? There's good evidence pointing to yes! We know that 1–1.5 ounces of dark chocolate daily can provide numerous benefits for the heart, brain, mood, endurance and more — so, the bottom line? Whether you're spending the day of love (Valentine's Day is today!) with someone or solo, you can count on chocolate to be the dreamiest date that is sure to end heavenly.
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