Chocolate is a delightful treat enjoyed by many people from different cultures around the world. Its rich taste and melt-in-your-mouth texture can even make it a real sensory experience. There are many reasons behind our love affair with this delightful treat, but is there a health reason too?
The research regarding the health benefits of chocolate shows many advantages for eating chocolate and sometimes even brands it as a ‘super food’ and besides, quite a few of the studies in the field are funded by the chocolate companies, which may bias the findings and thus provide the captive audience with additional good reasons to consume chocolate (not really have to make an effort).
It is not very surprising that chocolate companies can have an interest in promoting the health benefits of their products. Many studies emphasizing the virtues of chocolate are funded by these companies, raising questions about the objectivity and reliability of the research. This influence can sometimes lead to exaggerated claims and misinterpretation of findings.
Therefore, it is important that we approach these studies with a critical eye and take into account the broader context, for example in a review study that gathered studies that examined the effects of cocoa on blood pressure, it was found that an especially large amount of cocoa (compare about half a bar of chocolate) is required to create a positive effect on blood pressure found in healthy people
Claims that present chocolate as a “superfood” or a cure for various medical conditions should be treated with caution. Alongside this, the positive effects attributed to chocolate often refer to the antioxidant properties of the polyphenols, phytochemicals found in cocoa.
One of the findings based on studies is that regular and moderate consumption of dark chocolate over time may reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases such as stroke, heart failure, heart attack, and coronary heart disease, this is based on the fact that the antioxidants in cocoa may contribute to improving the function of the inner wall of blood vessels and reduce the stiffness of the arteries and thus contribute to improving blood flow.
Improving mood, reducing stress, and improving cognitive function
Chocolate contains various compounds that can affect brain chemistry. One such compound is phenylethylamine, which is often referred to as the “love chemical” and stimulates the release of endorphins in the brain, creating feelings of euphoria and happiness. In addition, chocolate contains tryptophan, an amino acid through which serotonin is produced. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays a crucial role in regulating mood, appetite, and sleep. Consuming chocolate may increase serotonin levels in the brain, leading to improved mood.
Many of us turn to chocolate in times of stress, sadness, or joy. This emotional connection is deeply embedded in our culture and personal experiences. Just savoring a piece of chocolate can provide a momentary escape, a source of comfort or a simple way to lift our spirits. This may explain why many people repeatedly turn to chocolate for emotional regulation or stress relief.
Furthermore, two meta-analyses from recent years have shown a positive effect of cocoa on our cognition. The first found a positive effect of cocoa polyphenols on memory and executive function and the second found that chocolate consumption does affect the momentary mood by releasing certain hormones, such as serotonin and endorphins, which are associated with feelings of happiness and pleasure, but was also skeptical about the long-term effects on mood.
And finally, one of the most compelling and simple reasons to enjoy chocolate is simply the classic taste. Whether it’s the rich and velvety texture of dark chocolate or the creamy sweetness of milk chocolate and let’s not even talk about white chocolate. Besides, it is important that we also know how to stop and listen to the body. The high sugar content in most chocolate products can actually contribute to health damage to our bodies when consumed excessively. It is also important to legitimize a choice that does not always consider the health aspect, but also one that does.
And if you are also interested in making a healthy choice in your consideration, it is important that you know that there are differences in the composition of the different types of chocolate and that dark chocolate with a higher cocoa content (70%+) usually contains less sugar alongside more beneficial compounds such as the flavonoids mentioned. Integrating chocolate into a balanced and varied diet is the key to enjoyment while maintaining our health.
Livy Kazarnovsky Nachshon is a clinical dietician, Maccabi Health Services North District