We’ve often wondered why people that are under the influence of stress crave chocolate. What is it about chocolate that makes us reach for it when we are unhappy, depressed, anxious or just plain bored? It can’t be just the sugar, as in that case we would eat anything sweet when we feel down.
Chocolate is rich in antioxidants, and antioxidants are famous for renewing our cells and fighting off free radicals in our body which would otherwise turn into cancer. Chocolate is made out of cocoa beans that are roasted and ground. Cocoa is a source of flavonoids and alkaloids. Alkaloids contain caffeine that is a known stimulant. Raw cocoa is considered to have supposed health benefits on blood pressure and therefore helps in prevention of cardiovascular disease.
There are several different types of chocolate. The healthiest is pure and unsweetened chocolate that consists of cocoa solids and cocoa butter and is primarily used in baking. Dark chocolate is cocoa mix with added sugar and fat. Milk chocolate is sweet chocolate that contains sugar, condensed milk and milk powder in addition to dry cocoa solids. White chocolate also contains sugar, cocoa butter and milk but doesn’t contain cocoa solids.
A lot of research has been done with regards to how chocolate stimulates cognitive abilities. It would be the dark chocolate that is at the centre of the research. As it was mentioned previously, dark chocolate is good source of caffeine. It also contains antioxidants like polyphenols. Dark chocolate is low in sugar and considered the healthiest type of chocolate, so much that it has been identified as potential superfood.
Superfood really just means that certain foods have some extremely important health benefits when compared to other foods. Other superfoods include berries, spinach, kale, etc. Another important ingredient of cocoa is flavonoid, which is polyphenolic particle found in plants and they are a rich source of antioxidants. Cocoa and chocolate are sources of flavonol which is a type of flavonoid and helps in reduction of inflammation in the arteries.
Summary of health benefits of flavonoids:
- Reduces risk of cancer
- Reduces risk of heart disease
- Anti-inflammatory effects
- Rich source of antioxidants
Study listed by International Journal of Health Sciences points out that cocoa polyphenols reduce stress in highly stressed people. As per this this study, consumption of 40 grams of Dark and Milk chocolate in a 2 week period was effective in stress reduction in women. Consumption of chocolate had less significant impact on men. Conclusion is that both Dark and Milk chocolate were equally effective in reduction of perceived stress in women.
While there is belief that depressed people crave chocolate and when they satisfy their craving they tend to be happier, there is contradictory belief that people that love chocolate are more depressive. Research could not conclude whether people that craved more chocolate are depressive because of increased chocolate consumption or the other way around. More on that study can be found here: Chocolate and Depression
From all we’ve gathered, cocoa has lots of health benefits and our bodies know what comfort foods we crave. Some argue that we can become addicted to chocolate due to its caffeine and sugar content which are both known to cause addiction. Subsequently people will crave and eat more of the food they are addicted to. That being said, antioxidants are known to repair cellular damage in the brain caused by depression and cocoa is rich source of antioxidants. While the verdict is still not out whether chocolate consumption helps in reducing depression symptoms or stress, we should all eat whatever makes us happy. When we do things that make us happy we also help ourselves in reduction of stress and depression. So, don’t deprive yourself of that chocolate cake that you love so much. Consume it in moderation, and stay happy!