It is the typical break-up scene in the movie and you watch as the girl eats her way through half a gallon of chocolate ice cream. According to Hollywood, this is the remedy to a broken heart.
We all know that chocolate makes us feel better and we intuitively know it will make the broken-hearted girl feel better, but what is it about this guilty pleasure that makes us feel better? We’ve dug a little deeper and found out that chocolate is no ordinary sweet treat and why this ancient treat makes us feel the way we feel.
Chocolate is loaded with over 300 naturally occurring chemicals and antioxidants that affect the human brain through the release of neurotransmitters. These chemical reactions in our brain mimic the feelings we get when we feel happy. These happy feelings chocolate releases in our brains are thanks to phenylethylamine. This makes it a healthy sweet snack to try!
Phenylethylamine has been commonly called the love drug because of the way it promotes feelings of attraction, excitement, and nervousness and is associated with the initial euphoria of falling in love. This chemical also acts as an antidepressant by combining with dopamine that is naturally present in the brain.
The other neurotransmitter that gives chocolate its mood-lifting superpower is serotonin. The serotonin is released with the help of tryptophan which is found in, you guessed it – chocolate! Tryptophan is used by the brain to make serotonin, the neurotransmitter that can produce feelings of happiness. Although the list of happiness-producing neurotransmitters goes on.
When we eat chocolate the anandamide – named after the Sanskrit word ananda meaning ‘bliss’ coincidence, we think not, causes the production of dopamine. Dopamine is another feel-good chemical. Finally, chocolate releases endorphins into the brain, and endorphins make us happy, they also decrease stress and pain levels.
Chocolate also contains theobromine, which is both a stimulant and a sedative. A weak stimulant that works alongside caffeine to produce the characteristic ‘high’ that many people experience after getting their chocolate fix. Scientists at the Neurosciences Institute in San Diego suggest that chocolate contains substances that produce a cannabis-like effect on the brain. But don’t get too excited – you would have to ingest more than 25 pounds of chocolate in one sitting to get ‘high’ in the same way says the Neurosciences Institute in San Diego.
While chocolate may be the best of life’s guilty pleasures – chocolate can aggravate Pitta, calm the airy Vata, and can stimulate the heavy Kaphas. But before we all run off and start eating M&Ms – a medicinal dose of chocolate is generally 2 squares daily. Larger amounts will cause an imbalance which means hyperacidity and irritability in Pittas, heaviness, and sluggishness in Kaphas, and increased spaciness in Vatas.
Don’t know your dosha? Take our Modern Dosha Quiz.
Not all chocolate has ‘health’ benefits. Typically the cocoa in milk chocolate is highly processed and contains fats, additives, and sugars so it comes down to how much of the original cocoa is left in the final product, the quality of the ingredients, and additives used.
Dark chocolate has less sugar added to it and more of the original cocoa left than milk chocolate. Thus dark chocolate is generally considered the healthier of the two because of cacao’s health benefits. The greater cocoa content provides high concentrations of antioxidants called flavonoids, which reportedly prevent cancers, protect blood vessels, promote cardiac health, and counteract high blood pressure. According to The Journal of American Medicine Association after a study was completed in 2007, they found that regular consumption of dark chocolate saw a significant drop in systolic BP by −2.9 (1.6) mm Hg and diastolic BP by −1.9 (1.0) mm Hg (P < .001) without changes in body weight.
Another study found that tryptophan, which promotes the release of serotonin, the antioxidant resveratrol, and phenethylamine which is linked to having an antidepressant effect can all be found in the properties of dark chocolate.
To expand on this, the response could be to do with dark chocolate’s impact on the brain. Two studies have reported acute cognitive effects of supplementation with cocoa polyphenols. It’s all so interesting that the genome of cocoa was sequenced in 2008 so that we could find out more about it from a genetic point of view.
Consumption of dark chocolate has also been linked to a more powerful memory, as research indicates that it has the ability to improve visual-spatial memory and organisation, working memory, scanning and tracking, and abstract reasoning.
Other studies have found that dark chocolate can be a powerful antioxidant. But before you go on a dark chocolate binge, always remember that too much of a good thing is just as bad as too much of a bad thing. It doesn’t take much sugar to over-stimulate the nervous system and elevate blood sugars to high levels. If you do not have any pre-diabetic issues and are otherwise in good health, a small piece of chocolate after a meal may offer you all of the benefits without negatively affecting blood sugar levels.
However, as in all things, know what is right for your dosha. Cacao is heating in the body – much like most stimulants, is bitter, and difficult to digest. Depending on your metabolic constitution, these qualities might be helpful or harmful for you. For example, I am a Vata and people with a lot of Vata energy often have irregular digestion and may find that over-consumption of chocolate leaves them feeling nauseated. Vatas also tend to have sensitive nervous systems, and so the stimulant effects of chocolate may leave these people feeling nervous and spacey.
However, if you’re a person with a lot of Pitta energy, the heat of chocolate may be too much for your energetic body and will contribute to issues caused by too much heat, such as irritated eyes, skin rashes, heartburn, or even migraines.
For Kaphas, however, chocolate can act as a stimulant and counteract their natural predisposition towards lethargy, heaviness, and depression. This is where all Kaphas love me as I give them permission to eat chocolate.
It is the imbalance of the doshas that leads to disease. The imbalance creates inflammation and inflammation creates disease. We see this play out time and time again. So if we take chocolate, and process it or use it in ways that do not complement our doshas, we will create an imbalance and ultimately a disease regardless of the beneficial qualities that chocolate has to offer.
Since the time of the Aztecs, all the way through human history, dark chocolate has had a rich tradition of improving the mental states of people and being used as a means to de-stress and feel happier.
So take 2 chocolate squares daily and call me in the morning –
Want to know what other foods are healthy and delicious? Try our meal plan with 5 new recipes each week designed for your specific metabolic type and the season you are in. Each meal plan includes a shopping list – so that you just get the food over the weekend and know you are eating all the right foods for you throughout the week…and it may even include some chocolate!
MEALS THAT HEAL – CHOCOLATE AVOCADO FUDGE
Ready to enjoy the good news about chocolate? Luckily this recipe really is as healthy as it is delicious. Featuring gut health superfoods – I make this recipe whenever anyone in the house is a little under the weather since all of these ingredients support a healthy gut microbiome and immune function!