Want to maximize your well-being? Eat more chocolate!

by Naïby Jacques

Eating chocolate regularly is a little bit like being in love.

Enthusiasm, desire, ecstasy, excitement of the senses, guilt and obsession are among the many things that both of these experiences makes you feel. 

And that's normal! Love affairs, uh... I mean, eating chocolate gives you a kind of chemical high that is just as addictive as alcohol or drugs. That’s because this treat has molecules that are similar to these same drugs and that act on your hormones.

If you want to understand your unique and complex relationship to chocolate, read on...

Chocolate Unveiled

Écorce de chocolat PRANA

Not all cacao products can be called "chocolate".

First of all, all chocolate is produced from cacao beans. They come from the fruit of the cacao tree that grows in warm and humid climates. The beans are subjected to a whole process of transformation: fermentation, drying, roasting, degerming, grinding, separation of dry matter and fats. After, the dry matter of the cocoa is mixed with other edible products (e.g. flavors, sugar or milk).

The denomination of the finished product can only be chosen according to its composition, that is the category of chocolate. This depends on the minimum levels of cacao and cacao butter. And the categories of chocolate—there are thirteen of them—are regulated by WHO regulations.

The most important thing to know is this: the darker (more bitter) and the less processed the chocolate, the richer it is in nutrients. These include antioxidants, especially flavonoids, vitamins and other nutrients [1][2], since they can be very volatile.

 

It would therefore be wise to choose a chocolate that’s as natural as possible. The beneficial effects will be increased.

Not so dangerous liaisons

Cocoa contains a little caffeine, but not enough to explain the attraction, fascination, addiction and effects of chocolate. In fact, it's these substances that are the true culprits:

Theobromine: the well-being molecule

Theobromine comes from the word Theobroma, which means "cocoa, the food of the gods". It accounts for 1% of the amount in a cocoa bean [3]. It’s a chemical substance that belongs to the alkaloid family. This family has names that ends in "-ine" (e.g., morphine, cocaine, theophylline, caffeine, etc.). 

While theobromine is close to caffeine, its stimulating effect on the nervous system is very mild [3]. Some studies suspect it’s related to the level of concentration in the body. After consumption, those of caffeine are twice higher and last almost twice as long as theobromine [4]. Conclusion, caffeine whips up your body more intensely than theobromine.

Anandamine: the bliss molecule

Discovered in 1992 [5], the word “anandamine” means "bliss" in Sanskrit. Anandamine is a chemical that is released by nerve cells in the brain (neurotransmitter). This molecule acts on receptors responding to the psychoaffective and euphoric effects of cannabis. Yes, hashish, marijuana, pot, grass... So the sensation of well-being comes from the response to the stimuli of the anadamine.

But don’t expect to be "buzzed" after eating chocolate anytime soon. An average person weighing about 130 pounds (60 kg) would have to ingest more than 25 pounds (55 kg) in one fell swoop to feel the effects of anandamine [6].

Phenylethylamines: the love molecules

their psychoaffective and stimulating effects [7]. Combined with the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine, they can create a feeling of euphoria and uncertainty, causing an insatiable desire.

PEAs are natural chemicals similar to amphetamine and dopamine. Together, they provoke the exaltation feeling among the lovers. This explains why you can feel a deep connection with chocolate.

Tryptophan: the enthusiasm molecule

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid. This means that your body can’t produce it alone; you have to get it through the diet. Tryptophan is an important component for protein construction. But it also helps to produce melatonin and serotonin; it’s their precursor [8].

Melatonin governs sleep and wake cycles, whereas serotonin regulates sleep, appetite, anxiety and good mood [9]. 

Thus, an increase in tryptophan concentrations in the brain results in an increase in the release of serotonin. Which means: more enthusiasm and more good energy. By this very fact, it is considered a natural antidepressant.

Magnesium: the relaxation atom

Cocoa seems to be one of the richest sources of magnesium. One hundred grams of dark chocolate 70-85% contains 228 g of magnesium, or 57% of the daily recommended value [10]. Magnesium is a mineral that promotes cognitive functions as well as relaxation of the muscles after contraction (peristalsis, heart rate...). It also has a considerable effect on the excitability of neurons.

Magnesium deficiency, which is very common on an unbalanced diet, is a sign of problems related to muscle contractions (spasms, menstrual cramps) and stress. It’s also associated with neuropsychiatric disorders (part of the medicine that encompasses the specialties of neurology and psychiatry) [11]. In short, a diet rich in magnesium will relax your muscles and your mood.

Maximize and taste well-being 

When you fall in love with chocolate... you are taken straight to cloud nine! All you have to do is add up the chemicals’ names above to understand their ultra-positive impact on your mood:

Chocolate = Well-being + bliss + love + excitement + relaxation = TOTAL HAPPINESS!

Amandes au chocolat noirThe perfect snack : dark chocolate and sea salt covered almonds

Don’t you agree? However, it’s important that your chocolate is of superior quality to enjoy these divine virtues. So enjoy it. Reward yourself. Have a blast.

If you ever feel guilty the next time you crave a chocolatey treat, re-read this list and remember how good chocolate is for you.

And during those brief moments of pleasure, abandon yourself completely. Feed your body and your soul. Close your eyes and say, "Mmmmh..."

Discover our BARKS!

 

References

[1] Astrid Nehlig. The neuroprotective effects of cocoa flavanol and its influence on cognitive performance. Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2013 Mar; 75(3): 716–727.
[2] Clapperton J. Contribution of genotype to cocoa (Theobroma cacao L.) Tropic Agric (Trinidad) 1994;71:303–308.
[3] Kuribara H, Tadokoro S. Behavioral effects of cocoa and its main active compound theobromine: evaluation by ambulatory activity and discrete avoidance in mice. Arukoru Kenkyuto Yakubutsu Ison. 1992 Apr;27(2):168-79. 
[4]. Rafael Franco, Ainhoa Oñatibia-Astibia, and Eva Martínez-Pinilla. Health Benefits of Methylxanthines in Cacao and Chocolate. Nutrients. 2013 Oct; 5(10): 4159–4173.
[5] Devane WA, Hanus L, Breuer A, Pertwee RG, Stevenson LA, Griffin G, Gibson D, Mandelbaum A, Etinger A, Mechoulam R. Isolation and structure of a brain constituent that binds to the cannabinoid receptor. Science. 1992 Dec 18;258(5090):1946-9.
[6] Christian Felder at the National Institute of Mental Health. Encyclopedia of Mind Enhancing Foods, Drugs and Nutritional Substances, 2d ed. p.205. 
[7] Glen R. Hanson; Peter J. Venturelli; Annette E. Fleckenstein (3 November 2005). Drugs and society (Ninth Edition). Jones and Bartlett Publishers. ISBN 978-0-7637-3732-0. 
[8] Slominski A, Semak I, Pisarchik A, Sweatman T, Szczesniewski A, Wortsman J. Conversion of L-tryptophan to serotonin and melatonin in human melanoma cells. FEBS Lett. 2002 Jan 30;511(1-3):102-6.
[9] Hardeland R, Pandi-Perumal SR, Cardinali DP. Melatonin.Int J Biochem Cell Biol. 2006 Mar;38(3):313-6. Epub 2005 Sep 27. 
[10] MILDRED S. SEELIG, M.D., M.P.H. The American Society for Clinical Nutrition. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/14/6/342.abstract
[11] Galland L. Magnesium, stress and neuropsychiatric disorders. Magnes Trace Elem. 1991-1992;10(2-4):287-301.
Naïby Jacques
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Naïby Jacques

Passionate about holistic health, Naïby Jacques is on a mission to help people add more plant foods to their diet by giving clever life hacks with simple and mouthwatering recipes. Get her free e-cookbook 14 recettes crues, simples et satisfaisantes qui séduiront votre entourage (French only) on her blog De Bon Cru.

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