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Why does chocolate make you happy? The science behind the joy of the sweet delight

Published Jul 5, 2023 | Updated Jul 19, 2024
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Chocolate, the delectable pick-me-up, has been enjoyed by humans for over 3000 years. In fact, the average global consumption of chocolate in 2022 was 7.5 million tons, which is roughly equal to the weight of 7.5 million cows! [1].

A bite of the velvety treat can instantly put you in a good mood. What is the science behind the joyous effects of chocolate on the brain?  Chocolate contains 300-500 natural chemicals [2 Trusted Source 2022 - Nutrients Systematic and meta-analysis Cyrcadian Rhythm, Mood, and Temporal Patterns of Eating Chocolate: A Scoping Review of Physiology, Findings, and Future Directions , some of which are responsible for delivering the mental health benefits of chocolate. Read on to find out why chocolate makes you happy.

Chocolate’s secret to your good mood: It's all in your mind.

There are interesting psychological elements in place when it comes to chocolate uplifting your mood. Imagine having a long, stressful day at work and coming home to a delicious slice of chocolate cake. The comfort of chocolate can help relieve the stress you had all day long. The second way chocolate helps is by being delicious. The texture, taste and smell of chocolate are highly desirable and that brings joy, thus improving your mood. Some of the compounds released by chocolate can evoke a release of positive brain chemicals, including those that can have a pain-relieving effect, which can add to the feel-good reaction [2 Trusted Source 2022 - Nutrients Systematic and meta-analysis Cyrcadian Rhythm, Mood, and Temporal Patterns of Eating Chocolate: A Scoping Review of Physiology, Findings, and Future Directions .

Chocolate and serotonin- getting a daily dose of good mood.

A review of 9 studies affirmed that consuming chocolate could have a positive effect on your mood for a short time (3 days) [3 Trusted Source 2021 - Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition Systematic and meta-analysis The effect of cocoa-rich products on depression, anxiety, and mood: A systematic review and meta-analysis . White chocolate, milk chocolate, or dark chocolate- which one is the best? A study found that those who consumed 30g of 85% dark chocolate (85% is the cocoa content) for 3 weeks reported better mood scores [4 Trusted Source 2022 - The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry Human study Consumption of 85% cocoa dark chocolate improves mood in association with gut microbial changes in healthy adults: a randomized controlled trial . This was supported by another study of over 13,000 participants, which revealed that those who consumed dark chocolate had an almost 60% lower risk of depression compared to those who avoided chocolate [5 Trusted Source 2019 - Depression and Anxiety Human study Is there a relationship between chocolate consumption and symptoms of depression? A cross‐sectional survey of 13,626 US adults . Chocolate’s good mood is often attributed to enhancement in your happiness brain chemical, serotonin. This is because chocolate contains serotonin’s building block, called tryptophan (a type of nutrient). If you are thinking of boosting your serotonin levels by consuming multiple bars of chocolate, think again. There is only 0.39g tryptophan in 30g of dark chocolate (70-85% cocoa content) [6 Trusted Source 2012 - Journal of Chromatography Systematic and meta-analysis Determination of serotonin and its precursors in chocolate samples by capillary liquid chromatography with mass spectrometry detection . Considering that your brain uses a small amount [7 Trusted Source 2021 - International Journal of Molecular Sciences Systematic and meta-analysis The Multifaceted Role of Serotonin in Intestinal Homeostasis of ingested tryptophan to make serotonin, it is unrealistic to expect chocolate alone to bring a big surge in your serotonin levels. An easier, more efficient way to make serotonin is through taking its direct building block, 5-HTP (lacking in chocolate). Once tryptophan enters the brain, it is converted to 5-HTP which is then converted to serotonin. This is also great news if you have a savoury tooth, brain feed has produced the world’s smallest dense tablet of 100mg 5-HTP that can naturally and safely increase serotonin levels. Read more here.


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Chocolate and dopamine- reward and pleasure galore.

Your reward and pleasure brain chemical is dopamine. It can be easily understood why eating chocolate releases dopamine. Animal studies found strong activation of dopamine-producing areas upon chocolate intake [8 Trusted Source 2020 - Scientific Reports Animal study Involvement of the Nucleus Accumbens in Chocolate-induced Cataplexy . Your brain is wired to pursue pleasure and repeated performances of acts that bring pleasure. Fat and sugar are two of the most palatable components that make some foods like chocolate so sought-after. This activates the dopamine system and uplevels chocolate’s rewarding potential [9 Trusted Source 2019 - Nutrients Human study Increasing Chocolate’s Sugar Content Enhances Its Psychoactive Effects and Intake . Your dopamine system must stay balanced, without over-activation of the system by consuming excess chocolate. Another healthy way to increase your dopamine levels is by consuming its building block, tyrosine (a type of nutrient). Apart from some protein rich foods, it can be found in supplemental forms for a safe and efficient production of dopamine. brain feed has created the world’s 1st natural 800mg tyrosine capsule from fermented corn. Read more here.

Chocolate and flavonoids- happiness and health.

Chocolate is rich in a category of beneficial plant compounds called flavonoids. Their levels increase within 30 mins of consuming chocolate, and peak at 2-3 hours [2 Trusted Source 2022 - Nutrients Systematic and meta-analysis Cyrcadian Rhythm, Mood, and Temporal Patterns of Eating Chocolate: A Scoping Review of Physiology, Findings, and Future Directions . Flavonoids increase blood flow to the brain. This is important to ensure the optimal functioning of the brain because blood carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain cells, nourishing them. This helps improve brain cell production and protects brain areas. This is another way chocolate can help you regulate mood long-term. A review of 36 studies showed that those with high intake of flavonoids have better resolution of depressive symptoms, due to their brain protective effects [11 Trusted Source 2021 - Antioxidants Systematic and meta-analysis Exploring the Impact of Flavonoids on Symptoms of Depression: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis . The reason why dark chocolate is applauded for its health benefits is due to a high flavonoid content. Dark chocolate can contain almost 143% more flavonoids than milk chocolate [10 Trusted Source 2011 - Antioxidants & Redox Signaling Systematic and meta-analysis Cocoa and Chocolate in Human Health and Disease .

This World Chocolate Day, pick a bar of dark chocolate and bask in the joy of good mood and great brain health. 


References

  1. Max (2022). 21 Current Chocolate Statistics (Chocolate Market Data 2022). [online] Dame Cacao. 
  2. Garbarino, S. et al. (2022). Cyrcadian Rhythm, Mood, and Temporal Patterns of Eating Chocolate: A Scoping Review of Physiology, Findings, and Future Directions. Nutrients14(15), 3113. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu14153113
  3. Fusar-Poli, L. et al. (2021). The effect of cocoa-rich products on depression, anxiety, and mood: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, pp.1–13. https://doi.org/10.1080/10408398.2021.1920570
  4. Shin, J. et al. (2022). Consumption of 85% cocoa dark chocolate improves mood in association with gut microbial changes in healthy adults: a randomized controlled trial. The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, [online] 99, p.108854. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jnutbio.2021.108854
  5. Jackson, S. E. et al. (2019). Is there a relationship between chocolate consumption and symptoms of depression? A cross-sectional survey of 13,626 US adults. Depression and anxiety36(10), 987–995. https://doi.org/10.1002/da.22950
  6. Guillén-Casla, V. et al. (2012). Determination of serotonin and its precursors in chocolate samples by capillary liquid chromatography with mass spectrometry detection. Journal of chromatography. A1232, 158–165. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chroma.2011.11.037
  7. Koopman, N. et al. (2021). The Multifaceted Role of Serotonin in Intestinal Homeostasis. International journal of molecular sciences22(17), 9487. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms22179487
  8. Su, J., Li, Z. et al. (2020). Involvement of the Nucleus Accumbens in Chocolate-induced Cataplexy. Scientific Reports. [online] https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-61823-4
  9. Casperson, S. L., Lanza, L., Albajri, E., & Nasser, J. A. (2019). Increasing Chocolate's Sugar Content Enhances Its Psychoactive Effects and Intake. Nutrients11(3), 596. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11030596
  10. Katz, D. L., Doughty, K., & Ali, A. (2011). Cocoa and chocolate in human health and disease. Antioxidants & redox signaling15(10), 2779–2811 https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/ars.2010.3697
  11. Ali, S., Corbi, G., Maes, M., Scapagnini, G. and Davinelli, S. (2021).  Exploring the Impact of Flavonoids on Symptoms of Depression: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Antioxidants, 10(11), p.1644. https://doi.org/10.3390/antiox10111644

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