Rich, dark chocolate (I like it super bitter at 90% cocoa solids), raw cacao with almond milk and cacao nibs are foods of passion for me! Many people find that chocolate gives them a feel-good boost and now it seems that science is beginning to back this up.
Polyphenols are natural plant chemicals that have antioxidant properties; the main ones in cocoa are epicatechin and catechin. Antioxidants are vital to our bodies since they help to prevent cell damage and protect against disease by mopping up destructive, unstable oxygen molecules known as free radicals.
This new research, published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, looked at the effects of cocoa polyphenols on mood. Healthy participants were given a dark chocolate drink to consume for 30 days which contained 500 mg, 250 mg or 0 mg of polyphenols. Mood was rated using a special scale called the Bond-Lader Visual Analogue Scale. After 30 days the participants receiving the high-polyphenol cocoa drink had significantly increased self-rated calmness and contentedness compared to the participants who consumed 0mg of polyphenols. The researchers concluded that cocoa polyphenols may improve mood in health individuals, but that further research is needed to back up the findings.
Previous research did find that dark chocolate might be useful in reducing emotional stress. The study was small and preliminary, but interesting. The participants were first tested to see if they had high or low anxiety traits. For two weeks they were given 40g of dark chocolate each day. Urine and blood samples were taken three times during the study. The participants with higher anxiety traits showed distinct changes in their metabolic profiles while eating the dark chocolate. One factor that changed was that urine levels of the stress hormone cortisol were reduced. Dark chocolate was also found to partially normalize and correct stress-related differences in specific body chemistry levels.
"Dark chocolate, a high source of polyphenols, and flavanols in particular, has lately received attention for its possible role in modulating obesity because of its potential effect on fat and carbohydrate metabolism, as well as on satiety ...The research undertaken to date has shown promising results, with the possible implication of cocoa/dark chocolate in the modulation of obesity and body weight through several mechanisms including decreasing the expression of genes involved in fatty acid synthesis, reducing the digestion and absorption of fats and carbohydrates and increasing satiety."
This research certainly doesn't justify going out on dark chocolate binges, but it does seem that a few squares of good-quality dark chocolate with a high percentage cocoa solids (80% or more), or a cacao drink, can help boost our mood and may be enjoyed in moderation as part of a healthy balanced diet rich in polyphenols from other sources, especially vegetables and fruits.
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