The Mood and Health Benefits of Chocolate

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There is a reason why biting into a piece of chocolate causes some of us to purr and enjoy a boost in mood.

The reason is not the divinely delicious texture and taste, although that is why most of us eat it. The ingredient in chocolate that elevates our mood is called anandamide.

An Element of Bliss

Anandamide is a neurotransmitter that our brain manufactures. It temporarily blocks feelings of depression and pain. Not only does chocolate produce this uplifting compound, it provides additional chemicals that sustain the mood-enhancing effects of anandamide.

It seems appropriate that the word "anandamide" is derived from the Sanskrit word for "bliss." Yet this neurotransmitter does more than help us bliss out. It is also produced in parts of the brain crucial for higher thought processes, movement control and memory.

More Chocolate Health Benefits

Dark chocolate is loaded with chemicals that provide health benefits.

  1. Chocolate contains resveratrol, a compound known to protect the nervous system and brain. It is also considered a key element in healthy aging and longevity.
  2. Chocolate is an anti-inflammatory food, reducing the inflammation of our body’s tissues that can lead to chronic, degenerative illnesses.
  3. Chocolate contains antioxidants, neutralizing free radicals that – if left to roam – can damage to our cells' DNA.
  4. Chocolate contains caffeine and theobromine, energizing our body and brain.
  5. Chocolate reduced stress hormone levels in a research study done with highly stressed individuals.
  6. Chocolate decreases LDL cholesterol, increases blood flow, and lowers the risk of blood clots.
  7. Chocolate provides minerals such as calcium, magnesium and potassium.

Although many people like milk chocolate, it does not offer the same health benefits as the dark variety. Milk binds with some of the healthy compounds in chocolate, preventing the body from absorbing them. Milk chocolates also have a high sugar content and frequently contain unhealthy additives.

Getting the Benefits of Chocolate

Unadulterated dark chocolate is best for your health, but the front of a chocolate wrapper can be deceiving. Be sure to check the list of ingredients:

  1. Look for 60 percent or more cocoa content.
  2. The bar should be made from cocoa butter, not fats such as palm or coconut oils.
  3. The chocolate should not contain hydrogenated of partially hydrogenated oils.
  4. A dark brown color is best; flavonoids and phytochemicals contribute to the pigment, so darker chocolate has potentially greater benefits.
  5. The best chocolate is made from organic or fair trade cocoa beans. You can find a list of certified fair trade producers at fairtradeusa.org.

To enjoy chocolate’s health benefits, eating it in moderation is key. One square of dark chocolate a day – about one ounce – is recommended. The best time to enjoy a piece is after lunch or dinner. Eating some fruit before having the chocolate will help satisfy your sweet tooth.

Sources: Mercola.com, University of Michigan

 
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