How chocolate can help your mental health

How chocolate can help your mental health

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May is Mental Health Awareness Month. It offers an important opportunity to reflect on our own mental health and how we can incorporate wellbeing practices into daily life. For many of us, a little chocolate treat is the perfect pick-me-up. But did you know that dark chocolate also has proven benefits for your physical and mental health? As well as tasting amazing, here’s why it works...

Quick note. This piece is intended to highlight how chocolate can help to relieve stress and boost your mood on a day-to-day basis as part of your self-care routine. It is not intended as advice to treat serious or persistent mental health issues. If you are struggling with your mental health, please contact your GP or a mental health professional or charity for help and advice.

Chocolate as a stress reliever: can it really help?

Chocolate in its raw form contains a variety of ingredients that have surprising health benefits.

Brain-boosting flavonoids

You'll find flavonoids in many plant products,  like fruit and vegetables, roots, and tea. Surprisingly, these compounds are also present in chocolate! Flavonoids contain high levels of antioxidants, which fight against oxidative stress that causes damage to healthy cells. Experts believe these antioxidants increase blood flow to the brain and support cognitive functioning. In doing so, they lend your brain a temporary boost. They can improve memory, bust brain fog, and lift you out of a slump. There is even early evidence that flavonoid benefits are long-lasting — they may play a role in keeping your brain functioning at its best in later life.

Anti-inflammatory properties

The benefits of hardworking flavonoids don’t stop at waking up your brain, though. They also have anti-inflammatory properties, which may reduce blood pressure. It's thought they can also lower the risk of diseases linked to chronic inflammation, like heart disease, arthritis, and stroke. 

Choosing dark chocolate, therefore, works in two ways to keep inflammation away. Firstly, it's low in sugar, which is known to have inflammatory properties. In general, it's best to avoid the sweet stuff if you already suffer from chronic inflammation. Secondly, dark chocolate has a high cocoa content. As such, you’re getting more flavonoids to work against inflammation. Win-win!

Anxiety relief

Chocolate has a reputation for being anxiety-inducing because of its high sugar content. However, if you choose a low-sugar, high-cocoa variety it could actually have a positive effect on feelings of anxiety. Dark chocolate contains tryptophan, a precursor to the hormone serotonin. And high levels of serotonin can reduce feelings of anxiety. Theobromine, a key ingredient in cocoa, is also thought to have a mood-elevating effect.

So if you’re feeling down or worried, a quick bite of chocolate really might help you feel more positive.

Which chocolate is the best mood booster?

When we discuss the physical health benefits of chocolate, we are only referring to dark chocolate. These benefits all hinge on cocoa, and this key ingredient is far less present in milk and white chocolate. (Though they also taste delicious!)

That said, nobody can deny that a bite of chocolate is sometimes just what you need to perk yourself up. So cocoa content and healthy components aside, the best chocolate for your mental health is simply the one that makes you feel happy.

How to incorporate the benefits of chocolate with mindfulness practices

Mindfulness is a popular buzzword in the online wellness space. But it is a practice that has long been used to treat mild to moderate mental health conditions. So, what is mindfulness? It simply means focusing on what is happening in the present moment. It's all about paying attention to your thoughts and feelings as they are. Rather than being reactive, observe these thoughts and feelings without judgement. This can lead to an improved understanding of your inner world and reduce distraction.

A great way to incorporate mindfulness into your day-to-day life is to set aside some time for yourself. During this time, aim to fully engage your senses and disconnect from external pressures. Chocolate can offer a great chance to try mindful eating. Nibble your favourite chocolate slowly and pay attention to its effect on your senses. 

  • What can you see and smell? 
  • How does the chocolate feel as it melts on your tongue? 
  • And, of course, how does it taste?

Want to learn more about the mental health benefits of chocolate? Take a look at our guide: The hidden ingredient in chocolate to relax you.

Treat yourself to delectable chocolate from Love Cocoa

Love Cocoa was born in 2016 from the love of chocolate that runs in founder, James Cadbury’s, family. The goal was simple: create great-tasting chocolate, here in the UK, that upholds ethical standards for people and the planet. Treat yourself to our chocolate range to find your perfect self-care moment, and we’ll plant one tree for every bar or truffle in your order.