Chocolate is addictive. You only have to say the word, and you’re already switching on your pleasure receptors and triggering an avalanche of neurochemicals in the brain. But those chocolate cravings can also help you deal with stress, boost cognitive function and improve your mood. We’ve heard a lot recently about the health benefits of dark chocolate. But is using chocolate as a stress reliever fact or feeling?
We’ve taken a deep dive into the science of chocolate to reveal the hidden ingredients that make you feel great after every mouthful. And if you’re not a lover of dark chocolate, we have some good news about the benefits of your favourite milk and white chocolate bars for boosting your mood and helping you find an oasis of calm after a stress-filled day.
Does chocolate relax you?
Do you reach for your favourite bar when you’re feeling stressed? There’s a good reason for that. Research shows that eating chocolate really does make you feel good, positively impacting stress levels, memory and mood. So it’s not your imagination - eating chocolate is an effective way to unwind and relax.
Dark chocolate is packed with flavonoids and antioxidants that benefit heart health. But it’s also full of mood-boosting chemicals that increase your serotonin and endorphin levels. So when you nibble that luscious square of 70%+ chocolate, you’re triggering the happy hormones in your brain to elevate your mood.
And chocolate is a sensory pleasure, too. Because cocoa butter melts at just below body temperature, each bite delivers a slow release of flavour molecules to the tastebuds, creating that all-important mouthfeel. And taking the time to savour each bite slowly and mindfully can also help you to relax and reduce stress.
Of course, plenty of claims are made about the benefits of eating chocolate. But if we look at the science, the mantra “chocolate reduces my stress levels” really does stack up.
Chocolate as a stress reliever — what’s the science?
For several years now, researchers have been uncovering the fascinating cocktail of chemicals that contribute to the health benefits of chocolate. So there isn’t just one hidden ingredient in chocolate that relaxes you. Instead, an incredible interplay of amino acids, hormones and endorphins helps us unwind. And we now have a much clearer picture of why we reach for our favourite bar after a relationship breakup or a tough day at the office.
Chocolate is packed with stress-relieving chemicals, from magnesium to theobromine. And their complex interaction with our brains could explain why we crave chocolate when stress levels rise.
Theobromine: Known as caffeine’s friendlier cousin, theobromine is packed with health benefits and gives you a mood boost after eating chocolate. But beware, it’s also toxic to cats and dogs, so keep your stash well away from pets.
Phenethylamine: Chocolate also contains significant quantities of phenethylamine (PEA). Known as the ‘love chemical’, this neuroactive substance has earned chocolate a reputation as an aphrodisiac that goes back centuries. Now scientists understand why chocolate triggers feelings of euphoria and elation. PEA stimulates the body to produce mood-altering serotonin and dopamine. And it’s these feel-good chemicals that make us feel less stressed out after relaxing with our favourite bar.
Tryptophan: Chocolate is a good source of this essential amino acid which is used to make serotonin in the brain. Low serotonin levels are associated with low mood and anxiety, so topping up with chocolate is an excellent way to increase your levels of this “happy hormone.”
Antioxidants: With higher levels of antioxidants than red wine, the health benefits of dark chocolate are well known. Chocolate’s rich combination of flavanols, polyphenols, and catechins may contribute to better cognitive function and overall well-being.
Cannabinoid compounds: Chocolate has been shown to contain cannabinoid-mimicking compounds that increase anandamide levels. In turn, the so-called ‘bliss molecule’ contributes to that feeling of deep relaxation you experience after mindfully enjoying the very best chocolate.
Magnesium: Magnesium is another chemical compound found in chocolate that’s linked to reducing stress. This vital mineral may help reduce anxiety, insomnia and irritability but isn’t produced naturally by the body. So if you’re experiencing chocolate cravings, the chances are you’re magnesium deficient.
The potent combination of stress-busting mood boosters can help you feel more relaxed. And you only need to eat an ounce or two a day to experience all the benefits of chocolate to relax and decrease your stress levels. So if you feel like your cortisol is out of control, why not prescribe a daily dose of high-quality chocolate?
Which chocolate is the best stress-buster: white, milk or dark?
It might surprise you to learn that it’s not only dark chocolate that has stress-busting effects. According to one study, consuming 40g of dark or milk chocolate daily for two weeks positively impacted stress levels.
Another study found that the compounds in dark chocolate may help to control the release of cortisol in stressful situations. In contrast, milk chocolate could help decrease stress levels for low-lying anxiety.
So why is milk chocolate so effective at reducing stress? Dairy milk is one of the richest sources of tryptophan available, so dark milk chocolate gives you an excellent balance of sources for this happy hormone. Or make an indulgent cup of hot chocolate with full-fat milk to optimise your tryptophan hit.
Milk and white chocolate can also help relieve stress by stimulating the release of serotonin and endorphins. In addition, higher sugar and dairy levels in these chocolates help stimulate the brain to release those happiness-inducing chemicals.
So, a mindful square or two of your favourite bar can elevate your mood and create the stress-free oasis we crave after a hard day.
Explore the Love Cocoa chocolate range
At Love Cocoa, we’re constantly refining our recipes to deliver the most pleasure you can find in a chocolate bar. So whether you love the health benefits of dark chocolate or the mood-elevating properties of the best milk chocolate bars, our collection of luxury sustainable chocolate will help you relax and find your zen.Shop online today, and we’ll plant a tree for every product sold.