Chocolate contains substances that are proven to make us happy, and some even induce a “high” similar to that experienced by cannabis users. These substances include tryptophan and phenylethylalanine which contribute to how dopamine and serotonin are used in our brain to make us feel happy. Phenylethylalanine has an antidepressant effect and is associated with the initial feelings of excitement, nervousness and attraction experienced in the first flush of love. Theobromine in chocolate creates a “high”, though to recreate the same high as experienced with cannabis one would have to consume approximately 25lbs of chocolate, which may leave the eater feeling a little worse for wear.
In one study of males aged over 70, it was found that those who reported chocolate as their treat of choice were less likely to suffer from loneliness or depression, and more likely to have a positive outlook on life.
Dark chocolate also has a range of health benefits, thanks to the bacteria in your gut. Beneficial bacteria in the later part of our gut ferment the flavanols and fibre in cocoa to create an anti-inflammatory compound that is fantastic for heart health. Dark chocolate improves vascular function and reduces risk of Type II diabetes. People who consume dark chocolate frequently have been found to consume more calories but have a lower BMI than those who don’t, so perhaps this is another reason to look after our gut microbiome from an early age.
Chocolate has been consumed by humankind for approximately four thousand years, and there are museums, factory tours and European tourism dedicated to the good stuff. JK Rowling wrote about the antidepressant effect of chocolate in the Harry Potter series with good reason. Culturally, chocolate is hugely significant, and perhaps the main reason it has made it through the course of human civilisation across the globe is because it makes us happy.
So what should I do?
- Eat chocolate. Preferably dark chocolate. Feel no guilt whatsoever from doing so on a diet. Hooray!