Mood disorders affect almost ten percent of U.S. adults and nearly fifteen percent of adolescents, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. With so many people suffering from mood disorders people are looking for answers in nature and food. Fortunately, a recent study suggests eating a common treat—dark chocolate—may positively affect mood and relieve depressive symptoms.
Researchers from University College London joined forces with Canadian scientists from the University of Calgary and Alberta Health Services Canada to assess the benefits of chocolate consumption on mood. They analyzed data from over 13,000 adults included in the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and assessed their depressive symptoms according to scores on the Patient Health Questionnaire. Other factors such as height, weight, marital status, ethnicity, education, household income, physical activity, smoking, and chronic health problems were taken into account to ensure the study only measured the effects of eating chocolate on mood.
Remarkably, what the scientists found was that people who reported eating dark chocolate in two 24-hour periods had 70% lower risk of reporting relevant depressive symptoms, even after adjusting for the above-mentioned confounding factors. (1) In addition, people who were in the top 25% of eating any type of chocolate were the least likely to report depressive symptoms. The study suggests that eating a bit of dark chocolate on a regular basis can positively benefit mood.
Chocolate contains several beneficial nutrients—fiber, iron, magnesium, copper, manganese, selenium, and zinc—and phytocompounds—powerful antioxidants and flavanols—that have proven health benefits. (2) For example, chocolate flavanols improve vascular function and reduce blood pressure. (3a, 3b, 3c) The antioxidants protect cholesterol against oxidation, which can reduce heart disease risk. (4) Interestingly, improved blood flow triggered by chocolate flavanols may also protect the skin against sun damage by increasing blood flow increasing hydration and density. (5) Eating flavanol-rich cocoa can even improve brain function. (6)
Among these beneficial ingredients are phytocannabinoids that can produce a feeling of euphoria when consumed. (7) Phytocannabinoids have the ability to bind to receptors in the endocannabinoid system, which regulates mood stress, response, immunity, inflammation, and much more. This stimulates an endorphin release that has an antidepressant-like effect and elevates mood.
Food is a significant and easy way to alter mood levels because of the effects of food consumption on dopamine receptors in the brain. Certain food ingredients (like chocolate) interact with these receptors to activate the reward and pleasure centers of the brain. Scientists have even observed that people may crave foods that contain these pleasure-triggering ingredients when feeling sad.
Dark chocolate contains 50%–90% cacao solids, whereas milk chocolate contains from 10%–50% cacao and significantly more sugar. A reasonable portion of dark chocolate to reap health benefits is about 10 to 40 grams per day. Some studies report benefits with as low as 6.3 grams consumed, while others found benefits at 48 grams. However, keep in mind that 40 grams of dark chocolate can provide 220 calories and 13 grams of fat, so don’t overdo it at the expense of your waistline.
So go ahead and indulge in a little dark chocolate to help improve your mood and promote greater happiness. It’s certainly an easy way to stimulate the production of endorphins, create feelings of pleasure, and promote a positive mindset.