How often does something that tastes so good can actually be good for you? Intrusive research has revealed remarkable findings and revelations about one of the world’s commonest and most widely traded commodity. Chocolate!

Chocolates or cacao or cocoa, have a long history associated with general well-being. The Europeans who ventured into the “New World” discovered the aromatic and therapeutic chocolate drink from the Aztecs. It created such a sensation when introduced into Europe and was in fact strictly reserved for high society. Favoured by Victorians to Popes, it was at one time illegal for commoners to consume chocolates.

Chocolates and especially dark chocolates are good for you. As usual, moderation in consumption is a rule. Some 300 chemicals exist in chocolate and these have varied effects on our nervous system.

Chocolate affects the brain and triggers release of certain neurotransmitters. These are molecules that transmit signals between neurons.

 

Researchers found that eating chocolate causes the brain to release increased levels of the “feel good”, pain and stress reliever chemical called endorphins. Tryptophan in chocolates triggers the release of serotonin - a “relaxing” or anti-depressant chemical. In a study conducted by the Nestle Research Cente, in Lausanne, Switzerland and subsequently appearing in the America Chemical Society’s Journal of Proteome Research, it was discovered that eating dark chocolates lowers levels of the stress hormones cortisol and catecholamines in highly-stressed people. These findings add to a growing number of recently discovered potential health benefits of eating chocolates.

Dark chocolates are more potent. Cocoa or cacao is also rich in a class of antioxidants called flavonoids and recent studies suggest that chocolates are actually good for your cardiovascular health. This works by lowering blood pressure and cholesterol. Most of the fat in chocolate does not affect your cholesterol and it contains 8 times more antioxidants as found in strawberries. Another unique neurotransmitter released by chocolate is phenylethylamine. This causes changes in blood pressure and blood-sugar levels leading to feelings of excitement and alertness. It works to increase good mood while decreasing depression. Theobromine in chocolates can also affect our nervous system by aiding in mental and physical relaxation.

A compound called lipid anandamide found in chocolates activate the same receptor causing production of dopamine - a neurotransmitter which leads to feelings of well-being. Researchers are also probing whether dark chocolates may improve insulin sensitivity. They claim that dark chocolate appeared to have beneficial effects on metabolism and microbial activity in the gut. Magnesium in chocolates also helps to fight stress.Throughout history, chocolate is believed to be an aphrodisiac. There might be some truth to this belief when considering the combination of phenylethylamine which has an ability to quicken the heart, anandamide and theobromine's which has the power to cause relaxation and feelings of euphoria and along with the other neurotransmitters sending pleasurable feelings throughout the brain.                                          

Owing to the goodness of chocolates, it might well explain our craving for chocolates in times of stress, anxiety or pain. Chocolate works as natural analgesic. However, not all chocolate is created equal. Cocoa content does have a bearing on wholesomeness. In different countries and brands, cocoa content can vary and sometimes they vary widely. Naturally, higher cocoa content is preferred for reaping the benefits that cocoa endows. So what is a decent amount to consume to gain the benefits of chocolate? Generally, about 15g or a third of a candy bar should suffice. This is equivalent to 2 Hershey “Kiss”.  

So go on and pamper yourself. Buy the best chocolates and enjoy it.