“Will looked horrified. “What kind of monster could possibly hate chocolate?”
― Cassandra Clare
Well, Will, not everyone is an Angel.
I am sure you may not relate to me on this that I am not a fan of chocolate, but I have people whom I love, and their love for chocolate is immense. I have often heard them saying that they are “addicted to chocolates”. This made me think about what makes chocolate so addictive? What science is involved in? And hence my inquisitive behaviour pushed me to research and find more about chocolates and the science behind chocolate addiction.
This article is a bi-product of my behaviour which describes the benefits of chocolates, especially dark chocolate, and a little science behind it that you may have not known before.
Let’s start from the start!
Discovery of Chocolate
Let’s begin our knowledge tour from the journey of chocolate in the beautiful land of Mesoamerica, which is now known as Mexico, where the cocoa (from which chocolate is extracted) was discovered. The Olmec civilization (around 1600 BCE), which were the oldest civilisation of Mexico can be credited for the discovery of the world’s favourite sweet.
Olmec were the first to create drinks and gruels by fermenting and grinding cocoa beans, which are produced from Theobroma Cacao or Cocoa (Kuh-KOW) tree. During the Olmec civilization, cocoa beans were used to make lavish drinks in rituals, however, cocoa beans were also used as a medicine.
The cocoa drink was perceived to enhance digestion and stomach bloating as it was known to increase healthy gut bacteria.
In later days, chocolate drink was labelled as the “food of god”. Why? Let’s read through.
The word Theobroma translates to “food of God”.
The Aztec civilizations (in Mesoamerica around the 15th century), believed cocoa beans were the blessing of Quetzalcoatl, an ancient god of civilization and the planter of Cocoa trees.
Aztec also used cocoa beans to exchange goods and services, and would often drink fermented and bitter beverages made from cocoa beans before a war. However, only the adult males were offered the distinguish antioxidant cocoa drink, because of its aphrodisiac ( sexual arousal) property.
As the days passed, the goodness and the taste of Chocolate travelled from Mexico to Spain, stayed as a secret for many years, till travellers visited Spain and experienced the exotic cocoa. Then the journey of Chocolate continued with the rest of Europe.
What happened next?
The Globalization of Chocolates
The chocolate popularity escalated from North America to Europe with a stamp of luxury, and was consumed by the then superior and royal societies.
That is how the Belgian brain got hold of chocolates.
The Belgians then invented delicacies made of the best section of cocoa seeds with rich cocoa butter. After the industrial revolution, when mass production of chocolate was possible, the Belgians invited the world with open arms to cherish the chocolate sweetness. That gave (Brussels), Belgium, a new Identity as the world’s chocolate capital in modern times.
So, that was the briefest history of the journey of chocolate.
What about the Science behind Chocolate addiction that I promised to tell about? Let’s begin.
The Bitter “Sweet” truth
The widely available chocolates (Milk chocolate and white chocolate) are fatty and sugary that makes them addictive.
That means every time you eat chocolate, your sweet receptors are aroused, which in response releases dopamine (helps us feel pleasure) and lure you to consume chocolate repeatedly. You fell in love with it and hence the addiction gets stronger and stronger.
In addition to this, phenylethylamine which is otherwise known as “chocolate amphetamine”, triggers the reward centers in your brain. Phenylethylamine is the same chemical that your brain releases when you fall in love.
But it not just love!
Chocolate cravings can also be a result of nutrient deficits or a craving for magnesium by your body. Also, eating too much chocolate can not only increase your dentist expense but can give you serious side effects such as insomnia, nervousness and increased heart rate.
Fluctuating hormone too can contribute to a chocolate craving. This could be seen as to why some women would crave chocolate more during their menstrual cycle than on any other day.
Chocolate is also aphrodisiac food and is also called a “love drug”. Hence, the exchange of chocolate is popular on Valentine’s day since the 17th century.
What Else Chocolate can do to your brain?
1. Chocolate helps to elevate your mood
Endorphins are chemicals released by the brain and are found in pituitary glands. These are released when you are stressed or in pain and helps to calm you. Often Endorphins are known as “feel-good chemicals”.
Chocolates provide an external boost to release Endophrines and help your brain mitigating your stress and pain, this could be one of the reasons why some people crave chocolates when they are stressed and it helps them to feel better.
2. Chocolate provides Mental Health benefits
If you are a fan of dark chocolate, then you have got a new reason to love it more.
Cocoa is rich in Flavanols. Flavanols are antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents which are great for your heart health.
Also, Flavanols can help in boosting your memory and learning ability as they accumulate in your hippocampus, known for memory, learning and emotions.
One study conducted by researchers showed memory improvements in young adults within 2 hours after they consumed 773 milligrams of dark cocoa chocolates.
3. Protects your skin from Sun
Well, the flavonols also hydrate and increases the blood flow to the skin, (not only when you eat but also when you apply it to your body), and protects your skin from sun damage or help in skin healing.
That is one of the reasons why cocoa is used heavily in the beauty industry too (Chocolate wax and Cocoa moisturizers), as it provides glowing skin and makes your skin supple.
Planning to enjoy summer and the beach? Keep the chocolate with you, but remember, the darker the better.
4. Helps you reduce weight
You would be shocked if you didn’t know it already, as I was when I learnt that chocolate can help you in staying slim. Well, precisely a dark chocolate will. Researchers have proven that if you take small amounts of dark chocolate (five times each week), it can help you stay fit.
Because of epicatechin, an antioxidant agent which keeps your heart healthy and improves your metabolism as well. On the other hands, scientific proof suggests that dark chocolates keep you full for a longer period compared with milky, sugary chocolates, and the plus point is it reduces your cravings for junk food.
I am convinced why ancient people used it as a medicine. They indeed were smart.
5. Chocolate Reduces anxiety
Anxiety is a mental disorder, (affecting around 38 million Indians) that cannot be taken for granted. It can hinder your day to day activity and can impact your sleep or your concentration level.
Polyphenols, another compound found in chocolates can help you to calm down if you suffer from moderate anxiety issues. Also, dark chocolate will increase your serotonin, a hormone (released from your gut) that stabilizes your mood and keeps you happy, as low serotonin is the leading cause of anxiety and depression.
Sugar/milk chocolates too have these benefits but comparatively in less quantity than dark chocolate. Eating a lot of milk chocolate can worsen your feeling of anxiety.
Look for food that contains magnesium, antioxidants, vitamin B12 and zinc to tackle your anxiety like dark chocolates that contains a high amount of magnesium.
I need to give attention to chocolate after understanding its benefits, especially dark chocolate. As it indeed is brain food.
Will wasn’t wrong after all.
What are your thoughts on chocolate? How do you perceive it? Feel free to share your thoughts and knowledge in the comment section.