Easing Stress with the Benefits of Chocolate
Sitting down with a huge box of chocolates or a warm mug of hot cocoa is a great way to relax, but why does this simple food have such a profound effect?
Chocolate is one of the most popular foods in the world. For centuries it has been enjoyed for its tantalising taste, which many people believe eases stress; it is a favourite food in ‘comfort’ eating. So does chocolate really help relieve tension, or does it make you feel better just because it tastes so good? Scientific research appears to support the former option – so much, in fact, that Bristol University distributed free chocolate to students in an effort to reduce exam stress.
Melting Away your Worries
What exactly happens when you eat a bar of chocolate? The cocoa butter it contains melts in your mouth, slowly releasing a rich chocolate flavour; this is a pleasurable experience in itself.
It also has the advantage of containing small amounts of the stimulant caffeine, which helps to melt away fatigue-related stress without leaving you feeling tense or over-stimulated.
How chocolate reduces stress
Chocolate’s stress-busting action is due to its unique chemical composition of stimulants and relaxants.
Caffeine increases your resistance to fatigue, leaving you feeling more energised, and refreshes intellectual activity.
Endorphins, THC and Anandiminde
These chemicals augment the opoid receptors in the brain, which regulate pleasure and motivation.
This chemical has a similar effect to amphetamines and stimulates the brain.
This invigorates the central nervous system and muscle action, giving you a quick pick-me-up.
Your body converts tryptophan into serotonin, a chemical that alleviates depression and anxiety.
Stress Relieving Properties of Chocolate
Your body will often let you know when it wants chocolate – manifesting as a craving or hunger pang that will soon have you heading for the nearest sweet shop.
Understanding Chocolate Cravings
You may have noticed that your cravings for chocolate are greater when you are feeling depressed, tired or stressed. Many people describe this craving as similar to an addiction to cigarettes or coffee – something you insatiably need to boost your mood. It’s unlikely that chocolate is an addictive substance, however. Your cravings are probably due to the body’s physical memory of this food’s pleasurable effects.
Chocolate for PMS
Low levels of serotonin in the brain often trigger cravings for starchy and sugary foods; chocolate’s complex carbohydrates can help increase levels of this pleasure-inducing chemical. Low serotonin levels may contribute to PMS, explaining why many women crave chocolate at this time of the month.
Chocolate can also provide you with a ‘natural high’ because it stimulates the secretion of the pleasure-giving hormone endorphin. At the same time it increases the levels of the anti-depressant serotonin.
High Energy, Low Effort
You may be surprised to know that chocolate has a high nutritional value. It contains three of the major food groups; complex and simple carbohydrates, fats (cocoa butter) and protein; is also has trace amounts of calcium, potassium, magnesium, sodium, iron and vitamins A, B1, B2, D and E. complex carbohydrates and B vitamins, in particular, are linked to reducing stress.
Small and Sweet
A small chocolate bite has the advantage of delivering all these beneficial properties at a remarkable speed. This makes it an ideal source of quick and easy energy, such as before an exam or race, or at half time in a netball or hockey game! Unfortunately, this quality also makes it easy to over-indulge and if you eat too much chocolate your body will soon convert any excess energy to fat.
The main saturated fat in chocolate is stearic acid. Unlike many fats this does not raise blood cholesterol levels and put undue stress on your heart and blood vessels.
Chocolate and Wine
In fact, the antioxidants contained in chocolate have a similar effect on the body as those in red wine. Cocoa powder also contains relatively high amounts of phenolic compounds, which can help to prevent coronary disease.
Food scientists have not yet agreed on whether or not chocolate is an aphrodisiac – even though it has been considered one for centuries. It may simply be that its mood-lifting properties help to relax your inhibitions.
Whatever its properties, a heart-shaped box of chocolates, delivered to your door is sure to put you in the mood for love.