Everybody loves chocolate. It is the delicious treat that you enjoy from a young age. It’s hard not to let out a satisfied ‘Mmmm’ when you eat it. It doesn’t just taste good; it makes you feel better. It turns out though that there are some scientific reasons for that.
Memories can be triggered by all of the senses. When you taste chocolate it can trigger the memory centre of the brain. Most people have fond childhood memories of chocolate and being happy. A piece of chocolate may take you back to a happy place of your youth where you were blissfully enjoying a treat.
Ever been in love? Do you remember the feeling of excitement and happiness? This is due to phenylethylamine, a chemical that has neuromodulating properties, being released in the brain. Chocolate contains small amounts of phenylethylamine and may produce similar excitement or happiness. The amount that gets to the brain is less than when falling in love though, so don’t worry you won’t eat chocolate and kiss the first passer-by.
Another neurochemical, dopamine is released when you enjoy sweet or delicious food (chocolate ticks both those boxes). Dopamine acts as a neuro-transmitter that activates pleasure receptors in the brain. The dopamine is triggered by anandamide occurring in chocolate. Eating chocolate actually helps your brain feel pleasure. While dopamine production is also what happens when using some drugs, the amount triggered by eating chocolate are nowhere near enough to concern you.
Stimulants are also present in chocolate. Caffeine and Theobromine are stimulants that induce cellular activity in the brain, an increase in heart rate and make you feel more alert. If somebody is feeling unhappy, this alert state, combined with the release of dopamine can make them feel better. It’s hard to feel down when you are energetic. Another way that the stimulant works is for coffee drinkers. The body may be craving caffeine and a few pieces of chocolate can be enough to cure that withdrawal.
The textural experience of eating chocolate as well as its taste (releasing dopamine) is a cause for happiness. Good chocolate is made with melting point in mind. The right amount of cocoa butter in the chocolate controls the melting point. When made well, the chocolate will be solid at room temperature but once in your mouth will melt. This ‘melt in your mouth’ texture is an attribute that many food producers aim for as consumers are known to enjoy the sensation.
As well as compounds that make you feel better, dark chocolate contains flavonoids, which are antioxidants. These are anti-inflammatory and beneficial to the body. So consuming chocolate in moderation doesn’t just make you feel happier, but it is also good for you.
Now you know that your love of chocolate is not irrational at all. Science has come to the rescue again and proven that when we eat chocolate we feel happy. It’s not an excuse to eat chocolate. It’s a scientifically proven reason.