“Chocolate is the answer, who cares what the question is?” Anon
Chocolate is the answer to many of life’s downs, and a tasty way to celebrate life’s ups. Many of us know that chocolatey things can be amazing mood improvers, but do you know why?
Bliss in every molecule
Cacao, found in various percentages in chocolate, stimulates the part of the brain that can trigger emotions such as euphoria. A fairly recent study by workers at the San Diego Neuroscience Institute found that cacao naturally contains compounds that are similar to anandamide, also known as the bliss molecule. Anandamide is a molecule occurring in our brains that can cause the brain to release endorphins (chemicals that make us feel good).
Source: Kasey Erikson (Flickr)
Cacao vs cocoa
Do you know your cacao from your cocoa? Cacao is simply cocoa beans that have been roasted, separated from their husks and ground into a powder. Cacao nibs, which are crunchy little pieces of roasted and crumbed cocoa beans, are currently on the ‘super food’ buzz list due to their antioxidant and mood improving properties (super foods are foods that are rich in nutrients that are beneficial to our health and well being).
A gift from the gods
According to Wikipedia, our love affair with chocolate can be traced way back to 1900 BC. The act of consuming chocolate originated in Mexico and other parts of Central America. The ancient Aztecs believed that cacao seeds were the gift of Quetzalcoatl, the god of wisdom, and the word ‘chocolate’ originated from their ancient language.
Chocolate and heart disease
Eating a small bite of dark chocolate every day may help to reduce the risk of heart disease by a third. Studies have shown that flavanols, which are found in cacao beans, can reduce cell damage that leads to heart disease and may help to lower blood pressure and improve vascular function (you can read more about one of these studies on the nhs.uk website). As dark chocolate contains much more cocoa than milk chocolate, this benefit is linked to eating dark chocolate.
Source: Seyed Mostafa Zamani (Flickr)
Some other facts you may not know about chocolate:
-White chocolate is not really chocolate, as it contains no cocoa
-Never give chocolate to cats or dogs - according to PetMD.com, some ingredients within chocolate (including caffeine and something called theobromine) can be extremely poisonous for our furry friends
-The first chocolate bar was not invented until 1847
-Dark chocolate can be stored for ten years if kept in foil and stored at the right temperature
-More than two thirds of the world’s cacao is grown in Africa
-It takes approximately 400 cacao beans to make 450 grams of chocolate
Let’s hope that there’s never a catastrophe or crisis in Africa that leads to a shortage of cacao beans! There really is a scientific reason that our brains crave chocolate when we’re feeling down, and in my opinion, that makes the dusty little cacao nib worth dropping into my next smoothie. I do need to remind myself that it's all about nibs and nibbles and there's no scientific excuse for scoffing a bar a day...