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Can Chocolate Improve Your Mood?

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Updated June 15, 2014

Melting chocolate
Adam Gault/Getty Images

Lenni asks, "I love chocolate. Milk chocolate, dark chocolate, whatever. I know that chocolate contains natural chemicals that can affect your brain, at least if you get enough of them. Does eating chocolate improve a person's mood?"

Chocolate does contain compounds that could improve your mood, at least hypothetically, which seems to make sense when you think about how much people love their chocolate.

But the research evidence isn't too clear about what really happens when you eat it. More than likely, eating chocolate just makes you happy because it's sweet, delicious and melts in your mouth.

Chocolate Chemistry

Chocolate is made up of cocoa powder, cocoa butter and sugar. Milk chocolate also has milk solids, while white chocolate is just the milk solids and cocoa butter. The cocoa powder is the portion that contains caffeine, theobromine, tyramine and phenylethylamine.

These compounds, when taken in large enough amounts could potentially impact a number of neurotransmitter systems such as dopamine, serotonin and the endorphins. These systems affect your appetite, reward responses and the part we're looking at here -- mood regulation.

But, the keywords here are 'in large enough amounts.'

Sadly, the amount of cocoa in a typical chocolate bar isn't enough to perk you up.  I'm not even sure if it's possible to eat enough chocolate to get enough of those mood-pleasing compounds.

Bummer -- So Now What?

If you like chocolate, then eating some is probably going to make you happy, at least for a little while, but it's definitely not going to act like an antidepressant. 

There is a silver lining to this chocolate cloud, though, because chocolate does have some impact on your health. Those compounds do appear to improve your blood pressure function and may act as antioxidants. 

Eat a Little Chocolate, But Not Too Much

Chocolate might be one of those Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hydes of the nutrition world, just like alcohol and cheese. It might be beneficial in small amounts, but it's high in calories from all those sugars and fats so if eating too much leads to weight gain, then you're going to counteract any health benefits.

So, go ahead and enjoy your chocolate but don't go overboard, you only need 1 to 1 /2 ounces per day to get the health benefits. One ounce of chocolate has about 150 calories, make sure you take a look at the Nutrition Facts label for the serving size before you start nibbling on your chocolate bar. 

Sources:

Lamuela-Raventós RM, Andrés-Lacueva C, Permanyer J, Izquierdo-Pulido M. "More antioxidants in cocoa." J Nutr. 2001 Mar;131(3):834-5.

Njike VY, Faridi Z, Shuval K, Dutta S, Kay CD, West SG, Kris-Etherton PM, Katz DL. "Effects of sugar-sweetened and sugar-free cocoa on endothelial function in overweight adults." Int J Cardiol. 2011 May 19;149(1):83-8.

Parker G, Parker I, Brotchie H. "Mood state effects of chocolate." J Affect Disord. 2006 Jun;92(2-3):149-59. Epub 2006 Mar 20.

Scholey A, Owen L. "Effects of chocolate on cognitive function and mood: a systematic review." Nutr Rev. 2013 Oct;71(10):665-81.

United States Department of Agriculture National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 26, "Basic Report:  19902, Chocolate, dark, 45- 59% cacao solids." Accessed June 14, 2014. http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/6335

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