Why Does Chocolate Make You Happy?
This Valentine’s Day, you shouldn’t have to feel guilty about enjoying all those sweet chocolate treats! We’ve gathered a list of our favorite healthy chocolate that you can easily find at most grocery stores.
But first, what’s so special about chocolate? And why do we feel so good after eating it?
Researchers have performed numerous studies on chocolate, in an attempt to discover how and why chocolate has positive effects on our mood. The research has pointed to three constituents of cacao, the main ingredient of chocolate. Cacao contains tryptophan, phenylethylamine, and theobromine.
Tryptophan is an amino acid that assists the brain in the creation of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that causes us to feel happy and satisfied. Most women have low levels of serotonin which may explain chocolate cravings.
Phenylethylamine is a naturally acting antidepressant that produces feelings similar to that of falling in love- an increased heart rate, alertness, and motivation.
Theobromine stimulates a high, comparable to cannabis, albeit at a much lower level. It produces a relaxing and stress-relieving effect.
But other studies have suggested that it’s not an ingredient of chocolate that makes us feel happy, rather, it’s the society-wide acceptance of the concept of chocolate making us feel better. This mindset allows us to feel happy emotions when we eat it, because that’s what everyone says is supposed to happen.
It’s likely a combination of the two that makes us feel so happy when we eat chocolate. Yes, chocolate does contain ingredients linked to happier moods, but also we have conditioned ourselves to be happy when eating chocolate.
It’s also important to note that the positive effects of the ingredients of chocolate on us are going to be much more impactful when we eat fine, organic chocolate. Commercialized chocolate, like Hershey’s, contain large amounts of sugar and additives that take the place of the natural cacao. And the cacao is where the beneficial components are from. So fine chocolate will give you a heightened sense of happiness when compared to commercial chocolate.
Fine v. Commercial Chocolate?
The ingredients are the major distinction between commercial and fine chocolate. Commercial chocolate has a high percentage of sugar and additives compared to other ingredients. In fine chocolate, you won’t see as many ingredients, and likely less sugar. One expert also says that fine chocolate uses a “special cacao, with better-quality bean sources and produced on a much smaller scale.” The cacao used in fine chocolate comes from beans that have been selected for good flavor and aroma. Whereas commercial beans prioritize yield and resistance to disease over flavor.
The processing of chocolate is also different between fine and commercial. All chocolate must ferment and the beans dried. Different varieties of cacao require different fermentation processes to allow a desirable flavor to properly develop. Fine chocolate manufacturers look for plantations with high-quality beans and practices that prioritize the unique flavor of the cacao. Commercial cacao processing is focused on volume at the lowest possible price, often homogenizing the beans and losing their unique flavor.
By law in the US, milk chocolate has to be at least 10% cocoa, meaning the remaining 90% in commercial chocolate is sugar and other additives. Cocoa is expensive, so manufactures of commercial chocolate will save costs by adding the maximum amount of sugar and preservatives. Fine milk chocolate often has 35-55% cocoa, allowing you to receive the mood-enhancing effects of cocoa.
Fine, organic chocolate is the chocolate you should be looking for. It is usually made in smaller batches, by smaller companies. And while it will come with a heftier price tag, the health and mood benefits will be worth it!
Our top 5 Valentine’s Day Chocolate Treats:
Hu- When Dr. Johnson wants a chocolate treat, Hu is her go-to. Hu chocolate is made with organically house-ground cacao and is Paleo, Vegan, and Dairy Free. Hu chocolate also contains no cane or refined sugars, sugar alcohols, palm oil, emulsifiers, or soy lecithin. Hu is the most natural chocolate you can buy!
Theo Chocolate- Theo prioritizes small farms when sourcing their cocoa beans. They work directly with farmers in Peru and the Democratic Republic of Congo to ensure organic and Fair Trade certified cocoa that is beneficial for the farmers and the environment. Theo also doesn’t use soy or sunflower lecithin or other additives in their chocolate.
Alter Eco- Founded by two French foodies, Alter Eco uses their chocolate to support sustainable agriculture. Alter Eco uses 100% organic and non-GMO ingredients in their chocolate.
Taza Chocolate- Taza prioritizes the flavors in cacao by using a traditional Mexican stone grounding technique for all of their beans. Their products are organic and Direct Trade Certified. Taza also has vegan and dairy-free options.
Green & Black’s- This chocolate brand was founded on sustainable and ethical cocoa sourcing principles. Their organic chocolate is made with the finest organic materials.