There have been many debates between scientist and nutritionists – not to mention chocoholics – on whether chocolate can really make you feel better. It can certainly give that impression, as many people will agree! Some people also believe that chocolate is an aphrodisiac – and it seems that it can make you feel happy, content and relaxed, which can in turn allow you to enjoy the company of someone special.
What it is about chocolate that gives the impression of "happiness" - apart from its momentary delicious taste?
Chocolate contains tryptophan - an essential amino acid known for its anti-depressant and pain killing effects. The body needs tryptophan to make serotonin, which is a "mood" or "feelings" regulator. Serotonin also regulates the body's sexual response and appetite. When your body has the right level of serotonin, you are more likely to have a feeling of inner harmony and contentment, a feeling of oneness with the universe.
If you are too low in serotonin, you may feel depressed, lethargic or even anxious. On the other hand, if you have too much serotonin, you might feel aggressive, irritable and agitated.
A balance of hormones, chemicals and nutrients are imperative to good health and well being. If you want to eat something to help you feel more calm and centred, choose foods (not chocolate!) that are rich in tryptophan or serotonin. Foods rich in tryptophan include dairy foods, oats, bananas, dates, red meat, chickpea, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, spiralina and peanuts.
Serotonin is found in foods which are starchy, such as potato and carbohydrates. These foods can also give the feeling of sleepiness or relaxation in some people. Having a balanced, healthy diet that is rich in fresh veggies, fruit, nuts, seeds, whole grains, fish and fresh drinking water is a very important part of sustaining a healthy feeling of well being throughout your life. A varied and nutrient-rich diet gives the body what it needs to support all the body's systems, particularly the nervous system, which benefits the most when the blood sugar level is steady.
On the other hand, a diet high in sugars (that includes chocolate!) and refined foods lacks essential nutrition and gives the body a false sense of well-being that quickly wears out, leaving you feeling tired and irritable.
Caffeine and alcohol have a similar effect. Caffeine is a body "stressor" - it mimics the body's stress arousal, putting your nervous system under stress. Alcohol and caffeine also stimulate the production of addictive hormones in the body, giving you the impression that you need them to feel better, when they actually provide no benefit.
So, while chocolate, coffee and alcohol may make you feel better temporarily, the best way to enjoy wellbeing throughout your life is through a well-balanced diet, with alcohol, caffeine and sugar in moderation. It is also important to eat regularly to maintain a steady blood sugar level, keep your energy levels up and avoid mood swings.
While your diet can definitely support a healthy mind, if you suffer ongoing symptoms of depression, anxiety and mood swings, seek professional advice from a reputable health or medical practitioner.