‘Chocolate is good for you!’ This is the kind of exclamatory tabloid newspaper headline we see a couple of times a year. And let’s face it, how many of us hope upon hope it’s true?
I for one would be delighted to have this irrefutably verified by authentic science. My oven would be in perpetual motion as a chocolate cake baking factory.
But leaving aside the tabloid frippery, is there any shred of evidence that chocolate might not be all calorific, weight gain badness? Are there really any benefits of chocolate?
Chocolate is certainly nothing new… Well over 2000 years ago the Olmec people in what is now Mexico managed to create a mind-altering beverage from berries of the cacao tree. A few hundred years later, nearby Aztecs pushed things on a little and bestowed deity testimonials on that drink – chocolate. It was associated with their goddess of fertility which, as endorsements go, has got to do wonders for take-up!
It is said that Aztec Emporer Montezuma drank up to 50 cups a day to enhance his sexual potency. There is no record of how much this regimen enhanced his waistline though.
But is there anything in this at all? Chocolate in solid form did not appear until the 1840’s, but whether consumed in liquid or solid form, is there evidence of genuine benefits?
There seems to be an underlying reason to suggest chocolate has aphrodisiac properties.
Relatively recently scientists have discovered a compound in chocolate called phenylethylamine which is not dissimilar to amphetamine and is a feelgood chemical. Animals in laboratory tests were seen to go crazy for it as if courting.
But don’t get too excited…the quantities and studied evidence suggest it’s not enough to make any meaningful difference beyond a mild feel-good sensation.
Tryptophan is also a component that aids in the production of the feel-good chemical serotonin. That’s the nice part of the science, unfortunately it is unlikely that enough of it gets through to the brain to make any real difference.
Hooray for Anandamide?
But there is still anandamide! The name is from Sanskrit and means ‘Bliss’. So this does sound encouraging…
Anandamide is a neurotransmitter which means it is involved in communication between brain cells and it works the same way as THC which is the active component of cannabis.
But once again we shouldn’t get too excited. It is estimated that we would need to consume 25kg of chocolate (which is a fraction over half this writer’s bodyweight) to emulate the effects of a single joint. And no matter how committed a chocolate eater you are this must be a step too far.
So when it comes to benefits of chocolate can we be optimistic? Sadly it seems there are no real aphrodisiac properties to chocolate, at least not in quantities to make any noticeable difference. But this is just the studied, researched science after all. What about the benefits science can’t measure? A gift of chocolate can work feel-good wonders particularly when you might be in need of a little pick-up!
Connect here with WatchFit expert Ina Gutowska