Mental Health Month: Chocolate on the Brain
This month is Mental Health Month and I’m answering questions about foods’ effect on mental health.
One common question I get, especially from women, is, “Does chocolate actually help me feel better?”
Researchers as IMDEA Food Institute in Spain and the University of Padova in Italy reviewed 17 studies in humans and determined that the polyphenols in chocolate, tea, and coffee help protect the brain from depression and anxiety.
Why else might eating chocolatey desserts make me feel less stressed?
Eating chocolate or other desserts seems to decrease the amount of stress hormones we produce.
study that looked at rats that ate chocolate sandwich cookies; the rats produced less stress hormones when placed in the same stressful situations as the rats who didn’t eat these chocolate cookies. Admittedly, the study hasn’t been replicated in humans. But, other studies have also found that “palatable food” (food that tastes good, usually because of sugar and/or fat) changes our bodies’ hormonal response to stress.
What about other areas of mental health, like dementia?
A joint study between the University of Lisbon and University of Porto in Portugal found that eating chocolate decreased cognitive decline by 40%.
That said, they looked at small amounts of chocolate—only 3 pieces of a chocolate bar per week. So, this doesn’t mean you should eat chocolate at every meal to try to ward off dementia.