With the arrival in Europe of the various fruits from the American continent, the craving for cocoa, and consequently for chocolate, quickly spread, consolidating itself as another food in the gastronomy of all parts of the world.
However, almost by its very appearance, debates about its benefits and not so healthy properties of chocolate have been widely debated. This article describes the psychological benefits of chocolate and the effects it has on the brain based on its different compounds.
Cocoa, cocoa powder and chocolate
Cocoa powder and its consequent transformation into well-known and desired chocolate, are the most well-known elaborations that are extracted from the fruit called cocoa. This fruit is also native to and grows in a tropical tree known as Theobroma cacao, which is cultivated in Africa and tropical America.
Theobroma cacao refers to the scientific nomenclature attributed to the cocoa tree, also called cacaotero. It was once prized as a divine tree, which is why the translation of its specialized name Theobroma can be literally translated as “food of the gods”.
From the fruit of this tree, cocoa, cocoa powder is extracted. Which is obtained by crushing or grinding the grains that it lodges inside. Nutritionally, cocoa powder can provide many calories and proteins and very few carbohydrates., Which makes it an ideal food in high protein diets. As well as many vitamins like B vitamins, vitamin A and vitamin E.
However, there are also many psychological benefits. In addition to the well-known sensation of well-being that it produces, cocoa is energetic, promotes memory and prevents brain aging.
Finally, a distinction must be made between cocoa and chocolate. As mentioned above, cocoa is obtained directly from the fruit, while chocolate requires a further processing process in which sugars, milk, nuts, etc. are added.
Therefore, the benefits of cocoa will be greater as long as it is the most natural, that is, it contains fewer additives and is processed as little as possible.
Psychological effects of cocoa consumption
The beneficial effects of chocolate on our mood are well known. Traditionally associated with pleasurable sensations, cocoa is a known endorphin liberator and a source of caffeine. But chocolate can make many contributions to the functioning of the brain.
1. Chocolate, endorphins and pleasure
Cocoa is a powerful natural generator of endorphins, so powerful that the feeling of well-being it causes is almost immediate.
Endorphins, commonly known as the hormones of happiness, are endogenous opioid peptides, which means that they are opioids made by our own bodies in order to generate a feeling of well-being and moreover, they are able to decrease the sensation of pain.
The other benefits that endorphins have on the person and therefore chocolate are also likely to cause are:
- They produce a feeling of pleasure and well-being
- They promote the release of sex hormones, that is, they increase sexual desire
- Regulates appetite
- They strengthen the immune system
- They soothe the sensation of pain caused by inflammation, trauma, etc.
- Chocolate to stay awake
Although compared to coffee, cocoa contains less caffeine, it still has caffeine. Thus, it generates more brain activity and causes a slight stimulating effect.
Caffeine is a substance found in more than 60 plants, including the cocoa tree.. Psychological effects that caffeine can exert include feeling more awake, alert, and more energetic due to stimulation of the central nervous system.
However, it should be noted that excessive consumption of caffeine can also lead to negative consequences, such as increased blood pressure or heartburn, so it is necessary to consume it in moderation.
2. It’s a natural euphoric
Cocoa is an excellent source of phenylethylamine, this substance, naturally generated in the brain, is related to amphetamines, producing a pleasant feeling of well-being and euphoria.
In addition, when large amounts of phenylethylamine are generated, the brain reacts by releasing dopamine, norepinephrine and oxytocin, neurotransmitters responsible, among other things, for causing feelings of pleasure and well-being.
3. Cocoa as a source of energy
Due to the above properties, cocoa has been used as an energy food since ancient times.. Latin American civilizations already used cocoa as a stimulant and even as a compulsory drink before going to war.
4. Chocolate, memory and brain aging
Pure cocoa is abundant in the brain building compounds called flavanols. A recent American Heart Association study published that daily consumption of flavonoid-rich cocoa may positively impact memory functions and improve mild cognitive impairment.
The flavonoids found in cocoa can also be found in other foods such as grapes, apples, wine, or tea.; and have the ability to protect neurons from possible injury, as well as to promote metabolism and interaction with molecular structure. Likewise and indirectly, flavanols promote blood circulation to the brain.
However, despite all the benefits mentioned in the article, it is not advisable to abuse its consumption, because due to its processing and combination with other substances, chocolate is high in fat and calories.
Therefore, and like any other food, moderate consumption is always better than abuse.