A species of theobroma, or “food of the gods,” cacao is loaded with over 300 chemicals that deliver such a powerful effect in the mind and body that others historically called it the “food of the devil,” suggesting it was too good to be true!
But let’s be clear: it is the cacao – not the sugar and milk contained in most commercial chocolate – that delivers the benefits. So if you plan to indulge, aim towards developing a taste for dark chocolate that contains over 70% cacao.
My favorite chemical in chocolate is called anandamide, named after the Sanskrit word, Ananda, which means bliss. It quickly activates dopamine receptors in the brain which provides the sense of wellbeing or “high, as well as stimulates the feeling of “I gotta have it right now!”
Two other chemical compounds conveniently found in chocolate don’t let the anandamide break down, so the affect can linger for hours.
It also delivers a potent neurotransmitter called phenylethylamine, which is more commonly known as the “love drug.” In one survey, women preferred chocolate over sex – likely due to this chemical.
Cacao also has tryptophan – a precursor to the mood-stabilizing neurotransmitter serotonin – as well as endorphins, caffeine, and a staggering array of chemicals to do to the mood just about whatever is needed.
The Dark Side
While the benefits of cacao address many health concerns relating to mood, heart, cholesterol, circulation and mental and cognitive function, is there a dark side?
The question I always ask my patients is, “do you feel you NEED the chocolate, coffee or sweet?” If we find ourselves longing for it, we may be over-stimulating the dopamine receptors in the brain. So instead of finding joy naturally, the brain has locked on to an outer stimulus that delivers that same joy with less work.
Over time, the brain will need more and more of the dopamine activator to feel that same joy, and that comes along with a ton of potential health issues.
If you are under the spell of chocolate and can’t shake the curse, consider pure-grade coconut oil. It delivers instant and stable energy in the form of ketones that your brain loves. In one study, just one 2.7 tablespoons of coconut oil increased brain cognitive performance in just 90 minutes after eating it (1). Once your brain gets a taste of this new form of energy from ketones, you’ll have a fighting chance to forget about the chocolate!