What happens in your brain when you eat chocolate or cocoa?
With the arrival in Europe of the different fruits from the American continent, the fury for cocoa, and consequently for chocolate, soon expanded, becoming one more food in the cuisine of any place in the rest of the world.
However, almost from its very appearance, Discussions about its benefits and the not-so-healthy properties of chocolate have been widely discussed . This article describes the benefits of chocolate on a psychological level and the effects it has on the brain according to its different compounds.
Cocoa, cocoa powder and chocolate
The cocoa powder and its subsequent transformation into the well-known and desired chocolate, are the most well-known elaborations that are extracted from the fruit called cocoa. Likewise, this fruit originates and develops in a tropical tree known as Theobroma cacao, which is grown in Africa and in Tropical America.
Theobroma cacao refers to the scientific nomenclature that is assigned to the cacao tree, also called cocoa tree. Formerly, it was appreciated as a divine tree, hence the translation of its specialized name Theobroma can literally be translated as "food of the gods".
From the fruit of this tree, cocoa, cocoa powder is extracted. Which is obtained by grinding or grinding the beans inside. At a nutritional level, cocoa powder can provide many calories and proteins and very few carbohydrates , so it is an ideal food in hyperproteic diets. As well as a large amount of vitamins such as B vitamins, vitamin A and vitamin E.
However, there are also many benefits at the psychological level. In addition to the well-known sensation of well-being that it produces, cocoa is energetic, favors memory and prevents brain aging.
Finally, it is necessary to make a distinction between cocoa and chocolate. As mentioned above, cocoa is obtained directly from the fruit, while chocolate requires a subsequent processing process during 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, has fewer additives and is as less processed 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 releaser and a source of caffeine. But there are many contributions that chocolate can make to brain functioning.
1. Chocolate, endorphins and pleasure
Cocoa is a powerful natural generator of endorphins, so powerful that the sensation of well-being that it provokes is practically immediate.
The endorphins popularly known as happiness hormones, are endogenous opioid peptides, this means that they are opioids manufactured by our own body in order to generate a feeling of wellbeing and also, they are able to reduce the sensation of pain.
Other benefits that endorphins have on the person, and therefore chocolate is also likely to cause them are:
- They produce a feeling of pleasure and well-being
- They promote the release of sex hormones, that is, increase sexual desire
- They regulate the appetite
- Reinforce the immune system
- They calm the sensation of pain caused by inflammation, trauma, etc.
- Chocolate to stay awake
Although compared to coffee, cocoa contains less caffeine, it also contains it. So it generates greater brain activity and causes a mild stimulating effect.
Caffeine is a substance that can be found in more than 60 plants, including the cacao tree . The psychological effects that caffeine can exert include the sensation of being more awake, attentive and with more energy due to the stimulation of the central nervous system.
However, it is necessary to point out that an excessive consumption of caffeine can also have negative consequences, such as an increase in blood pressure or acidity in the stomach, so it is necessary to consume it in a moderate way.
2. Constitutes a natural euphoric
Cocoa is an excellent source of phenylethylamine, this substance, generated naturally in the brain, is similar to amphetamines, producing a pleasant feeling of well-being and euphoria.
In addition, when significant amounts of phenylethylamine are generated, the brain reacts by releasing dopamine, norepinephrine and oxytocin, neurotransmitters ordered, among other things, to cause sensations of pleasure and well-being.
3. Cocoa as an energy source
Due to the above properties, cocoa has been used as an energy food since ancient times . The civilizations from Latin America already resorted to cocoa as a stimulant and even as a compulsory drink before leaving for war.
4. Chocolate, memory and brain aging
Pure cocoa is abundant in brain-building compounds called flavanols. A recent study by the American Heart Association published that eating flavonoid-rich cocoa daily can have a positive impact on memory functions and improve mild cognitive impairment.
The flavonoids present 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, in addition to promoting metabolism and interaction with the molecular structure. Likewise and indirectly, flavanols favor the flow of blood in the brain.
5. Tips and warnings
However, despite all the benefits mentioned in the article, it is not advisable to abuse their consumption, since Due to its processing and combination with other substances, chocolate is rich in fat and calories .
Therefore, and like any other food, moderate consumption is always better than abuse.