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There are many occasions to enjoy chocolate. However, the peak of chocolate consumption is in winter: It’s a time when many a person isn’t quite in as “good a mood” as they are in the summer. This winter low mood is (partly) caused by a lowered level of the happiness hormone serotonin in the brain. But can chocolate really help to overcome a low mood – even make you “happy”? Or is that a myth? The answer is: a little of both.

Does chocolate make you happy?

It is believed that chocolate can raise serotonin levels in the brain – and could thus be an “antidepressant” that is as pleasant as it is mild. This is probably due to its high sugar content. Sugar is the fuel of our brain. It stimulates the conversion of tryptophan, a component of chocolate, into the happiness hormone serotonin. So chocolate could actually make us “happy” because of its ingredients. The problem is that the quantities contained in chocolate are hardly sufficient for this – unless you devour huge quantities. The same applies to the similarly acting ingredient of chocolate, theobromine, which can be the doom of animals.

Sun would also do it

Actually, the serotonin level in the brain depends on the intensity of the light and the duration of the bright daytime hours. That’s why a walk in the fresh air is a better alternative for the mind – and even saves calories.

So why does chocolate make us happy?

To reassure all chocolate fans: Chocolate can still make you happy. However, this has less to do with its ingredients than with the melting process in the mouth. Many people find it very pleasant and this feeling is associated with happiness hormones. “Chocolate lifts the mood, it is a real feel-good food,” says Ingrid Acker, a nutritionist in Rödermark. In addition, many link the enjoyment of chocolate with positive experiences – for example, beautiful childhood memories.

Holidays around the chocolate

It is probably due to the popularity of chocolate that two international commemorative days are dedicated to the (mostly) brown delicacy: “World Chocolate Day” on July 7 and “International Chocolate Day” on September 13. In the USA in particular, the “World Chocolate Day on July 7. It is said to refer to the day in 1550 when chocolate was first introduced from the American continent to Europe (although this is not historically certain). What is certain, however, is that chocolate has actually been known in Europe since the 16th century. Why the 13th of September as “International Chocolate Day is undisputed, however. Because on September 13, 1857, the U.S. confectionery manufacturer Milton S. Hershey was born, the founder of the Hershey Chocolate Company. The Hershey Company is still considered one of the largest chocolate manufacturers in the world. Both chocolate commemorations, by the way, are an invention of the American National Confectioners Assocation (NCA). The mission of this trade organization is to promote sales of chocolate, candy, gum, and breath mints, as well as the companies that make these treats. So a holiday for chocolate comes in handy.

Dark chocolate bonanza

There’s one consolation for those with a sweet tooth: switch to dark chocolate. If you eat it, you can even do yourself some good – and not just for your psyche. Because the more cocoa it contains – thus at least 70 better still 80 per cent – the more positively it affects the body, so Professor Johannes George Wechsler, specialist for internal medicine and nourishing medicine in Munich. This is because cocoa contains flavanols. The darker the chocolate, i.e. the higher the cocoa content, the more flavanols it contains. And these are said to ensure that the blood vessels remain elastic. They are also said to slightly lower blood pressure. According to Wechsler, scientific findings and studies indicate that dark dark chocolate – especially if it also contains nuts – can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Ingredients of chocolate

In principle, chocolate has a relatively simple structure – consisting of the main ingredients cocoa mass, sugar and cocoa butter. This accounts for its high nutritional value – many hundreds of calories are contained in one hundred grams of this dark delicacy. Dark chocolate also scores in this respect: it contains less fat and sugar than light milk chocolate. And, get this – chocolate can also contain minerals such as iron, calcium and magnesium, as well as vitamins. How much depends on the variety. It is therefore worthwhile to look at the ingredients when shopping. As a general rule, chocolate should be enjoyed and not eaten by the bar. Because, as many people know from painful experience, a guilty conscience sets in at the latest when we can no longer keep our pants zipped.

Tip: Store chocolate correctly

Ideally, chocolate should be stored at a constant temperature, preferably between 16 and 18 degrees. A pantry is a good place. In the refrigerator, the chocolate may get too cold. Then that ugly whitish layer of sugar rime forms. It forms because the water condenses on the surface of the chocolate, thus removing the sugar from the mass. If chocolate is stored too warm, the so-called fat rime forms. Instead of sugar, fat accumulates on the surface. However, despite the white layer, the chocolate is still good and can be eaten. By the way, even after the best-before date has expired. Only when the chocolate smells rancid is it no longer edible. Then the fat is bad. A hot cup of cocoa is a delight, especially on cold days. Whether with or without cream – it’s a matter of taste and calories.

Does chocolate help us think?

The fact that chocolate has a positive effect on our brain’s thinking functions sounds so seductive that we are too happy to believe it. But how much is actually behind the myth? Can chocolate rev up our gray matter? We can rejoice: chocolate contains many substances that not only make us light up on dark days. Above all, it provides our brain with the energy it needs to think, and it does so more effectively than other sugary snacks. Even a small piece of the sweet delicacy gives our neurons the jump-start they need for great thoughts. Although our brain only makes up around two percent of our body mass, it is the most energy-demanding organ in our body: every day, it consumes one-fifth of our total energy, one-fifth of our blood sugar, and one-fifth of the oxygen contained in our blood. To keep our thoughts flowing smoothly, we need a continuous stream of energy 24 hours a day. Glucose, also known as dextrose, helps us achieve this. It is probably the most elementary carbohydrate when it comes to supplying energy to our brain and thus our ability to think. Many people quickly reach for concentrated glucose at school or during work. However, the energy we supply to our body with it usually fizzles out after only 15 seconds. This provides a very short-term energy boost, but is not very conducive to thinking in the long term. Chocolate is different: it releases its energy to the body much more slowly and can therefore supply our brain with the glucose it needs for a longer period of time. Incidentally, this has advantages not only for the performance of our brain, but also for that of our entire body. Experienced mountaineers, for example, rarely carry glucose in their luggage, but much more often chocolate in all its variations. But that’s not all: cocoa, which has always been the most important ingredient in almost every bar of chocolate, also contains substances that can help us think. It is particularly rich in tryptophan, an amino acid that is converted in the brain into the neurotransmitter serotonin. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that transmit nerve impulses from brain cell to brain cell. Without them, most signals would not reach our brain. Thinking, but also feeling and acting would then hardly be possible. Serotonin supports the body in this signal transmission and is also particularly known for having a mood-lifting effect. The raw cacao present in dark chocolate also contains flavonoids, secondary plant compounds that our body can only absorb through food and utilize, for example, for neurogenesis, i.e. the formation of new brain cells. Despite the positive effects that chocolate can have on our thinking, it is of course not a miracle cure: tryptophan is only converted by our brain into serotonin if there is a deficiency of it, and flavonoids can also only be used for neurogenesis to a limited extent. Chocolate in large quantities therefore does nothing. On the contrary, the excess energy is not used by the brain, but stored in fat cells of the body. So just reach for dark chocolate? After all, it contains less sugar, has a higher cocoa content and thus more of the healthy substances found in cocoa. But the same applies to dark chocolate: Don’t snack on it bar by bar, but enjoy it piece by piece. Neurobiologist Prof. Dr. Martin Korte helped us answer this question. He is head of the Department of Cellular Neurobiology at the Zoological Institute of the Technical University of Braunschweig. Editor WiD: Janne Steenbeck Do you also have a question for science? WiD’s online editorial team is looking for experts who know about this topic and will answer your question. To the question form To the overview More How?So!s on the topic: Does chocolate mold? Fiji Sun Classifieds.

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