Dark Chocolate, Health and Stress Relief

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Question: "I've heard that dark chocolate is better for you than milk chocolate, and can even bring some benefits. Is this true? What does research say on dark chocolate, and how can it be used for stress relief and health?"

Answer: Yes, the good news for chocolate lovers everywhere is that dark chocolate has been shown by research to have real stress relieving properties as well as benefits to health!

Here's one of the latest studies that look promising for dark chocolate and stress relief. 

The Benefits of Dark Chocolate on Stress

A clinical trial published online in ACS’ Journal of Proteome Research found that eating about an ounce and a half of dark chocolate a day for two weeks reduced levels of stress hormones in people who felt highly stressed. They found that dark chocolate also partially corrected other stress-related biochemical imbalances!

In the study, Francois-Pierre Martin, Sunil Kochhar and colleagues identified reductions in stress hormones like cortisol, and other stress-related biochemical changes in volunteers who rated themselves as highly stressed and ate dark chocolate for two weeks. “The study provides strong evidence that a daily consumption of 40 grams [1.4 ounces] during a period of 2 weeks is sufficient to modify the metabolism of healthy human volunteers,” the scientists said in a press release.

As part of the study, the researchers cite growing scientific evidence of more benefits associated with dark chocolate:

  • Antioxidants and other beneficial substances in dark chocolate may reduce risk factors for heart disease
  • Dark chocolate's antioxidants may reduce risk factors for other diseases and physical conditions as well
  • Studies show that dark chocolate may ease emotional stress

This, however, is the first study of its kind that shows, in humans, exactly how dark chocolate may help with stress. 

It's reassuring news that dark chocolate can be so beneficial, since the body's stress response may make us crave more sweets, and emotional eating generally brings weight gain if we're not careful. A small amount of dark chocolate, enjoyed mindfully, can be an effective and enjoyable method to relieve stress in those who have no medical reason why they can't enjoy it.

Here's more information on the use of dark chocolate as a stress relief tool, as well as other resources that might relate to you:

  • Chocolate Meditation
    This is every bit as delicious as it sounds! Here's how scores of people have been using chocolate as a stress relief tool and avoiding binge eating when stressed.
  • What Causes Emotional Eating?
    Do you find that you automatically reach for a bag of chips or slice of cake when stressed? Here's what might be behind that urge.
  • How to Stop Emotional Eating
    If you find yourself mindlessly munching, here are some strategies to help you stop.
  • Diet Tips for the Stressed
    Here are some tips that should help when you feel too stressed to diet, but find that you want to lose weight anyway.
  • 'Pleasures' for Stress Relief
    Positive Psychology doesn't just condone the use of pleasure for overall life satisfaction, they recommend it! Here's more about using life's pleasures for stress relief.

Martin, F.J et al. Metabolic Effects of Dark Chocolate Consumption on Energy, Gut Microbiota, and Stress-Related Metabolism in Free-Living Subjects Protome Journal of Research, October 7, 2009.