The Big Idea
We first wrote this blog at Easter – a time of the year where eating chocolate is now only ‘allowed’ but positively celebrated!
As a result, we thought we would bring the science of why chocolate (in moderation) is good for you – and why ‘treating’ yourself to an edible or any other reward actually works as a way to feel good and perform better. You will not be surprised to know that it is all about those positive ‘brain chemicals’ whose levels are responsible for how motivated, happy or energised we feel.
You may have heard phrases before like “a little bit of what you fancy does you good” – well luckily for us, the science backs this up!
The other great news is that treating yourself – either with chocolate or something else – is a very ‘stackable’ habit. In choosing when and where you decide to treat yourself, you can get more bang for your buck – or more positive chemicals just at the point when you need them the most. The 52 Project is all about giving you the relevant science that sits behind an old wives tale or a “proven” top tip. This mean that as a testing team we are armed with facts and research so that we can all understand how, with a small tweak in where and when you use #The52Tips, you the get the most benefit possible from a small and deliberate amount of effort.
So far, so good, right?!
Got it…What’s the Science
Consuming chocolate regularly has been found to help the brain function, thanks to cocoa being a rich source of natural neuroprotective compounds. These ‘neuro-protective’ compounds do what they say on the tin – they protect our brains from the harm it might otherwise come to from the risks around us in everyday life. You might have heard these protective compounds described as ‘antioxidants’. The useful antioxidant abundant compounds found in cocoa beans are called cocoa flavanols. In short, eating a bit of chocolate is positively protection against some of the nastier things in life!
The benefits don’t stop there. If you have watched the Instagram live that accompanies #Tip13 you will have heard more than one Big Word Watch! Well here is another- Chocolate contains Theobromine (interestingly, this is also found in tea). Theobromine is stimulant and ‘vasodilator’ – another big word it means that it temporarily increases blood flow. This is another reason that chocolate – or a cup of tea – gives you the sense of having a bit of a lift – you get a quick rush of blood as a result of sitting down and having that cuppa – especially so if you combine it with a chocolate biscuit!
As you might imagine, there is a word of caution – otherwise surely all we would do in life is fill it with tea and biscuits! Don’t over do it! According to the National Hazardous Substances Database: “It has been stated that “in large doses” theobromine may cause nausea and anorexia and that daily intake of 50-100 g cocoa (0.8-1.5 g theobromine) by humans has been associated with sweating, trembling and severe headache.” We are committed to changing the world one cup of tea – and now one biscuit at a time! But maybe don’t try to change the world in a day by having 10 cups along with a Twix Salted Caramel every time! The calorie count probably makes that a no brainier for most of us, before you even consider a theobromine overdose – but just stating the bloody obvious for the record!
Let’s go with the benefits of moderation – because they do appear to stack up pretty well. Theobromine may have antitumoral (prevents tumours) properties, as well as anti-inflammatory and contain molecules that seem to have the ability to protect your heart – and it seems to do this without some of the undesirable side effects that you get from caffeine.
There’s more…Chocolate is also a source of phenylethylamine: This compound stimulates the brain to release dopamine – this is the neurotransmitter we have talked about before as one of the “Big 4” chemicals that we introduced you to right at the start of our journey together. Dopamine is associated with feelings of pleasure and motivation. Chocolate also seems to stimulate the production of another chemical – Anandamide: This neurotransmitter activates pleasure receptors in the brain.
So regardless of whether you can swallow all those big words, suffice it to say that chocolate can boost your mood. Once again, researchers have found evidence of mental health benefits from eating chocolate. Though past studies have had conflicting results, the majority point to a positive link between chocolate consumption and a decrease in depressive symptoms or reporting a more elevated mood after indulging a little.
Here is one of those moments where you get more for your single action – Dopamine release is all about the anticipation of reward, not the reward itself. In this experiment, it’s released as the participant anticipates the “treat”, not when when the “treat” is actually given out. You can probably remember right now when you have experienced the pleasure of anticipation when your are planning a holiday or looking forward to seeing someone – that’s your Dopamine release for you!
Remember that feeling guilt is not a great emotion – we are all for a bit of facing up to the reality of our actions when we have overdone something or got things wrong – but too much guilt can slows us down and affect the quality of our cognitive function. So make having a treat as guilt free as you can by getting the balance right – we call that the Goldilocks effect – not too little, not too much – getting it just right.
We promised you some stacking and here you go! Think about when and where to have your chocolate hit. We have already mentioned having a cuppa at the same time, maybe also stack having a cuppa and a bit of chocolate with taking a moment to go outside and enjoy a moment of relaxation looking at your garden or the natural world, checking in on your breathing – and getting in a bit of morning sunshine too!
Watch our #Tip13 on the Instagram Live Recording….
You can read more about Dopamine and anticipation here.
The magic molecules in chocolate also exhibits other important adenosine receptor-independent effects as the reduction of cellular oxidative stress or regulation of gene expression. That is a right mouthful – both literally and metaphorically! So you can either take our word for it – or read more here.
Your brain on chocolate – Harvard Publishing online article
A little bit of what you fancy is definitely a science backed win! Make your treat as guilt free as you can by getting the balance right – Remember it easily by thinking about the Goldilocks effect – not too little, not too much – getting it just right.
In moderation, it would seem that we can whole-heartedly recommend changing your world one cup of team and one biscuit at a time!
And remember to take time to anticipate pleasure too – for an extra boost of Dopamine with no additional calories!
We have had lots of testers not only telling us about their favourite chocolate bars – but also how they eat theirs! Interestingly, if you have a special way to each a chocolate bar (sucking the chocolate off a Crunchie anyone to join in with Dulcie and Dawn?!) you might also be eating that chocolate more mindfully – which is always a good thing!
Let us know how you notice that treating yourself helps you to manage a task or habit you don’t love. Or how you use a little bit of a chocolate treat to give you a boost – how long does it last? What is your “Goldilocks” scenario? What seems to be the right balance for you between not too much, not too little and getting it just right?
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