Scientists say “Eating dark chocolate may reduce depression risk.”
I’m all over this idea! My first question is, “How much chocolate and how often?” Then I listen to the better angel on my other shoulder, who whispers, “You know the cinnamon and blood sugar connection? A sprinkle of cinnamon doesn’t move your sugar in the right direction. It takes large amounts—like a horse pill’s worth!”
That horse pill is 1 gram of cinnamon, which if taken for 30 or 60 days in a controlled double blind trial, still had no effect on blood sugar for persons with type II diabetes. Other studies using 2 grams of cinnamon per day did lower blood sugar. Cinnamon used as a food ingredient, sprinkle, or taste enhancer is generally regarded as safe to use, but it doesn’t lower blood sugar. I still sprinkle my Greek yogurt and fruit with cinnamon every morning, but that’s because I like the taste.
If you want to begin taking cassia cinnamon supplements, talk to your physician if you have liver disease, diabetes, or you’re pregnant. Cassia cinnamon has the potential to interact with a variety of different medications, including those used to control diabetes.
I can hold out for a magic potion and keep the fanciful notion of one simple pill to cure my ills, or I can accept diabetes and metabolic syndrome as complex conditions that are affected by my genetics, the food I eat, the quality of my sleep, my life stressors, and even the exercise I get daily. In truth, I do want a magic potion, but I’d really like magic Twinkie dust: why can’t my condition just be wiped away? I need a fairy godmother, one who’ll bring the dark chocolate in buckets when she comes to visit.
Magic Chocolate Cupcakes
As a personal experiment, I’ve tried Twinkie Dust in the form of chocolate cupcakes. When I was in grad school, I can attest if an afternoon Hostess Chocolate Cupcake made me happy, having one for breakfast and dinner made me really happy, or at least it did for several days. After five days, the thought of another chocolate iced cupcake with cream filling inside began to make my stomach churn and my lip curl. After choking down one small cake for breakfast, and looking inside the box to count the number still left, I wondered if I’d gotten my money’s worth. That is, could I toss these ever expanding treats in the trash and not feel bad? My frugal angel was debating with my don’t waste food angel. My frugal angel won—I kept hearing my parents saying, “people are starving in China.”
I’m happy, how ‘bout you?
A recent study at the Nutrition Resource Center claims individuals who ate dark chocolate appeared less likely to exhibit clinically relevant depressive symptoms, according to findings recently published in Depression & Anxiety.
“Previous studies have not adequately controlled for variables that may potentially confound the association between chocolate and depression, such as socioeconomic status. Moreover, previous studies have not examined the association with depression according to the type of chocolate consumed,” Sarah E. Jackson, PhD, CPsychol, of the department of behavioral science and health at University College London, and colleagues wrote.
They reviewed National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 2007 to 2008 and 2013 to 2014 and Public Health Questionnaire-9 scores from 13,626 adults 20 years of age and older to fill in this research gap.
Chocolate helps elevate the mood
Jackson and colleagues found that 11.1% of those that were studied reported eating any type of chocolate and that 1.4% reported consuming dark chocolate.
“Individuals who reported any dark chocolate consumption had 70% lower odds of reporting clinically relevant depressive symptoms than those who did not report any chocolate consumption.”
In addition, analysis showed that after adjusting for dark chocolate consumption, those who reported eating the most chocolate — between 104 g (3.67 ounces) and 454 g (16 ounces) a day — had 57% lower odds of depressive symptoms than those who reported no chocolate consumption.
When I read this statement of how much dark chocolate the 1.4% (191) of the 13,626 adults studied were consuming, my first thought was, “How much chocolate does the average American eat per year?” After all, 4 ounces seems high, but a pound of chocolate is humongous.
Americans consume 2.8 billion pounds of chocolate each year, or over 11 pounds per person, or 14.67 ounces per month. The Swiss, the world’s top consumers, eat 8.8 kilograms of chocolate each year (19.4 pounds).
Death by Chocolate
This amount of chocolate the small group of super consumers in the aforementioned study eats is (slightly less than) 4 ounces to 16 ounces daily. A normal serving of chocolate is 28 grams or 1 oz.
Fortunately, the median lethal dose for humans is 1000 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. That means that an 80 kg (176 pounds) human would have to eat 5.7 kg (12.6 pounds) of unsweetened dark chocolate at one sitting for it to kill them (going by a theobromine content of 14 milligrams per gram of dark chocolate, although it varies).
Two day Survey
Another fact was the researchers only recorded for this study the participants’ food intake for two 24-hour periods. It’s easy to argue that this might not reflect someone’s standard food intake over a week, let alone across months or years.
I wonder if some yahoos in the group were goofing with the information: “You want to know what I eat?! Ha! How bout a pound of chocolate!” Of course, not one of Cornie’s Kitchen peeps would ever do any such silly or sophomoric thing in a scientific study. Of course you wouldn’t!
Chocolate as a Mood Booster
“The present results are in line with the majority of experimental studies, which have shown benefits of chocolate consumption for mood, at least in the short-term,” said the researchers.
Individuals who ate dark chocolate appeared less likely to exhibit clinically relevant depressive symptoms, according to findings recently published in Depression & Anxiety.
Of course, it’s also not realistic to make a 1% sample represent the masses. After all, if this were true in real life, we common folks would all vacation at Martha’s Vineyard and the Hampton’s, rather than camping on Lake Hamilton or in our backyards.
Benefits of cocoa
Antioxidant effects of cocoa may directly influence insulin resistance and, in turn, reduce risk for diabetes. Cocoa can protect nerves from injury and inflammation, protect the skin from oxidative damage from UV radiation in topical preparations, and have beneficial effects on satiety, cognitive function, and mood.
As cocoa is predominantly consumed as energy-dense chocolate, potential detrimental effects of overconsumption exist, including increased risk of weight gain. Overall, research to date suggests that the benefits of moderate cocoa or dark chocolate consumption likely outweigh the risks.
Where else can you find flavanols?
Dark chocolate and cocoa are not the only foods that contain flavanols. Many fruits and vegetables are rich in flavanols, including apples, red grapes, broccoli, cherry tomatoes, beans, kale, and onions.
Perhaps it’s no coincidence that a healthy diet is typically one that is high in fruits and vegetables and, as a result, high in flavanol content as well. However, studies examining the relationship between specific fruits and vegetables, dietary flavanol consumption, and brain function have not yet been performed.
Overall Wellness Recommendations
Remember, not all chocolate is the same. Dark chocolate and cocoa have high flavanol levels, while milk chocolate and white chocolate have much lower levels. In addition, many types of chocolate are high in sugar, fats, and calories. So, even if dark chocolate turns out to be good for the brain, it’s unlikely that doctors will recommend a Godiva bar a day.
As for preventive measures, the best recommendations are those your doctor would make anyway, such as regular exercise, choosing a healthy diet, maintaining a normal blood pressure, not smoking, and drinking only in moderation.
Tim Allen School of Personal Experience
Also, from the Tim Allen school of personal experience, I can guarantee an occasional cupcake is preferred to a dozen per week, or even a daily cupcake. The same goes for chocolate! I get my fix from 5 grams of cocoa stirred into my yogurt in the morning. Moreover, when we read these scientific studies, we can dig a little deeper to see if we should get excited about their conclusions or if they seem a tad exuberant for the results.
If you have feelings of hopelessness, a sadness that doesn’t go away, or difficulties with daily life or relationships, ask for a referral to a counselor from your family doctor. Talking about your feelings is better than keeping them bottled up inside.
Dark Chocolate and Depression
Hasanzade, Farzaneh et al. “The Effect of Cinnamon on Glucose of Type II Diabetes Patients.” Journal of traditional and complementary medicine vol. 3,3 (2013): 171-4. doi:10.4103/2225-4110.11490
Death by Chocolate
Cocoa and Chocolate in Human Health and Disease
Is there a link between dark chocolate and depression?
Your brain on chocolate