It’s only appropriate that chocolate is a favorite gift for Valentine’s Day. Chocolate makes us feel good—that’s why we eat so much of it with such delight. But believe it or not, there’s actually a scientifically good reason why chocolate makes us feel so good.
The chemicals in chocolate—the hormones serotonin, endorphins and phenylethylamine—affect our mood and are the same hormones the body releases in response to romance. Serotonin is our antidepressant hormone, the one that makes us feel good and loved, emotionally stable, and calm. Endorphins make us feel enthusiastic and powerful, (these are also released when you exercise). Phenylethylamine is an aphrodisiac and is also said to give us a sense of wellbeing and contentment.
So is chocolate as good for you as romance? Not quite. I suggest you develop a heartfelt relationship with both yourself and others as the main source of food for your wholeness and good-feeling. Add an exercise program to that and you’ll also find yourself feeling powerful. Then, from time to time, have a nibble of chocolate as a little add-on luxury.
I think it’s important to remember that feelings of love can be incredibly powerful when directed towards ourselves—not by eating a box of chocolate—but by seeing the divine precious beings that we each are. As one Buddhist teacher says: “Every individual in the world has a unique contribution.”
Our love also grows as we extend it outward toward others. Sharing chocolate is one way of course, but simply allowing your eyes to rest with someone else’s eyes during moments of conversation is a wonderfully simple way to communicate and share feelings of love.
But back to loving chocolate. Apart from the feel-good hormones, what else is so amazing about this power food (as some refer to it)? The Aztecs derived chocolate from cacao trees and first made a beverage out of it, which was given to the Spanish conqueror Cortez, who subsequently took it home to Spain. The drink was very bitter so the Spanish added sugar instead of chilies, and they also added cinnamon and vanilla. Chocolate as candy did not come around until the 1800’s.
Lately, people have been referring to chocolate as a health food because of its high levels of antioxidants and also because it contains minerals such as potassium and magnesium, and flavonoids like copper and potassium. The phytochemical plant pigments from flavonoids act as natural antioxidants and neutralize free radicals. Chocolate also contains several vitamins, including B1, B2, D, and E. Dairy, however, can interfere with the absorption of these, which is why only dark chocolate offers the healthy benefits.
We should be careful to not use chocolate as a replacement for nourishing whole foods. There are better foods than chocolate as sources for antioxidants—namely green tea, fruit, vegetables, and especially leafy green foods. A large part of the allure of chocolate is, of course, the taste, which satisfies cravings for fat and carbohydrates. However, it’s important to realize that a craving for something fat and sweet can be a sign that we might need to feel nurtured. Many of us sometimes use chocolate to step in to rescue us and make us feel good. Avocadoes, for example, also satisfy cravings for fat and carbohydrates but—admittedly—do not have the same sinful satisfaction.
Before we blindly go for the box of chocolates, let’s be real for a moment and ask ourselves if we want (or need) to keep this occasional substitute for love within arms reach. Can we make some changes in our lives that encourage more of the real feelings of love? There’s so much to love, both within ourselves and those around us.