Infographic: What science says about chocolate

To celebrate International Chocolate Day, here are six things that may surprise you about chocolate

Chocoholics have always argued that chocolate is good for the soul and psyche. Studies in Elsevier's scientific journals show that it can also be good for a lot of other things including our libido, blood pressure and coughs. It may even help prevent wrinkles.

In honor of International Chocolate Day, Elsevier colleagues have prepared this infographic, followed by a list of "six things science says about chocolate."

Of course, many chocolate treats are laden with sugar and fats, so before you indulge, you may want to check out the actual studies here. (No science we could find justifies eating a steady diet of bonbons or downing a half liter tub of chocolate ice cream at one sitting.)

But in moderation ... bon appetite!


Infographic: What science says about chocolate


Six things science says about chocolate

1. Chocolate can help your love life.

It's no coincidence that chocolate reigns supreme on Valentine's Day. In a 2006 study in Food Research International, the sexual health of women was compared to their self-reported chocolate consumption. The study showed that women who reported daily chocolate intake had a significantly higher sexual desire than the non-chocolate consumers. The aphrodisiac effects of chocolate are thought to be attributed to its pharmacologically active substances: Phenylethylamine, reported to induce pleasurable sensations as well as affect serotonin and endorphin levels in the brain and N-acylethanolamines which may also activate cannabinoid receptors or increase endocannabinoid levels which increases sensitivity. Eating chocolate stimulates the secretion of endorphins producing a positive sensation similar to a "runners high."

2. Chocolate has many medicinal effects.

The therapeutic use of cacao and chocolate that originated with Native Americans for angina, respiratory and dental problems, constipation, dysentery, indigestion, weakness, gout, hemorrhoids, and kidney and liver disease have been confirmed, according to a 2010 report in Maturitas:

  • Cardiovascular disease: Chocolate has flavanols a subgroup of plant-derived compounds called flavonoids beneficial for the lowering of blood pressure and reductions in platelet aggregation.
  • Treating coughs: Chocolate has theobromine which suppresses vagal activity, responsible for coughing.
  • Dental problems: Chocolate's tannins, containing polyhydroxyphenols (6%), are the key substances that can reduce the bacterial load in the mouth, relieve bleeding gums, improve breath odor and reduce the risk of cavities. (Brushing still recommended though!)
  • Constipation, dysentery, indigestion: Magnesium found in chocolate corrects acidity and improves digestion. Alkaloids are beneficial for treating diarrhea.
  • Skin problems: Cocoa butter contains fats and anti-oxidants, which help protect the outer layer of skin by shielding it from damage and locking in moisture thereby helping to prevent wrinkles.
  • Liver disease: Chocolate's potent antioxidants, reduce the post-prandial portal hypertension associated with endothelial dysfunction.
  • Diseases of "aging": The anti-aging properties of dark chocolate are known to benefit different brain functions. The flavonoids contained in chocolate may also exert trophic effects on neurons and may influence neurological conditions such as Alzheimer's disease.

3. Chocolate can make you clever.

For a 2007 study of computer-based neuropsychological tests In the journal Appetite, researchers assessed word discrimination, verbal memory, design memory, attention span, reaction time, problem solving, and response variability. Results showed that composite scores for verbal and visual memory were significantly higher after milk chocolate consumption. Eating milk or dark chocolate showed improved impulse control and reaction time.

4. Ideal chocolate beverage pairings go beyond just milk.

A study of 80 regular chocolate consumers showed that beverages, such as balsamic vinegar, liqueur wine, coffee and Port wine, generally appeared to be preferred as more proper and versatile partners for chocolate, according to a 2012 study in the journal Food Research International.

5. Chocolate can influence purchasing intentions.

Even the mere scent of chocolate, evokes pleasure and arousal for most consumers and changes the behavior of visitors in a shop, according to a 2013 study in the Journal of Environmental Psychology. They stay longer, and they examine products they have picked up for a longer time. Chocolate's ambient scent triggers a positive affective reaction and cognitive reaction such as enhanced attention, memory, and evaluation. Data indicates that such a pleasant ambient scent shifts consumers' shopping goals from searching for specific products they want to buy (i.e., goal-directed behavior) to exploring stores in general and in detail (i.e., general approach behavior).

6. Chocolate research is at an all-time high.

Scholarly output (i.e. published papers in peer-reviewed journals) has seen a steady increase over the past 15 years. The three leading UA research universities for chocolate research are Harvard, UC Davis and the University of Minnesota. Nestle is the largest corporate researcher. (Based on SciVal research data on scholarly output since 1996)

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