Chocolate lovers may cling to the idea that their favorite indulgence contains antioxidants that can prevent heart disease, but the creamy, cacao-based treats appear to have a relationship with mental health as well, and possibly an unhealthy one.
In addition to promoting the release of feel-good chemicals in the brain, eating chocolate may actually be related to depression, according to a study that looked at the use of chocolate as a form of self-medication.
Overall, depressed people eat 50% more chocolate than people who aren’t depressed, according to studies by the University of California, San Diego’s Department of Family and Preventive Medicine. Interestingly, people who were taking pharmaceutical drugs to treat their depression ate that much more chocolate as well, The Consumerist notes.
And while eating chocolate might have benefited participants’ moods, the effects weren’t sustained long enough to help them overcome their depression, the study found. And that could lead to a vicious cycle of guilt caused by indulgence leading to still more indulging.
Besides treating depression, previous studies have found that people use chocolate to ease anxiety and irritability. And people who do eat chocolate to calm their moods tend to have relatively high levels of anxiety and irritability in general.
Continually eating chocolate or increasing chocolate consumption may be more likely to result in more guilt-driven eating, negating any positive effects that moderate chocolate consumption might bring.
The amount of chocolate that is considered “moderate” however, is debatable. Previous studies have found that eating 6.7 grams of chocolate every day, or about half a bar per week, offers the ideal amount of chocolate to receive protection from heart disease while not overeating.
You may want to bear in mind that dark chocolate is healthier than milk chocolate because it contains little if any cocoa butter. Too much fat or sugar may negate the positive effects of cocoa, especially more so in those who are sedentary.