- Consuming dark chocolate makes it less likely for individuals to report clinically relevant depressive symptoms, according to a study of 13,626 U.S. adults led by researchers at University College London. The research was published in the journal Depression and Anxiety.
- The study — which is said to be the first to look at whether depression is affected by consuming different types of chocolate — also found consuming more chocolate of any type made reports of clinically relevant depressive symptoms much less likely.
- Sarah Jackson, lead author of the study, said in the report that further research is required to elaborate on the causative factors involved. Depression might also cause people to lose interest in eating chocolate, she noted.
This study could push more consumers to be interested in eating dark chocolate to help with their mental health. The researchers analyzed data from people who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which is used to assess the nutritional status of adults and children in the U.S. and is conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Because the data set was large and conducted by the government, this study might be more reliable than others have been regarding the health benefits of chocolate.
However, as the researchers pointed out, some information on the characteristics of those who consume dark chocolate may have been lacking, so they recommended caution in interpreting the results. They suggested studies using a randomized design to test the effect of dark chocolate and other chocolate consumption on mood during a longer time period might give more insight into how these variables relate.
This isn't the first study to connect chocolate to a more positive mood. According to Ingredients Network, chocolate's ability to enhance mood has been widely reported. This is due to several psychoactive ingredients as well as phenylethylamine, a neuromodulator believed to be important for regulating people's moods. Dark chocolate also has more flavonoids, which are antioxidant chemicals shown to relieve inflammation and therefore may help ward off depression.
There are other health benefits ascribed to chocolate as well. Major chocolate producer Barry Callebaut claims that daily consumption of at least 200 milligrams of cocoa flavanols in cocoa powder, semi-sweet and dark chocolate can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease among healthy individuals.
The Swiss chocolate maker petitioned the Food and Drug Administration earlier this year for a qualified health claim for the heart benefits of chocolate, and the agency is reviewing the request. A qualified health claim on chocolate products could be a stretch, though, since even dark chocolate contains plenty of calories from sugar and fat — so experts typically recommend the maximum daily amount of dark chocolate be limited to about 1 to 2 ounces.
Whether the results of this latest study will help with Barry Callebaut's petition effort remains to be seen, but the continuing popularity of chocolate can't be denied. Demand for cocoa is soaring as premium varieties, dark chocolate options and sugar-free products grow in popularity. The U.S. market for chocolate was valued at about $22 billion in 2016, but it is projected to eclipse $30 billion by 2021, according to TechSci Research.
Major chocolate manufacturers, including Nestlé, Hershey and Mars, plus smaller producers around the country, are coming out with more options to appeal to consumers who love chocolate and aren't averse to the occasional — or even frequent — indulgence. Ingredients suppliers such as Kerry Group are expanding and upgrading their cocoa offerings this year in response to increasing consumer demand, particularly for premium and organic types.
Whether or not there is a more concrete connection established between dark chocolate and a lower risk of depression, the results of this latest study could further perk up an already popular category.