Chocolate is derived from the cacao bean. Consuming chocolate can affect the brain as its ingredients include certain neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are chemicals in the brain that are beneficial to the health of neurons (brain cells). Two neurotransmitters released by chocolate are phenylethylamine and anandamide.
Phenylethylamine causes changes in blood pressure and blood-sugar levels leading to feelings of excitement and alertness. It works like amphetamines to increase mood and decrease depression.
Phenylethylamine is also called the “love drug” because it causes your pulse rate to quicken, resulting in a similar feeling to when someone is in love.
Anandamide activates neuron receptors which causes the production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter which leads to feelings of well being. Anandamide, found naturally in the brain, typically breaks down very rapidly in the brain. Chocolate, besides adding to the levels of anandamide in the brain, also contains two other chemicals which work to slow the breakdown of the anandamide, thus extending the feelings of well-being.
The higher the percentage of cacao the better. Semisweet or bittersweet chocolate contains 35 percent or more cacao. A higher percentage cacao means less added sugar. Unsweetened baking chocolate is 100 percent cacao with no added sugar.