Chocolate

Our rating
 Question mark: This treatment has not been properly researched. It is not possible to say whether they are useful or not.

What is it?

Chocolate is a popular confectionary item that is available in many different forms. One of the main ingredients in chocolate is cocoa, which is made from the beans of the cocoa tree. Cocoa contains several natural chemicals and some people believe that eating chocolate has a beneficial effect on mood.

How does it work?

There are several ways in which chocolate could boost mood.

  • Chocolate contains very small amounts of ingredients that might boost mood. These include:
    • natural chemicals which affect the level of certain chemical messengers in the brain (phenylethylamin);
    • stimulants (caffeine and theobromine); and
    • a natural chemical that increases feelings of pleasure (anandamine).
  • Chocolate is high in carbohydrates and low in protein. Eating foods like this can boost serotonin, which is a natural chemical messenger in the brain. It is thought that increasing serotonin can be helpful in depression.
  • The taste and texture of chocolate is pleasant. Some people believe this triggers the release of endorphins. Endorphins are chemicals in the brain which act like opiates to increase pleasure and reduce pain.

Is it effective?

There have been no scientific studies which look at the effectiveness of chocolate as a treatment for clinical depression. However, some research has looked for links between chocolate consumption and mood. 

One study looked at the diets of people with and without depression and found that both people with and without depression ate similar amounts of chocolate. Another study found that people with depression actually consumed more chocolate on average than people without depression.

A review of studies which looked at the effects of chocolate on people’s mood found some weak evidence to suggest that eating chocolate might protect against depression, but the findings were mixed.

Are there any disadvantages?

Chocolate is high in saturated fats and sugar. Eating too much of this kind of food can increase the risk of heart and other disease. The Australian dietary guidelines recommend that chocolate is only eaten sometimes and in small amounts.

Where do you get it?

Chocolate is readily available in supermarkets and other shops. Dark chocolate contains higher levels of cocoa.

Recommendation

Given the lack of evidence on chocolate, it cannot be recommended as a treatment for depression.

Key references

  • Bruinsma K, Taren DL. Chocolate: food or drug? Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 1999; 99: 1249-1256.
  • Grases G, Colom MA, Sanchis P, & Grases F. Possible relation between consumption of different food groups and depression. BMC psychology. 2019; 7(1), 14.
  • García-Blanco T, Alberto D, & Visioli F. Tea, cocoa, coffee, and affective disorders: vicious or virtuous cycle? Journal of affective disorders. 2017; 224: 61-68.
  • Macdiarmid JI, Hetherington MM. Mood modulation by food: an exploration of affect and cravings in 'chocolate addicts'. British Journal of Clinical Psychology. 1995; 34: 129-138.
  • Parker G, Parker I, Brotchie H. Mood state effects of chocolate. Journal of Affective Disorders. 2006; 92(2-3):149-59.
  • Pase MP, Scholey AB, Pipingas A, Kras M, Nolidin K, Gibbs A, et al. Cocoa polyphenols enhance positive mood states but not cognitive performance: a randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Journal of Psychopharmacology. 2013; 27(5):451-8.
  • Rose N, Koperski S, Golomb BA. Mood food: chocolate and depressive symptoms in a cross-sectional analysis. Archives of Internal Medicine. 2010; 170(8):699-703.

Last updated and reviewed: 1 May 2019