Well, we know that there are health benefits associated with dark chocolate (all those antioxidants), but now new research links greater chocolate intake with higher depression scores.
In a new study out of the University of California is a study that looked at 931 men and women not on antidepressant medication and looked at their diet and depression scores.
They found that for those who screened positive for possible depression consumed an average of 8.4 servings of chocolate per month, compared with 5.4 servings per month for those who were not positive. For those who had even higher scores of depression, their chocolate consumption was even greater: 11.8 servings per month. The findings were the same for both men and women.
There are lots of theories about foods that can cause depression. Some studies have shown a connection between caffeine and better mood in women. Something called phosphodiesterase inhibitors or methylxanthines are found in coffee and theobromine which is in chocolate can impact on mood. But the actual quantity in chocolate is fairly low. Caffeine was not found to impact on mood in this study.
So what is the actual link here? Well, firstly, depression could stimulate chocolate cravings as a self-treatment if chocolate confers mood benefits or at least we think it does! Or is it that depression itself stimulates chocolate cravings for unrelated reasons without any real treatment benefit, as shown in this study. Or is it (and I sure hope not!) that chocolate itself contributes to depressed mood? And finally, some kind of physiological factors like oxidative stress or inflammation could drive both depression and chocolate cravings.
Perhaps chocolate does have mood-elevating benefits that drive the cravings but artificial trans fats, which inhibit omega 3 fatty acid production, which would worsen the mood, neutralize or reverse any benefits from the chocolate. Perhaps chocolate has short-term benefits but long-term untoward effects!
What else food wise could impact your mood? Some studies suggest that omega-3 fats ( found in fish, such as salmon, mackerel, herring) can improve your mood. It may be that this essential fatty acid helps to build brain receptors for neurotransmitters such as serotonin, which is known to improve mood.
B vitamins as well have been reported to have a link to depression. This may be because homocysteine has been linked to depression and folic acid along with the B vitamins can lower homocysteine. So then it would make sense that fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds are good for mood.
Tryptophan (needed to make the neurotransmitter serotonin) has also been linked to mood and depression. Fish, beans, and eggs are a good source of this amino acid.
Balancing your blood sugar is also linked to mood, so avoid high-glycemic index foods. Chromium is a mineral linked to glucose stabilization. Studies have looked at a supplement as a good way of boosting chromium. We also know that exercise and sunlight are good for mood and can impact on serotonin levels, so make sure to include that in your anti-depression armament!