Most likely you’ve already felt the holiday cheer in the streets. Storefronts are beginning to sparkling with red, gold, and glittering lights. City squares are populating with bow-trimmed trees. Wreaths perch in doorframes and twinkle lights frame houses.

Yet, while some may be filled with a jolliness and excitement for the day ahead, many people experience what is referred to as the holiday blues. An increase in depressive symptoms, anxious thoughts, and even a pervasive feeling of loneliness.

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Even if this is you, you’re not alone!

The holiday blues are actually a phenomenon that many experience throughout the season. What can you do? Turns out dark chocolate is a wonderful antidote and natural antidepressant. There are multiple components in this natural, healthy, and energizing plant-based food that has been linked to a decrease in depression and a boost in mood!

Getting to Know the Holiday Blues

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The holiday blues is an umbrella term referring to a wide variety of unsettling feelings including “loneliness, stress, and anxiety.” The American Psychological Association performed a survey in which they discovered a few hard-pressed facts about the holiday blues. To begin, 38 percent of people surveyed “said their stress level increased during the holiday season” due to “lack of time, lack of money, commercialism, the pressures of gift-giving, and family gatherings.” Moreover, 56 percent of people replied that “they experienced the most amount of stress at work.”

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Lastly, and maybe most interestingly, even those that “reported feelings of happiness, love, and high spirits over the holidays,” also experienced “feelings of fatigue, stress, irritability, bloating, and sadness.” This feedback showed the strong connection between the increase in food splurging and/or eating differently than you normally would and it’s effect on your mental state.

Simply put, it’s a combination of factors all coming together at the holiday, which can aggravate feelings of depression, anxiety, and loneliness.

This is the holiday blues.

With that said, recent studies have shown a strong connection between dark chocolate and decreased symptoms of depression. So, maybe getting a bit of healthy dark chocolate in your life can help you manage this holiday season?

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Nutrient Profile of Dark Chocolate

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Macronutrients — carbs, fat, and protein — differ from chocolate to chocolate. It all depends on what type of brand you purchase, if it has sweeteners added, and what percent cacao it is. For our purposes, let’s just take a look at what dark chocolate generally provides.

First off, it’s an excellent source of energy-boosting carbs. Around 100 grams of dark chocolate has 530 calories. Dark chocolate is also a rich source of healthy fat, depending on how much cacao butter was used in the making of your specific bar. With that said, chocolate can also be an unwanted source of added sweeteners, so it’s always important to go as high on the cacao percentage as you can stand. Outside the macro world, you’ll find a plethora of minerals in dark chocolate including “iron, magnesium, copper, and manganese,” as well as selenium and zinc.

Dark chocolate is also connected with the production of “feel-good” emotions due to flavonols, caffeine, theobromine, n-acylethanolamines, and phenylethylamine.

I’ll go into detail in the next section about these components!

Dark Chocolate to Kick Depression

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It’s not just guesswork at play here. Actual scientific studies have found a strong connection between the consumption of dark chocolate and a decrease in the symptoms of depression.

One such study, a “cross-sectional survey of over 13,000 US adults … compared self-reported chocolate consumption with self-reported depressive symptoms.” Those who consumed “dark chocolate int he past 24 hours were 70 [percent] less likely to report depression.” On top of these outcomes was the amount it took for people to start feeling the euphoric or antidepressant effects. For example, on average those in the study consumed “only 12 grams a day, a little less than half an ounce.”

So, what’s the mechanism?

When it comes to those depression-fighting components, it’s actually a combination of several — actually five — specific ingredients: flavonols, caffeine, theobromine, n-acylethanolamines, and phenylethylamine.

Flavonols are “brain-protecting nutrients” that are “particularly prominent in dark chocolate.”

Caffeine goes hand-in-hand with theobromine — found in cocoa — when it comes to dark chocolate and depression. These are “adenosine-agonists” which have “rapid effects on energy and cognition.”

With these last two — n-acylethanolamines and phenylethylamine — you start getting into the deep science of the relationship between our brains, dark chocolate, and depression. To simplify, n-acylethanolamines is a fatty acid related to cannabinoid that may have euphoric effects, while phenylethylamine is a “natural monoamine that increases the release of norepinephrine, dopamine, and acetylcholine.” Basically, these last two components help the brain release all those feel-good emotions.

But that’s not all. Dark chocolate also has a component called L-tryptophan, which is actually the precursor to serotonin. What’s serotonin? It’s a “chemical your nerves produce,” also called a neurotransmitter, that has been known to help “move food through your intestines, constrict blood vessels, and influence your mood.” Consuming dark chocolate may help increase the levels of serotonin in your body.

Cooking with Dark Chocolate This Holiday SeasonVegan dark chocolate peanut butter eggs

Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Eggs/One Green Planet

Alright, I’m convinced that an appropriate amount of dark chocolate can help my mood this holiday season. So, what next? It’s never a bad idea to have a simple bar of 80 percent or higher cacao dark chocolate on hand. A square here and there is a great simple and effective way to enjoy this depression fighter. With that said, it’s the holidays! Have some fun with your dark chocolate consumption. Here are a few inspired creations to get you started.

1. Chocolate Pumpkin Seed Bark

Chocolate Pumpkin Seed Bark/One Green Planet

Next to the ease of a bar of dark chocolate is this Chocolate Pumpkin Seed Bark recipe by Holly Bertone. The whole concoction only takes four ingredients — dairy-free dark chocolate chips (make sure their 80% or more!), 1/2 cup of pumpkin seeds (go with sprouted for more nutrient bang), extra virgin olive oil, and a sprinkle of sea salt — and six simple steps! This recipe not only delivers on the dark chocolate content, but it’s also jam-packed full of healthy fat!

2. Salted Coconut Chocolate Muffins

Salted Coconut Chocolate Muffins/One Green Planet

If you’ve got a lineup of holiday parties this season, you may want to consider creating a few batches of these Salted Coconut Chocolate Muffins by Jessica Bose. These muffins offer a bit of healthy twist on the traditional chocolate cupcake with flax eggs, non-dairy milk, melted dark chocolate, olive oil, and a surprising kick of strong brewed coffee.

3. 4-Ingredient Chocolate Pecan Fudge

4-Ingredient Chocolate Pecan Fudge/One Green Planet

Fudge is the ultimate easy and cheap treat to gift to coworkers and friends. Plus, it doesn’t hurt to have a small batch hanging around your own kitchen as well! This 4-Ingredient Chocolate Pecan Fudge recipe by Gabrielle St. Claire follows the traditional fudge recipe with a healthier, plant-based, vegan spin. Instead of heavy milk, you’ll use full-fat coconut milk. Instead of the traditional walnuts, this recipe calls for pecans. Last, but not least, opt for the darkest of dark chocolate chips to round this healthier fudge out!

4. Dark Chocolate BrownieVegan dark chocolate brownie

Dark Chocolate Brownie/One Green Planet

You can’t go through the holidays without making at least one batch of brownies! They’re warm, fluffy, oftentimes melty and also happen to be a great opportunity to invest in more dark chocolate goodness. This Dark Chocolate Brownie recipe by Julia Verkuil and Ellen Landman adds a bit of superfood power to your sweet treat! Along with dark chocolate, sugar, and baking soda, Verkuil and Landman call for tahini, cacao powder, pumpkin seeds, and superfruit berries such as goji, inca, mul, and cranberry. These aren’t your grandma’s brownies!

5. Chocolate Oatmeal and Nut Energy Bars

Chocolate Oatmeal and Nut Energy Bars/One Green Planet

It may be the holidays, but we all still have life to live — jobs to go to, families to care for, and the endless chores to get done. How about this season, instead of focusing solely on creating sweet treats for parties and gifts, why not create a little something for yourself? Maybe a little treat that boosts energy and nourishes your body? These Chocolate Oatmeal and Nut Energy Bars by Yana Chistyakova are the perfect blend of holiday cheer, dark chocolate power, and nourishing agents. Get your dose of fiber from oats, a digestive boost from dates, healthy fat from peanut butter plus more raw peanuts, and a slew of omega fatty acids from hemp seeds!

We also highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 15,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!

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