Most likely you’ve already felt the holiday cheer in the streets. Storefronts are beginning to sparkle with red, gold, and glittering lights. City squares are populated with bow-trimmed trees. Wreaths perch in doorframes, and twinkle lights frame houses.
Yet, while some may be filled with 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.
Even if this is you, you’re not alone!
The holiday blues are 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
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.”
Lastly, and maybe most interestingly, even those who “reported feelings of happiness, love, and high spirits over the holidays” also experienced “feelings of fatigue, stress, irritability, bloating, and sadness.” This feedback showed a strong connection between the increase in food splurging and/or eating differently than you normally would and its effect on your mental state.
Simply put, it’s a combination of factors all coming together during 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.
Nutrient Profile of Dark Chocolate
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
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 in the 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 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.”
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 cannabinoids that may have euphoric effects, while phenylethylamine is a “natural monoamine that increases the release of norepinephrine, dopamine, and acetylcholine.” 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 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.
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.
Source: Chocolate Pumpkin Seed Bark
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 percent 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!
Source: Salted Coconut Chocolate Muffins
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 a 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.
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 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!
Source: Dark Chocolate Brownie
You can’t go through the holidays without making at least one batch of brownies! They’re warm, fluffy, and 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!
It may be the holidays, but we all still have life to live — jobs to go to, families to care for, and 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!
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Learn How to Cook Plant-Based Meals at Home
Reducing your meat intake and eating more plant-based foods is known to help with chronic inflammation, heart health, mental well-being, fitness goals, nutritional needs, allergies, gut health, and more! Unfortunately, dairy consumption also has been linked to many health problems, including acne, hormonal imbalance, cancer, and prostate cancer, and has many side effects.
For those interested in eating more plant-based, we highly recommend purchasing one of our many plant-based cookbooks or downloading the Food Monster App which has thousands of delicious recipes making it the largest vegan recipe resource to help reduce your environmental footprint, save animals and get healthy! And, while you are at it, we encourage you to also learn about the environmental and health benefits of a plant-based diet.
Here are some resources to get you started:
- Weekly Vegan Meal Plans
- Plant-Based Health Resources
- Plant-Based Food & Recipes
- The Ultimate Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition
- Plant-Based Nutrition Resources
- Budget-Friendly Plant-Based Recipes
- High Protein Plant-Based Recipes
- Plant-Based Meal Prep
Easy Ways to Help the Planet:
- Eat Less Meat: Download Food Monster, the largest plant-based recipe app on the App Store to help reduce your environmental footprint, save animals and get healthy. You can also buy a hard or soft copy of our favorite vegan cookbooks.
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