Halloween marks the beginning of the two best months of the year filled with Holidays, family reunions, “friendsgivings,” and lots of delicious food. It also marks the beginning of that time of the year when we call chocolate nutritious and tell other half-truths to justify our indulgence.
What Is Chocolate, Exactly?
Let’s start by explaining what chocolate is made from: cocoa beans. Cocoa beans are seeds of the cacao tree (Theobroma cacao), a delicate plant native to Central America, South America, and Africa. They have a strong and bitter taste and are therefore fermented (with natural yeast and bacteria) post harvesting to develop flavor, after which they’re dried, cleaned, and roasted. Then, the hull is removed, and the cacao nib that remains is ground into a powder, containing cocoa solids and cocoa butter. The cocoa butter, which liquefies during the pulverizing process, also known as cocoa liquor, is then poured into molds and cooled. This is what you’ll encounter as a 100% cacao chocolate bar.
So, here’s what we’ve found out so far. Chocolate comes from cocoa beans, which are actually cocoa tree seeds. Those get harvested, fermented, dried, roasted, and ground. Chocolate is, therefore, a plant—and hey, eating more plants it the cornerstone of a healthy diet, right?
But It’s Nutritious, Right?
Cacao is widely considered to be one of the highest antioxidant foods in the world. Research suggests it can help reduce blood pressure, protect cells against free radicals, lower cholesterol levels, regulate blood sugar levels, keep inflammation on the low, and even boost brain functions.
It’s also rich in iron, magnesium, and fiber, making it a real superfood. Doesn’t this answer the ‘is it nutritious’ question?
It most certainly, without a doubt, is.
So, Where’s the Catch?
You see, the problem occurs when that nutritious 100% cacao gets mixed with other ingredients and processed into something completely different. Sugar, milk, flour, baking powder, corn syrup, cream, and various additives, fillers, colorants, and flavoring agents; they are the ones who make the chocolate less nutritious and stripped from most of its great qualities.
This is where your Halloween indulgence justification falls through—all candy and chocolates you consume on your trick-or-treating journey have little to zero nutrients beyond, well, sugar.
But, Chocolate Makes Us Happy
We all know chocolate treats aren’t’ the best food choices and a big Hershey bar definitely isn’t considered to be an essential macro or micronutrient food, but it’s hard to ignore its delicious taste, and how having a day when we completely let go of clean eating boundaries is simply good for our mental health.
We feel happier, less anxious, and more tolerant. Even though we aren’t fueling our bodies with nutrients, we are doing something almost as important—boosting our serotonin (happiness hormone) and dopamine levels through the roof!
This has been proven accurate, as chocolate contains a compound known as tryptophan, which is linked to serotonin production. It’s also been shown that having more serotonin and dopamine in our system reduces stress and anxiety and brings an overall sense of calm and happiness.
Halloween Indulgence Isn’t So Bad, Then?
No, it isn’t. Leading a healthy and happy life comes down to one simple, but very hard to attain and maintain goal: balance.
Balance is key to everything in life, so why would food and nutrients be the exception? If you pay attention to what you’re eating and feed your body the right nutrients, indulging in some chocolate or other delicious desserts (hello Thanksgiving pie and Christmas pudding) while spending time with friends and family isn’t so terrible. Stress is the biggest culprit of all human problems, so let go a little, live a little; that’s why this time of the year is so amazing after all!
What If I Overdo It?
First of all: don’t panic.
Second, you have to identify what overdoing it means. Are you afraid you went too far because you had a second slice of chocolate cake or because you ate 75 snickers bars? In the first case, no, you haven’t gone too far, two slices of cake are completely fine. In the second, you might have an example of overindulgence, but in both cases, calm down.
There’s nothing worse than stressing about it and feeling guilty; what’s done is done. All you can do is accept it and move forward. Pay a bit more attention to what you’re eating from there on out, make sure you’re getting enough nutrients, and avoid processed foods as much as possible to lower the inflammation levels and boost your immune system. Simple as that! Life is not linear, and we all go through phases, but as we’ve mentioned above, balance is key, and finding and maintaining balance is the ultimate goal.
Halloween wakes up our inner child and helps us tap into the careless, joyful, happy, anti-anxious feelings we all so desperately need to thrive and counterbalance our serious and responsible traits. So, yes, chocolate makes us happier, and it can definitely be “nutritious” to our mental health.