Are chocolates the right gift for Valentine’s Day?

Chocolates have been forever associated with love and romance. Come Valentine’s Day, chocolates are much in demand. Beautifully packaged, they are a popular Valentine’s Day gift.

So, why are chocolates gifted as an expression of love?

To understand the reason for this is to know the chemistry of love because the neurochemistry of eating chocolates is the same as that occurs when a person falls in love.

Any relationship undergoes four major phases: Euphoria, reaction, adjustment and liking.

When two persons are attracted to each other, a virtual explosion of adrenaline-like neurochemicals occurs. Phenylethylamine, a naturally occurring amphetamine, speeds up the flow of information between nerve cells. Also, involved in chemistry are dopamine and norepinephrine, chemical cousins of amphetamines. Dopamine makes one feel good and norepinephrine stimulates the production of adrenaline, which makes the heart race. Together these three chemicals combine to produce “infatuation” the first stage of love, the feeling of euphoria and floating on air.

Phenylethylamine mediates feelings of attraction, excitement, giddiness, apprehension and euphoria associated with falling in love. Hence, it is also called the “love chemical”. Chocolate contains phenylethylamine and this is one reason it is often used by persons embarking on a new relationship.

The caffeine and theobromine in chocolate are both stimulants and may at least partly be the reason as to why chocolate is so addictive.

Chocolate triggers the release of endorphins, the feel-good hormones, which bring on a feeling of well-being. They can also bring about feelings of euphoria.  Serotonin is also released when chocolate is eaten, which makes a person more calm and happier. Chocolate contains tryptophan, which produces serotonin.

Chocolate also contains anandamide, an endogenous cannabinoid in the brain, which helps to stimulate and open synapses in the brain and facilitates easy transmission of the “feel good” waves. Anandamide was discovered in 1992 and has been named after “ananda”, the Sanskrit word, which means joy, bliss and so has been called the “bliss molecule”.

Remember, most chocolates are high in calories, fat and free sugars; dark chocolate contains 48 g sugar, white chocolate 59 g, Hershey’ Milk Chocolate Bar 43 g, Snickers Bar 57 g, Dairy milk 56 g, Munch 27.5 g, Gems 60 g (all per 100 g). Therefore, moderation is the key.

Dark chocolates have been shown to prevent cancer, improve heart health and cognition, lower blood pressure. These beneficial effects are attributed to polyphenols and flavonoids (antioxidants) in cocoa. Dark chocolate mainly contains cocoa (more than 60%) and cocoa butter, sugar and does not contain milk or milk.

But, those who have heartburn should avoid chocolates as they can worsen the heartburn (dyspepsia), a symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or acid reflux. The American College of Gastroenterology (Am J Gastroenterol. 2005;100:190-200) has listed chocolate as one of the foods that may trigger GERD symptoms by decreasing the lower esophageal sphincter pressure.

Cocoa in chocolate is acidic; caffeine and theobromine in the chocolate relax the lower esophageal sphincter causing acid reflux and aggravating the symptoms.

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