In a study published in the journal Appetite – supported by the US National Confectioners Association (NCA) - researchers Brian P. Meier et al. found those eating a 15 g portion of chocolate during mindfulness reported more positive mood states than those eating chocolate without the technique, or when eating crackers.
“In sum, it appears chocolate consumption increases positive mood, but such effects are heightened when it is eaten mindfully,” wrote the researchers.
A small portion of chocolate was used during the study, which gives hope that consumers could moderate consumption using mindfulness techniques.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a state of being whereby people pay more attention to the present moment and to thoughts and feelings. It is a technique that has been used for centuries in Buddhist traditions. The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) website says the technique can improve mental well-being. The state can be induced by paying closer attention to emotional and physical sensations. Some research suggests mindfulness can be induced by using computer-mediated manipulations over the internet.
Two hundred and fifty eight students at Gettysburg College were assigned to eat either 75 calories (15 g) of chocolate or five crackers in a mindful or non-mindful manner.
The participants self-reported their mood using numeric scales before and after consuming the food.
The chocolate chosen was Blommer’s Appalachian Gold Milk Chocolate Discs, while the crackers used were Carr’s Plain Table Water Crackers.
To induce mindfulness within the groups assigned this condition, participants were told to hold the chocolate or cracker in their hand and think about the farmers who produce the ingredients needed for the food.
They were then told to focus on the sensations created from the food when putting it in their mouths. The whole process lasted around four minutes.
Under control conditions, participants were told to eat around half of the chocolate or crackers straight away then to eat the remaining contents after waiting around four minutes.
Those asked to eat chocolate mindfully had a greater increase in positive mood than those assigned the three other states.
The researchers suggested that eating other pleasurable foods unrelated to candy, such as potato chips or pizza, may also enhance mood significantly when eaten mindfully.
Mood-boosting small portions
The 15 g of chocolate used in the study is around a third the size of a regular candy bar.
“Yet, this amount resulted in an increased positive mood when participants were instructed to eat it mindfully,” said the researchers.
“Although speculative, such results may suggest that the positive effect of eating chocolate in terms of mood may occur with small portions when eaten mindfully.
“It could be the case that eating 150 calories of chocolate does not enhance mood any more than eating 75 calories of chocolate,” they continued.
Mindful eating of smaller portions could be a useful intervention to help curb obesity rates in the US, suggested the study authors.
US consumers eat candy once every two to three days on average, according to earlier NCA-backed research.
The Gettysburg College researchers said some earlier studies had linked cocoa in chocolate to positive mood states, but said there was limited research on the mood impact of chocolate consumed as a treat.
An earlier study backed by Barry Callebaut said cocoa flavanols in dark chocolate may induce a calm and content state, but the research authors found limited evidence of enhanced cognitive performance.
Research by Mintel earlier this year found the emotional benefits of chocolate was the main driver of purchase decisions for the category among British consumers.
Appetite - 108 (2017) 21-27
‘The sweet life: The effect of mindful chocolate consumption on mood’
Authors: Brian P. Meier, Sabrina W. Noll, Oluwatobi J. Molokwu