Chocolate is America's most craved food. For many, chocolate gives a great mid-afternoon pick-me-up, but can this effect be enhanced by enriching chocolate morsels with positive thought? A very interesting study released about 5 years ago reported that in fact, dark chocolate "imprinted" with positive thoughts via meditation, improves mood beyond the norm. So does belief change biology though a placebo effect or is the "added ingredient" more than a mere thought?

Chicken soup for the soul likely doesn't come from a can but is rather made in the kitchen of love. Caregiver affection is likely the unknown ingredient that makes homemade chicken soup and other comfort foods the "cure all" for what ails. Who can deny the comfort of receiving a food made with the best of intentions? A birthday cake made in a family kitchen; cookies at holiday time; or homemade banana bread shared with office mates. Many believe that all objects, including food, carry "energy." But is this scientific fact or fiction?

In a unique scientific exploration, researchers executed a double blind, randomized, placebo controlled trial to investigate if dark chocolate candies infused with "good intentions" would enhance mood and attitude more than plain chocolates. Good intentions were infused either though meditation-experienced Buddhist monks or a Mongolian shaman, who performed a one-hour ritual involving sacred songs, chants and drumming. Sixty-two study subjects, recruited from the San Francisco area, were assigned to one of 4 groups. The purpose of the experiment was described to all participants including that they would be randomly assigned to either receive small amounts of "intentionally treated" chocolate or "untreated chocolate." The intention was described as "An individual who consumes this chocolate will manifest optimal health and functioning at physical, emotional and mental levels and in particular will enjoy an increased sense of energy, vigor and well-being."

Subjects had no idea how the chocolates were "infused" nor did they know to which group they were assigned. Researchers were blinded to treatment assignment too. Mood assessments were taken throughout the study and a baseline personality test was completed. The lucky participants received $20 for their time and got to eat a half an ounce of dark chocolate twice a day for 3 consecutive days. Mood was assessed after the study.

The results showed that mood improved significantly in those who received the intentional chocolate. Those who weren't regular chocolate eaters showed the strongest mood improvement. Overall, well-being, vigor and energy increased by an average of 67% and up to nearly 1000% in some subjects.

So what does this experiment prove, if anything? The authors concluded that mood elevating effects of chocolate are enhanced by intention. Other studies have suggested that this concept of "mind-matter interaction" can influence physiology, health and even Petri dish cell growth. Explanations of such phenomena run the gamut; is it the placebo effect? Perhaps magical thinking or superstition? Or perhaps "thoughts are things." Whatever the reason, such studies allow us to consider influences beyond what can be seen or scientifically proven.

Mediation in and of itself has positive health benefits such as lowered blood pressure and stress reduction. Further, optimists seem to suffer fewer health problems than their pessimistic counterparts. While the study results are compelling, more investigations are required to determine if in fact "intentional chocolate" packs a powerful positive punch. Nevertheless I'm optimistic enough to believe that one should never underestimate the power of positive chocolate, so sign me up for the next study!

Radin, D., Hayssen, G., Walsh, J. 2007. Effects of intentionally enhanced chocolate on mood. Explore. 2;485-92.

Food For Thought

Salt, school lunches and the intersection of food, wellness and public policy.
Martina M. Cartwright

Martina M. Cartwright, Ph.D., R.D., is an adjunct professor of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Arizona and an independent biomedical consultant.

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