Chocolate: the ultimate comfort food, and now we know why. Well, dark chocolate anyway.

Scientists have found that eating a moderate amount of dark chocolate daily can help reduce stress levels. Chemical compounds contained in dark chocolate may reduce the level of stress-related hormones released by the body, according to a Nestlé study conducted by the Nestlé Research Center (NRC) in Switzerland.

“It is possible to speculate that making dark chocolate part of a healthy balanced diet might lead to a chemical composition in the body that is better able to handle stress,” says Sunil Kochhar, an NRC researcher.

The study involved 30 adults over a period of two weeks. Each adult consumed 40 g. of dark chocolate every day, eating the first half in the morning and the second in the afternoon. The results found that all participants noticed a decline in their stress level, including those who had not felt stressed at the beginning of the study.

“These results strongly support our ongoing research efforts to establish the impact of certain food ingredients on human metabolism, and how they affect our health,” says Kochhar.

The dark chocolate used in the study was made of up to 75% cocoa solids, substances rich in chemical compounds that affect metabolism, the chemical reactions that happen in the human body.

The study also investigated the role of proteins in flavor development of cocoa and chocolate. By developing a synthetic process for fermenting cocoa beans, Nestlé scientists have been able to identify a number of compounds that form when dry cocoa is stored, which are key to the chemical reactions that determine its aroma and flavor.

 This isn’t the first time NRC has investigated the emerging health benefits of dark chocolate. In the past, NRC has collaborated with BASF, the world’s leading chemical company, and Metanomics GmbH on a study examining the effects of regular consumption of dark chocolate on microorganisms in the human gut. The NRC has also collaborated with leading UK sports science institute Loughborough University to investigate the use of dark chocolate as an effective snack alternative for active people.