Can Dark Chocolate Benefit My Brain?
How senior citizens, college students and Nobel Prize winners benefit from eating chocolate.
The origins of the cacao bean date back as far as early Mesoamerica, where cacao was prepared as a sacred drink, long before milk and sugar were added to what we now know as chocolate.
Cacao was most commonly used in ceremonial celebrations and even as a currency, but was also considered to have medicinal properties by early American civilizations.1
Today, thanks to scientific studies, we can pinpoint the medicinal benefits of cocoa. But why is dark chocolate always the focus of study?
Modern milk chocolate is only required by the FDA to contain 10% cocoa solids- making it mostly milk and sugar.2 Dark chocolate that is 70% cocoa content or higher, and free of additives like dairy and soy, will provide the most concentrated benefits that cocoa has to offer. 3
So how does dark chocolate benefit the brain?
Fountain of Youth
Naturally occurring, plant-based compounds called flavanols are abundant in cocoa. Flavanols have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects that are thought to improve brain function. According to Harvard Health Publishing, “One 2014 study found that among adults ages 50 to 69, those taking a cocoa supplement with high flavanol content for three months had better performance on tests of memory than those assigned to take a low-flavanol cocoa supplement.” In fact, flavanols are considered a key factor in helping seniors prevent memory loss.4,5
Other studies have shown flavanols' positive effects on blood flow, nerve functioning and oxygen levels in the brain. In fact, flavanols penetrate the hippocampus – a brain region involved in memory and learning – and directly promote the formation of new neurons while preventing existing neurons from death by free radicals. And these benefits are fairly immediate. A 2011 study revealed that two hours after consuming dark chocolate, test subjects’ memory and reaction time were better than among those consuming white chocolate. 5
Another type of healthy compound found in chocolate, called polyphenol, is responsible for the pleasant feeling you receive after eating dark chocolate. In multiple studies, test subjects reported an improvement in mood and an overall feeling of calm. Other studies have proven a reduction in symptoms of depression, anxiety and chronic fatigue syndrome with regular cocoa consumption.3
So the next time you reach for chocolate, ensure it’s 70% cocoa content or higher. smartBARK! Organic takes it one step further by eliminating additives like dairy, soy and pesticides so you can feel good about smart snacking!TM
2 FDA Code of Federal Regulations
3 University Health News Daily
6 New England Journal of Medicine