Most people don't need an excuse to eat chocolate -- its creamy texture and delicious taste are reason enough. Yet, here is another compelling reason to savor chocolate: it helps your brain work better. Flavonols present within chocolate may be the key to this enhanced cognitive functioning. But we are not speaking of a Hershey bar here -- only high quality, extra dark varieties will improve brain function and sharpen the mind.
The brain on chocolate
A study at the University of L'Aquila in Italy established a connection between heightened cognitive ability and the consumption of chocolate. According to research team head Dr. Giovambattista Desideri, "This study provides encouraging evidence that consuming cocoa flavonols, as a part of a calorie-controlled and nutritionally-balanced diet, could improve cognitive function." Participants were instructed to consume a high, intermediate or low dose cocoa flavonol beverage for eight weeks. Those who drank the high and intermediate versions had improved working and verbal memory, task-switching and hand-eye coordination. Researchers suspect that the brain boosting qualities of cocoa flavonols are due to an improvement of insulin sensitivity. A comparable study in the United Kingdom demonstrated the ability of flavonol cocoa to strengthen brain function by increasing cerebral blood flow.
Scientists at the University of Oxford, UK came to a similar conclusion. Participants were asked to complete a detailed account of their standard diet. They were then given a series of cognitive tests. Those who consistently ate foods rich in flavonols like chocolate, wine or tea scored significantly higher on the tests than those who had scant flavonol consumption. When the diet is teeming with these compounds, the risk of Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and stroke is reduced as well.
The typical chocolate bar will do little except swell the waistline and increase the prospect of developing Type II diabetes. To maximize the health benefits of chocolate, only exceptional quality will do -- organic, extra dark (at least 70 percent cocoa) and preferably raw. Remember, the higher the cocoa content, the lower the sugar. Unsweetened powdered cocoa is acceptable as long as it isn't processed with alkali. Eating large quantities is unnecessary -- a small square of dark chocolate or cup of low-sugar cocoa beverage per day is adequate.
With intelligent use, chocolate is an excellent food for protecting and improving the brain. As a delicious daily habit, a spot of chocolate will help to keep the mind sharp and cognitive disease at bay.