Can Eating Chocolate Improve Your Brain?
Sheena Meredith, MD
Feb. 22, 2016 -- There's welcome news for chocolate lovers: Eating chocolate regularly appears to improve mental skills.
A study published in the journal Appetite found that people who ate chocolate at least once a week performed better at mental skills than those who ate chocolate less often.
Researchers looked at 968 adults who were part of a long-term health study.
"Chocolate and cocoa flavanols have been associated with improvements in a range of health complaints dating from ancient times, and have established cardiovascular benefits, but less is known about the effects of chocolate on neurocognition and behaviour,” Georgie Crichton of the Sansom Institute for Health at the University of South Australia, who led the study, says in a statement.
Brain Performance Tests
The researchers used a battery of tests to measure brain performance in people who ate chocolate regularly. They included tests of verbal memory, scanning and tracking, visual-spatial memory [which allows us to find our keys or remember the way home, for example] and organization, and abstract reasoning, including the ability to recall a list of words or remember where an object was placed.
The relationship between chocolate and better performance held up even when researchers took into account things like age, sex, education, cholesterol, blood pressure, and alcohol intake, Crichton says.
The researchers say further studies are needed to establish how chocolate appears to boost brainpower. But they speculate that flavonoids, which are found in plant-based foods, and which represent up to 20% of the compounds present in cocoa beans, may be at least partly responsible by protecting against normal decline of mental skills as people age.
In addition to cocoa flavonols, other psychoactive components of chocolate include caffeine and theobromine, both of which have been associated with improving alertness and mental skills, they say.
The amount of cocoa in chocolate ranges from about 7%-15% in milk chocolate to 30%-70% in dark chocolate.
Crichton points out that eating chocolate should always be balanced against a healthy diet and lifestyle.
"Of course chocolate intake should be considered within an overall healthy eating pattern, with consideration given to total energy intake and an individual’s energy needs," she says.
The study was carried out in partnership with the University of Maine and the Luxembourg Institute of Health.