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Boost your brain power with chocolate

Adrienne Wyper / 13 September 2016 ( 18 April 2019 )

It sounds too good to be true but eating chocolate needn't be a guilty pleasure. Learn more about how chocolate can help boost memory and cognition.

Chocolate and cocoa
Chocolate may have some benefits for memory and cognition

It’s so refreshing to discover that a food that we actually want to eat more of – unlike, say, kale – is good for us. Green, leafy veg are great, but no one longs for a plateful in the way that we desire chocolate.

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Our spending on chocolate (over £3.5bn a year) is second only to the Swiss, but it could be a sound investment.

Chocolate eaters are smarter

Regular chocolate eaters are smarter, according to recent analysis of the eating habits of almost 1,000 people aged from their 20s to their 90s in a long-term US research project. In more scientific terms, they had improved cognitive function, which covers our reasoning, memory, attention and language skills, all relating to the acquisition of information and knowledge.

Dietary findings from Georgina Crichton at the University of South Australia revealed that chocolate had strong associations with superior ‘visual-spatial memory and [organisation], working memory, scanning and tracking, abstract reasoning, and the Mini-Mental State Examination [a test used for dementia].’

Translated into layman’s terms, Crichton gave as examples of how these skills are useful: ‘remembering a phone number, or your shopping list, or being able to do two things at once, like talking and driving at the same time.’

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There could be an ‘anti-ageing’ boost, too, as researchers suggested that regular chocolate intake could help ‘protect against normal age-related cognitive decline.’

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Can chocolate help reduce your risk of stroke?

Eating chocolate every day has also been linked to lower chances of stroke, according to University of Aberdeen researchers. The study, published in the BMJ’s Heart journal, looked at almost 21,000 adults in a study into the impact of diet on long-term health, and found that those who ate the most chocolate had the fewest strokes.

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Professor Phyo Myint, of the School of Medicine & Dentistry at the University, said: ‘Our study concludes that cumulative evidence suggests higher chocolate intake is associated with a lower risk of future cardiovascular events.’

To be clear, the daily chocolate-eaters tended to be younger, exercise more, and have a lower weight. However, number-crunching showed that those with the highest chocolate intake had a 23% lower risk of stroke.

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A nice cup of cocoa

And you don’t have to bite into bars to get the benefits; a nice cup of cocoa can be a brain-booster, too.

An Italian study, reported in the journal Hypertension, showed that cocoa consumption can help stave off dementia. Three groups with mild cognitive impairment were given varying strengths of a cocoa drink for eight weeks. Those drinking the strongest formula showed most improvement after the study.

These effects were credited to cocoa flavanols, physiologically active compounds found in plants. These compounds protect brain cells from damage and help increase blood circulation around the brain. Participants also had reduced blood pressure and lower insulin resistance, which has also been found to slow the development of dementia.

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More recent research from Columbia University shows that high-flavanol cocoa can reverse age-related memory loss, by measuring blood flow in a specific part of the brain. The study gave cocoa varying in flavanol content to a group for three months, and tested those taking part before and afterwards. Those drinking the high-flavanol cocoa showed significant improvement. ‘If a participant had the memory of a typical 60-year-old at the beginning of the study, after three months that person on average had the memory of a typical 30- or 40-year-old,’ said Scott A Small, a professor of neurology and director of the  University’s Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center.

But before you rush to the shops to stock up on the brown stuff, be aware that it’s difficult to gauge flavanol levels as they can be affected by the cocoa’s origins, and the chocolate-making process. However, dark chocolate has more than milk, while white has none as it contains no cocoa solids, just cocoa butter.

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And remember (which eating chocolate could help with): everything in moderation!


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.