With its unique flavor and incredible aroma, it’s no wonder that chocolate is one of the most craved foods in the world. It’s so good, in fact, that it has earned its reputation as being a “guilty pleasure”, but chocolate lovers will be delighted to know that it actually contains a number of health benefits.
A new study has revealed that chocolate can actually make you smarter by improving the way that your brain functions. Researcher Merrill Elias explains: “We found that people who eat chocolate at least once a week tend to perform better cognitively. It’s significant- it touches a number of cognitive domains.”
While multiple studies have explored the many health benefits of chocolate, few have ever explored its impact on the brain. Georgina Crichton, a nutrition researcher at the University of South Australia, is to thank for pursuing this research and saw it as an incredible opportunity to prove that habitual chocolate consumption can lead to better brain health.
The study involved as much as 1000 people and resulted in one of the most comprehensive collections of cognitive data in history. Researchers compared the average scores on various cognitive tests between participants who reported eating chocolate more than once and week and those who reported eating it less than once a week.
It was found that those who ate chocolate more than once a week had significantly better overall cognitive performance, which proved to be a consistent result irrespective of age, education, dietary habits, and health risk factors.
According to the results, eating chocolate improved memory, abstract reasoning, scanning, tracking, and the overall mental state, with Crichton explaining that these functions are directly associated with daily tasks, such as remembering passwords, shopping lists, phone numbers, and doing two things at once.
In a second analysis, the research team worked to find out whether cognitive ability affected chocolate consumption or whether chocolate consumption affected cognitive ability.
Merrell Elias explains: “It’s not possible to talk about causality because that’s nearly impossible to prove with our design. But we can talk about direction. Our study definitely indicates that the direction is not that cognitive ability affects chocolate consumption, but that chocolate consumption affects cognitive ability.”
While researchers are not yet sure why chocolate is associated with improved brain function, they have pointed to the fact that cocoa flavanols help to increase blood flow to the brain, which would lead to improved overall functioning. Previous studies have already proven that cocoa flavanols are able to improve age-related cognitive dysfunction, also adding that other substances like caffeine and theobromine improve memory and mental alertness.
Research is still ongoing, with Elias confirming that the next step is to study the different results between darker and lighter chocolate, which could offer a lot more information in the future.
“I think what we can say for now is that you can eat small amounts of chocolate without guilt if you don’t substitute chocolate for a normal balanced healthy diet. We also only looked at people who were eating chocolate never or rarely versus once a week or more than once a week. I’d really like to see what happens when people eat chocolate more often than they reported in our study.”
Whether you like yours darker or lighter, you can go forward knowing that chocolate is a new kind of guilty pleasure, one which offers your brain the ultimate edge!