Who doesn't really love a cold chocolate in the heat, or a cup of hot chocolate in the winter? Or, how about a dark chocolate cake with a chocolate filling? Chocolate accompanies us in every possible way and although we are all aware of its delicious taste, many do not yet know about its great properties. And, yes, eating chocolate could have some positive effects on your brain health.
Eating chocolate makes you smart
A 2016 study published in the journal Appetite found a link between regular chocolate consumption and increased cognitive performance.
After studying 968 adults with various cognitive tests, the researchers found that those who ate chocolate more frequently performed better on memory, reasoning, attention, and general tests of cognitive performance.
Georgina E. Crichton, who led the research study, suggested that the results they saw could come from the cocoa flavanols and methylxanthines found in chocolate.
Cocoa Flavanols and Methylxanthines
Previous studies have also pointed to the brain benefits of cocoa flavanols. For example, a 2014 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at ninety older people with healthy cognition. Older adults were divided into three groups: some received a low dose of cocoa flavanols every day (48 mg), some a medium dose (520 mg), and others a high dose (993 mg).
The researchers found that older people taking medium to high doses of cocoa flavanols showed notable improvements on memory tests, executive function tests, and attention tests.
Just two years earlier, that same group of researchers had published another study suggesting that cocoa flavanols might have a small reverse effect on thinking problems for older people who suffered from cognitive decline.
What type of chocolate should be consumed?
But before you start buying stocks in "Hershey and Cadbury," Heidi Godman, Executive Editor of the Harvard Health Letter, advises paying attention to where you get your cocoa flavanols. "The amount of cocoa used in chocolate varies by manufacturer. And flavanols are often destroyed in the production of chocolate. Dark chocolate has more cocoa and more flavanols than milk chocolate,” he said.
"The best way to get flavanols from cocoa is through cocoa powder that is as natural as possible and has not been processed through the Dutch method, which reduces the flavanol content," Godman continues.
Methylxanthines, meanwhile, are naturally occurring alkaloids (they are also used in prescription drugs). The two most common methylxanthines in chocolate are caffeine and theobromine.
While cocoa beans don't have as much caffeine as coffee beans, you can still get a good awakening by enjoying some natural chocolate. On the other hand, theobromine has been associated with better quality sleep.
You will often find certain checks and balances in nature like this, not quite the opposite of the very relaxing L-theanine found alongside caffeine in green tea.
Consuming chocolate and your mood
Eating the right kind of chocolate can help protect against mood disorders. A study published in the journal Depression & Anxiety this summer (July 2019) suggested that while eating chocolate, in general, had no statistically significant effect, eating dark chocolate appeared to have a preventive effect for depression.
"Individuals who reported any consumption of dark chocolate were 70% less likely to report clinically relevant depressive symptoms than those who did not report any consumption of chocolate," the researchers said.
Of course, it could also be the case that those suffering from depression are less interested in eating chocolate. Without more study, it's hard to know for sure. Either way, no one makes the claim that chocolate is a panacea.