Does anyone really need an excuse to eat more chocolate? It is among the most cherished sweet treats known to all humankind. However, if prescribing chocolate as an anti-inflammatory and anti-aging superfood means that the world can indulge in the melted goodness of chocolate, so be it.
While it might sound like a bunch of hype and half-concocted excuses, there are several studies that address the legitimacy of chocolate consumption and some fairly staggering health benefits. For example, when you consume the right kind of chocolate routinely, you can experience cardiovascular health, reduced stress, and improved cognitive function. The remainder of this blog will dissect the reasons for chocolate's seemingly magical abilities and dive deeper into the treat's relationship with the brain.
Reason for Health Benefits From Chocolate
The health benefits of chocolate come from the cacao seeds that make up part of the candy's recipe. To experience the most benefit from chocolate consumption, you should look for bars labeled 70% cacao. The beneficial compounds found in cacao are called phytochemicals.
The phytochemicals in cacao consist mainly of polyphenols and methylxanthines, which can be further broken down into flavonoids, proanthocyanidins, and theobromine. All of these chemicals and compounds contribute to the therapeutic effects, including:
- Antioxidant intake
- Blood vessel dilation
- Reduction of insulin resistance
- Regulation of body weight controlling genes
- Inhibition of cancer growth
- Prevention of blood clots
- Protection of nerve cells
- Increased blood flow to the brain
Chocolate and Cognitive Function
The accumulation of flavonoids in the hippocampus, the learning and memory area of the brain, corresponds with an increase in blood flow, production of neurons, and the improved function of existing neurons. The flavonoids also protect neurons from free radicals and enhance neural connections.
A study in the medical journal, Hypertension, suggests the daily consumption of a chocolate beverage high in flavonoids is beneficial for elderly patients experiencing mild cognitive impairment. Other studies imply a single dose of dark chocolate can improve memory performance and cognitive function in healthy adults.
Chocolate and Mood
The compounds found in chocolate, specifically flavonoids and methylxanthines, contribute to chocolate's mood-enhancing effects. Several studies found that chocolate can improve mood. One study, focusing on the consumption of a daily dark chocolate drink with a high concentration of polyphenols, found that participants showed improvement in depression and anxiety conditions. Some evidence also suggests the routine consumption of chocolate can reduce symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome.
Dark Chocolate Versus Milk Chocolate
While there is no denying that milk chocolate is delicious, it does not offer the same benefits as dark chocolate. A dark chocolate bar with a high percentage of cocoa, at least 70%, will have plenty of phytochemicals, contributing to the mood-boosting and brain-improving effects. However, chocolate should only be enjoyed in moderation. You should aim for only one to two ounces per day or roughly 30 to 60 grams.
Other Foods With Beneficial Flavonoids
Chocolate is not the only food with brain-benefitting flavanoids. Several fruits and vegetables also contain the compounds that contribute to cognitive function:
- Red Cabbage
You can also find flavonoids in red wine and certain teas. If you want to consume the healthiest diet for your brain, you might consider consulting with your primary doctor and a nutritionist.
Were you aware of the many benefit of chocolate, and if so, what do you find most surprising?