Chocolate is one of the most craved foods in the world, and is it any wonder? Its unique combination of flavor, aroma, and mouth feel provides a captivating experience that has given the confection its “guilty pleasure” reputation.
To the delight of chocolate lovers everywhere, more and more research has been showing that the food – once considered “junk” – offers an abundance of health benefits (here’s a list of 20 of them).
Now, the results of another study are in, and an incredible discovery about the “food of the gods” has been revealed.
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.
According to The Washington Post, we have Georgina Crichton, a nutrition researcher at the University of South Australia, to thank for pursuing this research.
Other studies had previously shown that eating chocolate provides various positive health benefits, but few had explored its effect on the brain and behavior. Even fewer had observed the effect of habitual chocolate consumption. Crichton, who led this analysis, knew this was a unique opportunity.
The sample size was large – around 1,000 people – but the cognitive data were perhaps the most comprehensive of any study ever undertaken.
In the first of two analyses, the researchers compared the mean scores on various cognitive tests of participants who reported eating chocolate less than once a week and those who reported eating it at least once a week.
They found “significant positive associations” between chocolate intake and cognitive performance. These associations held even after adjusting for various variables that might have altered the results, including age, education, cardiovascular risk factors, and dietary habits.
Eating chocolate was significantly associated with superior “visual-spatial memory and [organization], working memory, scanning and tracking, abstract reasoning, and the mini-mental state examination,” according to the findings.
Crichton explained that these functions translate to daily tasks like 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.
In the second analysis, the team tested whether chocolate consumption predicted cognitive ability, or if it was actually the other way around – that people with better performing brains tended to gravitate toward chocolate. Elias explained what they found:
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.
The researchers aren’t sure WHY eating chocolate is associated with improved brain function, but said there are a few possibilities. It could be the cocoa flavonols, which are compounds that boost blood flow to key areas of the brain and improve many of its functions. According to previous studies, cocoa flavonols can reduce some measures of age-related cognitive dysfunction and positively influence psychological processes.
Chocolate also contains caffeine and theobromine, which are methylxanthines that have been associated with improved alertness and cognitive function.
Elias said that the research isn’t finished, and there is more to learn:
We didn’t look at dark chocolate and lighter chocolate separately. That next study could tell us a lot more about what’s going on.
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.
Where can we sign up to participate in THAT study?