Chocolate: The New Brain Food

Chocolate has often been referred to as "food of the gods," but perhaps it should now be known as "food of the gifted." According to a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, countries with the highest per capita chocolate consumption have more Nobel Prize winners. Seriously, this isn’t a headline from The Onion!

Becoming a smarty pants simply by eating chocolate may seem too good to be true, but this isn't the first research to make the connection. Other studies show that the flavonoid antioxidants found in dark chocolate enhance cognitive function, reduce the risk of dementia, and improve performance on challenging brain teasers. In other words, chocolate—particularly varieties with a high cocoa content—really is brain food. And of course this is yet another in the long list of chocolate's health benefits. (Check out my top 10 reasons to eat dark chocolate every day here.)

I’m such a fan of this delicious superfood, I made it a mandatory daily treat in the eating plan from my newest book, and I use dark chocolate as the “good” fat in numerous recipes, including my Dark Chocolate Oatmeal with a Side of Minted Blueberry Yogurt and Chocolate Mulberry Parfait.

If you’re looking for creative ways to reap the benefits without going overboard on calories, try these five tricks. Each includes other nutrient-rich ingredients and keeps the chocolate portion in check by using it as a condiment rather than the main attraction:

  • Whip dark chocolate chips into a smoothie (I especially love them paired with frozen cherries)
  • Drizzle melted dark chocolate over popped popcorn
  • Crush dark chocolate chips, fold into almond butter with fresh grated ginger, and serve as a dip with fresh apple or pear slices
  • Roll a peeled mini banana in a mixture of toasted oats and shaved dark chocolate, wrap, and freeze as an ice cream alternative
  • Make a chocolate fruit pizza: Pre-bake a thin whole-grain crust, then dust with cinnamon and top with sliced fruit, melted dark chocolate, and unsweetened shaved coconut

What’s your take on this topic? Have you ever felt a brain boost after eating chocolate? Please tweet your thoughts to @cynthiasass and @Shape_Magazine

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Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.

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