Looking for a good reason to eat some chocolate today? (Always.) Chocolate just might give you a brain boost!
Chocolate isn't just good for your taste buds. It might just improve your brain function, according to an Italian study published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition.
In a new meta-analysis, researchers looked at the effects of eating chocolate on brain functioning, and their findings are pretty exciting for anyone who loves the sweet stuff. They found that people who ate chocolate showed improvements in working memory and creativity and a boost in cognitive performance overall. Plus, eating chocolate daily appeared to provide some protection from cognitive decline caused by aging.
For young women, in particular, eating chocolate counteracted the mental fog that comes with being sleep deprived. (Healthy chocolate biscotti for breakfast? Yes, please!)
This happy news comes after other recent reports that chocolate has cardiovascular and mental health benefits. A previous study found that eating a daily dose of chocolate may cut your risk of heart disease and stroke by a third. Similarly, a separate study concluded that eating chocolate every day for two weeks reduces stress, anxiety, and depression. Best of all, chocolate may even boost your sex life.
But before you deep dive into a vat of Godiva, there are a few things you should know. First, the researchers were looking at the results of eating chocolate flavanols—naturally occurring compounds found in many plants—not, say, a chocolate brownie milkshake with chocolate sprinkles. In fact, the extra ingredients often added to chocolate can work against you.
"Regular intake of cocoa and chocolate could indeed provide beneficial effects on cognitive functioning over time," the researchers said in a press release. "There are, however, potential side effects of eating cocoa and chocolate. Those are generally linked to the caloric value of chocolate, some inherent chemical compounds of the cocoa plant such as caffeine and theobromine, and a variety of additives we add to chocolate such as sugar or milk."
Also, the researchers noted that age plays a part in how big the effect of chocolate on the brain is, with younger people showing benefits only on difficult cognitive tasks while older people showed the effects sooner and with normal daily activities.
So how much is the ideal "medicinal" dose of chocolate? The researchers noted that eating it daily seemed to provide more ongoing benefits. Aim for one ounce a day, of the darkest chocolate you can find, Andrea Giancoli, R.D., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, told us in The Best and Worst Chocolate for Your Body. "Most palates can't handle the strong taste of pure dark chocolate," says Giancoli, "but 70 percent seems to be the sweet spot."
Not that you needed scientific permission to indulge in your favorite treat, but perhaps this news will help you enjoy your next truffle that much more!