Swap Your Sweets

Nourish


Over half of American adults say chocolate is their favorite flavor. If you’re a chocolate lover, there’s good news!

Chocolate contains a group of natural substances called flavonoids that act as antioxidants and anti-inflammatories. The type of flavonoids prevalent in chocolate are called flavanols. There’s some evidence that chocolate has an effect on cognitive health thanks to this magic ingredient.

It can improve mood and lower stress, and even lower blood pressure and have cardiovascular benefits.

So what’s the deal with chocolate and brain health? We know what’s good for the heart is good for the brain. Research is just getting started into whether chocolate can have an effect on Alzheimer’s. It’s believed that flavonoids promote the survival of neurons as well as brain plasticity, which could delay the onset of Alzheimer’s.

An Italian study of 90 elderly participants without a history of cognitive dysfunction had half of the group consume 993 mg of cocoa flavanols (similar to what’s in 16 bars of dark chocolate). The other half consumed 48mg daily over an 8 week period. Those who consumed more cocoa flavanols saw improved cognitive function, insulin resistance, and blood pressure.

So, should you eat more chocolate? The short answer is yes, but only dark chocolate. Milk chocolate only contains 5-7% cocoa, plus it contains dairy, which the MIND-Diet recommends eating minimally. Dark chocolate has a much higher concentration of flavanols associated with brain health.

While scientists are still learning about the benefits of chocolate on brain health, a moderate amount of chocolate has not been found harmful. So, swap your milk chocolate for dark chocolate and enjoy your next square of chocolate without guilt!

References

  • Commenges, D., Scotet, V., Renaud, S., Jacqmin-Gadda, H., Barberger-Gateau, P., & Dartigues, J. F. (2000). Intake of flavonoids and risk of dementia. European Journal of Epidemiology, 16(4), 357–363. doi: 10.1023/a:1007614613771
  • Erdman, J. W., Jr, Carson, L., Kwik-Uribe, C., Evans, E. M., & Allen, R. R. (2008). Effects of cocoa flavanols on risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 17 Suppl 1, 284–287.
  • Mastroiacovo, D., Kwik-Uribe, C., Grassi, D., Necozione, S., Raffaele, A., Pistacchio, L., … Desideri, G. (2015). Cocoa flavanol consumption improves cognitive function, blood pressure control, and metabolic profile in elderly subjects: the Cocoa, Cognition, and Aging (CoCoA) Study--a randomized controlled trial. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 101(3), 538–548. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.114.092189
  • Nehlig, A. (2013). The neuroprotective effects of cocoa flavanol and its influence on cognitive performance. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, 75(3), 716–727. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2125.2012.04378.x
  • Nijveldt, R. J., van Nood, E., van Hoorn, D. E., Boelens, P. G., van Norren, K., & van Leeuwen, P. A. (2001). Flavonoids: a review of probable mechanisms of action and potential applications. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 74(4), 418–425. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/74.4.418