A new review of the available scientific literature on the benefits of cocoa has confirmed that a little chocolate every day can help prevent cognitive decline. (Can you say best news ever?)
According to the team of Italian researchers who published their findings in Frontiers in Nutrition, cocoa consumption is tied to improved memory and visual information processing. It’s also linked to lower levels of cognitive impairment after a night without sleep, particularly in women. In older adults facing memory decline, a daily dose of chocolate can effectively improve attention, memory, and processing speed.
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In their review, authors Valentina Socci and Michele Ferrara note that the cognitive benefits of cocoa flavanols -- the natural, plant-based nutrients in chocolate -- come largely from their role in boosting cerebral blood volume in the dentate gyrus, the section of the brain that is linked to memories. So, does this oh-so-sweet confirmation of cocoa's brain-boosting benefits mean it’s time to load up on chocolate candy? Well, not quite.
The review does point to the payoffs of a daily dose of chocolate but it does not advocate treating yourself to excess. According to Megan Meyer, PhD, of the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation, the secret to healthy indulgence is being mindful of what kind of chocolate you’re having – hint: the darker it is, the better – as well as how much of it.
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“Portion control and moderation is key,” says Meyer. “I like to buy chocolate that comes in pre-portioned sizes or packaging. For example, a 10-gram square of dark chocolate (70% cacao solids) has about 60 calories and less than 2.5 grams of sugar.” As for banishing any chocolate-induced guilt that may creep into your head, Meyer says it’s all about changing your relationship with food, especially foods that are typically thought of as “treats.” “If you are following a healthy and balanced eating pattern, there should never be any guilt associated with food,” says Meyer. “Enjoy higher-calorie foods in moderation and look for treats, like dark chocolate, that may include health benefits.”
Looking to make your chocolate dessert even healthier (and more delicious)? Try this dark chocolate-avocado pudding.