It’s a well-accepted fact that all of us are going to experience memory changes with the passing years. But some of us will do better than others and hang on to more of our mental abilities.
Fortunately for our taste buds, there’s a delectable treat that not only has a taste most of us can’t resist, but also contains natural ingredients that improve the odds of keeping your mind in top form.
The food I’m talking about? Dark chocolate. It’s not often that something so much fun is good for you – so go ahead – eat and enjoy!
There may be a few doubters out there about the health benefits of eating dark chocolate every day, but personally I’m all in on this one. After going through much of the research into the natural chemicals in chocolate and how they support brain health, I don’t think an informed biochemist can remain a doubter.
Here’s an update on the latest proof. . .
When a group of Italian researchers recently reviewed the studies on the brain benefits of dark chocolate, they came up with a huge, heart-shaped candy box full of reasons to indulge at least once a day. In their review, they focused on the flavanols in chocolate – a group of natural chemicals that have been shown to protect neurons and defend the nervous system from damage.
The scientists found that every time you consume these flavanols your brain undergoes changes that may improve its performance. And if you eat chocolate every day you also reap long-term advantages.
Some of the brain benefits uncovered by research include:1
- Better working memory: This entails short term memory and the ability to learn new ideas and put them to use.
- Improved visual information processing: Being able to rapidly and accurately analyze what you are seeing, process that information and then recall it at a later time.
- Better mental performance after missing out on sleep: In women, research shows chocolate flavanols can compensate for the blurry thinking that results from staying up all night.
And you know what? The scientists report that many of the brain benefits appear to be strongest in older people who are starting to show the first signs of memory problems. So if the older adults in your family are beginning to show some memory issues, make them a cup of cocoa, quick!
According to the Italian researchers, “Cocoa flavanols have beneficial effects for cardiovascular health and can increase cerebral blood volume in the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus. This structure is particularly affected by aging and therefore the potential source of age-related memory decline in humans.”
Take Zinc with Your Chocolate
The brain benefit of chocolate, however, doesn’t end with those advantages. Another study, this one in Germany (with help from a researcher in Alabama), shows that taking zinc with your chocolate activates an organic molecule that helps protect your brain – as well as the rest of the body – from excessive oxidative stress.2
Their analysis shows that a natural chemical group in chocolate called a hydroquinone group is activated by zinc so that it provides natural protections against a harmful substance called superoxide.
Superoxide is thrown off by mitochondria – the cells’ energy “factories” – sort of the way a power plant spouts pollutants.
Left unchecked, superoxide can cause severe oxidative damage to cellular structures. This type of harm is believed to play a major role in the aging process by causing inflammation linked to both cancer and neuron destruction.
Hydroquinone all by itself can’t break down superoxide. But when it combines with zinc, it creates a metallic complex that yields an enzyme that prevents superoxide from inflicting harm. (Hydroquinone groups are also found in coffee, tea and wine, although the researchers say the alcohol in wine negates its antioxidant effect.)
Why dark chocolate? If you eat milk chocolate, you’re just diluting the benefits with milk, milk fat and sugar. Researchers around the world generally agree you should eat the dark kind and avoid varieties that contain other additives. And as for me, I take zinc every day. Seems like that’s a good idea, too.
The benefits of dark chocolate are so well known that health food stores and even mainstream food outlets carry chocolate bars that list the percentage of chocolate vs. other ingredients. The highest are generally 88% to 92% dark chocolate. These have a little sugar and they’re plenty sweet enough for me. But you can go for, say, 70% chocolate if you just can’t live without the sugar and other enhancers like coconut oil.