Turns out there’s a good reason for snacking on chocolate while studying for an exam or prepping for a meeting – it’s good for your cognition.
Researchers from the University of L’Aquila in Italy reviewed the literature on short-term and long-term cocoa consumption, which is rich in a brain-protecting organic compound called flavanols. Their paper was published in Frontiers of Nutrition.
According to the researchers, short-term cocoa consumption helps with one’s cognition in several ways: 1) enhancement of working memory, 2) better visual processing, and 3) the repairing of negative cognitive consequences from sleep deprivation.
Chronic cocoa eaters retrieve even more benefits. Cognition is improved in individuals who ingest cocoa every day. What’s more, better focus, the ability to process information, working memory, and verbal communication were related to long-term cocoa intake. This was more significant, however, for those who were older with memory and cognitive deficiencies.
This is great news. Not only can cocoa make people happy (since it tastes great), it also can help many people at risk for age-related illnesses. This was surprising to Valentina Socci and Michele Ferrara, authors of the paper. “This result suggests the potential of cocoa flavanols to protect cognition in vulnerable populations over time by improving cognitive performance. If you look at the underlying mechanism, the 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.”
This doesn’t necessarily mean that chocolate is now in the category of ‘foods to eat as often as possible,’ like fruits and vegetables. “Regular intake of cocoa and chocolate could indeed provide beneficial effects on cognitive functioning over time. 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.”
Although there are side effects, their review still shows that chocolate helps. So, take that into consideration the next time you eat a bag of M&M’s and begin to feel guilty.