The craving for chocolate is one of the top cravings in this country. Women seem to especially crave it, but men are not immune to “chocoholism.”
Because so much of the chocolate sold in the US is pumped full of sugar and additives, it has gotten a bad reputation, leading many to experience guilt when they indulge their chocolate craving. While those processed candies are certainly not healthy, organic, raw, dark chocolate — real cacao — is.
We’ve written before about how real chocolate can be beneficial to heart health. However, did you know that it can give your brain a boost, too? The following are six ways that chocolate may benefit your brain.
It may improve memory and abstract cognition
A new study, published just this year in the journal Appetite, found that eating chocolate may improve both memory and abstract thought. For their study, researchers performed cross-sectional analyses of just under 1,000 people between the ages of 23 and 98, all living in one community. Data was derived from the “Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study.”
On their results, the study authors wrote:
“Habitual chocolate intake was related to cognitive performance, measured with an extensive battery of neuropsychological tests. More frequent chocolate consumption was significantly associated with better performance on the Global Composite score, Visual-Spatial Memory and Organization, Working Memory, Scanning and Tracking, Abstract Reasoning, and the Mini-Mental State Examination.”
Further, psychologist Merrill Elias wrote:
“Our study definitely indicates that the direction is not that cognitive ability affects chocolate consumption, but that chocolate consumption affects cognitive ability.”
It may make you feel better
A serving of real, unprocessed chocolate may help boost your mood, and even help alleviate mild depression and stress. Cacao contains a compound known as phenylethylamine, or PEA, which has been found to affect the chemistry of the brain in a similar way to falling in love. Another compound found in cacao is theobromine, an alkaloid that stimulates the central nervous system.
Cacao as a whole may help to increase the brain’s availability of serotonin, the “feel-good” neurotransmitter known to elevate mood.
It can energize you
Chocolate contains caffeine, a known energy booster, which can help get your brain “on the ball” in the morning… or during that afternoon slump! Also, the theobromine content of cacao, along with stimulating the central nervous system, also helps provide a boost of energy.
On top of that, the magnesium found in chocolate is integral to nerve function, as well as to many of the body’s other systems. So, to maintain your top energy level, magnesium is essential.
B vitamins may help preserve brain function
Research compiled by the Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation reveals that B vitamins may have a protective effect on the aging brain. Specifically, vitamins B6, B12 and folic acid have been linked to protecting memory and cognition in senior citizens with mild cognitive impairment.
However, all B vitamins are important to the proper functioning of the brain — for all ages. Chocolate contains vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5 and B8.
Flavonoid antioxidants may help protect against dementia
Cacao contains a wealth of flavonoid antioxidants, which help to reduce inflammation throughout the body, thereby mitigating chronic disease risk. These flavonoids may also have specific benefits for the brain.
The authors of a 2013 study published in the journal Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews wrote:
“Protective effects of long-term flavanol consumption on neurocognition and behavior, including age- and disease-related cognitive decline, were shown in animal models of normal aging, dementia, and stroke.”
Healthy fats make the body run smoothly
Fats from healthy, natural sources are integral to lubricating the entire body. Raw cacao contains oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat also found in olive oil, as well as healthy saturated fats. In order for the body and mind to have the fuel they need to operate properly, fats are key.
There you have it! As long as you enjoy it in moderation, and eat the real stuff, there’s no reason to feel guilty about indulging in chocolate now and then! It may even keep your brain in tip-top shape.
The great thing about healthy chocolates is that you can make them yourself at home. Check out these great recipes — no sugar or artificial additives in the mix!
Tanya is a writer at The Alternative Daily with a passion for meditation, music, poetry, and overall creative and active living. She has a special interest in exploring traditional Eastern remedies and superfoods from around the globe, and enjoys spending time immersed in nature.