Cast your mind back, if you will, to your school or university days – specifically, to exam season. Before a big test, your teachers or parents might have encouraged you to eat a healthy snack, like a banana or some blueberries, to see you through.
They probably didn’t suggest that you wolf down a chocolate bar, given that sweet treats are widely associated with temporary highs and crashing blood sugar levels. But according to new research, regularly snacking on chocolate could be just the thing to boost your brain.
Scientists at the University of L’Aquila in Italy looked at the effects of cocoa and cocoa-derived food (i.e. chocolate) for a study recently published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition.
They discovered that cocoa has “the potential to counteract cognitive decline and sustain cognitive abilities, particularly among patients at risk”.
According to a report in Fast Company, chocolate’s magic ingredient is flavanols, a group of natural compounds that has “neuroprotective effects” (meaning that it’s good for your brain).
The study’s authors, Valentina Socci and Michele Ferrara, found that participants who consumed cocoa flavanols exhibited improvements in their memories, and were better able to process visual information.
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Eating cocoa flavanols in the long-term (from five days up to three months) resulted in improved attention, as well as better processing speeds, working memory and verbal fluency.
Interestingly, cocoa-based foods were also shown to have specific benefits for women. Female participants who ate cocoa were shown to experience less of the cognitive impairment that comes with sleep deprivation, while it made less of a difference to men – suggesting that chocolate could be a useful snack when you’ve been up late preparing for an important work presentation.
Cocoa flavanols also had more of an effect on older populations, especially those who had already begun to lose some memory or were suffering from other mild cognitive impairments.
So there you have it: a ready-made justification for your twice-weekly Crunchie habit. You’re welcome.