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Dark Chocolate Is Good for Brain Health

Updated on June 30, 2013

You may be surprised if you have not heard this before. But dark chocolate does have some health benefits. In particular, it is good for the brain and it helps lower blood pressure.

It is important to stress that it is "dark chocolate" that is healthy -- not "milk chocolate" nor "white chocolate". The darker the chocolate, the better. That means having high cocoa percentage in the chocolate such as at least 70% or higher. For some that might also means that the chocolate will taste a bit bitter. The key ingredient is the flavonoids that is in the cocoa. It is the cocoa the provides the health benefit.

Although difficult to find, there are chocolates that are 99% cocoa. With that much cocoa, there is not much room for sugar. In fact, I have had chocolate that is 100% cocoa. The nutritional information show zero grams of sugar. Although they are typically labelled as baking chocolate. Because most people will find them to be too bitter. But if you have it with a couple of strawberries for some sweetness, they make a great combination.

Preferably you want those with as little sugar added as possible. Because as the chocolate is processed, it loses some of its antioxidant capability. The more sugar that is added, the worse it is. Sugar is bad for the brain, as well as bad for health in general.

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Dark Chocolate for Brain Health

The American Institute of Nutrition article says ...

"Participants who consumed chocolate, wine, or tea had significantly better mean test scores and lower prevalence of poor cognitive performance than those who did not."[1]

Although the effects were more pronounced for wine than in chocolate.

CNN article listed chocolate as one of the 10 foods to help boost brain power. It says ...

"study found that eating as little as one-third of an ounce of chocolate a day (the size of about two Hersey's kisses) helps protect against age-related memory loss."[2]

So you do not have to eat a lot of chocolate. And you should not. As with all things, you have to take it in moderation. Because excessive chocolate does have the negative attribute of being high in saturated fat.

Flavanols in Cocoa are Anti-Oxidants

Chapter 19 of the book 100 Simple Things You Can Do to Prevent Alzheimer's and Age-Related Memory Loss says ...

"Cocoa, the main ingredient in chocolate, has sky-high concentrations of antioxidants called flavanols, which possess strong heart- and brain-protecting properties."

WebMD also says that dark chocolate is a powerful anti-oxidant. However, do not take it with milk, because milk interferes with the absorption of the anti-oxidants in the chocolate.[4]

Chocolate Lowers Blood Pressure

In addition, chocolate have been shown to lower blood pressure in studies. The active ingredient that causes this is the plant cocoa phenols in the chocolate.[4]

Again, you do not have to take a lot. Moderation is the key. In a German study by Dr. Dirk Taubert, the participants were limited to 30 calories per day of dark chocolate. That is about the size of one Hershey's Kiss. (But not Hershey's Kiss since that is not dark chocolate)  Study found that those taking dark chocolate for 18 weeks had a small blood pressure drop while the control group taking "white chocolate" (which contains no cocoa) had no blood pressure drop.[5]

Chocolate also contains the healthy compound epicatechin.[4]

Dark Chocolate Improves Mood

From The Happiness Diet, it writes ...

"Chocolate is loaded with flavonols like epicatechin that improve blood flow to the brain, reduce neuron damage after stroke, and protect against dementia. ... a few ounces of dark chocolate a day improves mood ... and increases brain processing speed ..." [page 103]

Dark Chocolate Listed as Brain Food

CNN is not the only site that lists chocolate as good for brain health. listed it as among "20 Super Brain Foods".[3]

Page 179 of "Super Brain: 101 Easy Ways to a More Agile Mind" list cocoa as among the top 10 brain foods.

In Chapter 13 of the book The Apo E Gene Diet: A Breakthrough in Changing Cholesterol, Weight, Heart and Alzheimer's Using the Body's Own Genes lists chocolate as among the top 15 healthiest foods and drinks.

Dark Chocolate is Not Bad For You

It is true that milk chocolate may be bad for you. This is because they contain too much bad sugar. However, dark chocolate has the beneficial flavanols and antioxidants that make its health benefits outweigh the unhealthy sugar.

It is often the case that the darker the chocolate, the less sugar it has. This is because if it is packed full of cocoa, then it has less room for sugar. Depending on the manufacturer, it is not always the case however. So check the food label. It will still have sugar. So that is why eat dark chocolate only in moderation. listed dark chocolate in article Bad Foods You Should Be Eating. But now we know that dark chocolate is not always bad. It is only perceived as bad in the past.


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