Got chocolate on the brain? You know you love it, but now you can feel even better about eating it because so many studies prove it’s good for you too.
Now we’re not talking the cheap stuff that goes into milk chocolate candy bars. That junk is so processed and loaded with dairy, fillers, and especially sugar, that it’s just not good for your body, much less your brain.
Ah, but dark chocolate (around 70% or better of total cocoa) is an entirely different story.
As Peanuts cartoonist Charles M. Schulz once said: “All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.”
Here are 9 benefits to munching on a little dark chocolate:
1. Dark chocolate makes you happy.
Eating dark chocolate produces “feel-good” endorphins which can create feelings of euphoria, something like distance runners can get — a state known as “runner’s high.” Dark chocolate also includes a natural compound (phenylethylamine) that creates a feeling similar to being in love. Ah, sweet!
2. Dark chocolate can increase blood flow to the brain.
Did you know flavonoids in dark chocolate can enhance memory, attention span, reaction time, and problem-solving abilities by improving the flow of blood to the brain? This action seems to work equally well for both young and older people. Seniors especially may be able to enhance their short-term memory as well as prevent mental decline with a little dark chocolate.
3. Dark chocolate helps insulate brain cells from free radical damage.
Your brain needs lots of oxygen – around 20% of what your lungs take in. That means the brain can be vulnerable to free radical damage. Wrinkles, age spots, and sun damage on your skin are visible signs of free radical damage…and similar damage can happen on a cellular level inside your brain. Because dark chocolate is also an antioxidant, it can help neutralize free radicals and may prevent premature aging of brain cells.
4. Dark chocolate promotes learning, memory and focus.
Once again, dark chocolate’s friendly flavonoids can help those areas of the brain related to memory and learning. Studies indicate chocolate flavonoids can boost cognitive test scores. And the low doses of caffeine in dark chocolate may help with mood and concentration. (Note: A one-ounce serving of dark chocolate has about 30 mg of caffeine — an eight-ounce coffee holds at least 95mg of caffeine and often more.)
5. Dark chocolate may help reduce stress.
Dark chocolate contains a healthy dose of magnesium. This mineral acts to suppress the release of the body’s stress hormone, called cortisol.
Most people do not get enough magnesium in their diets…chocolate may help replenish this essential mineral. In fact, some scientist believe this lack of magnesium may be the primary reason most of us crave chocolate.
6. Dark chocolate may actually help reduce sugary food cravings.
Yes you read that right. Dark chocolate is very satisfying and may stave off your cravings for the bad-for-you sugary stuff, and for that matter, junk foods of all kinds. However, the cheap highly processed chocolate actually fuels your desire for the bad stuff. Only dark chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa works to reduce your cravings for sweet, salty and even fatty foods. And part of the reason it works comes is simply from the wonderful sensory experience of eating chocolate. When scientists had test subjects swallow gelatin capsules (i.e. pills) filled with the beneficial ingredients in chocolate, the pills did not have the same effect as actually eating dark chocolate.
7. Consuming dark chocolate can protect your brain for life.
Studies seem to indicate flavonoid-rich chocolate may be a viable treatment for brain related ailments such as dementia and strokes. The powerful antioxidants in dark chocolate may improve the condition of seniors diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment. Also, dark chocolate reduces insulin resistance. When brain cells become insulin resistant, they can’t get the glucose they need and die prematurely.
8. Dark chocolate promotes good gut bacteria, which helps your brain.
Dark chocolate increases beneficial bacteria in your gut, including Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria. They act as antioxidants which eventually help guard your brain from free radical damage. Chocolate keeps good bacteria levels high and the bad bacteria low. In other words, dark chocolate can help keep existing brain cells healthy and stimulate the creation of new brain cells.
9. Will eating dark chocolate make you smarter?
Maybe…if you believe this rather bizzarre study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that claims the more per capita chocolate a country consumes, the more Nobel Prize winners it produces. Oddly enough, Sweden and Switzerland eat the most chocolate and also happen to bring home the most Nobel Prizes. Something to think about when you’re munching on your next dark chocolate bar.
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