Could chocolate be a performance food for your brain? A new study makes that case: Researchers writing in the journal Nature Neuroscience detected a big memory boost among older adults who regularly drank an antioxidant-rich cocoa beverage. And while it’s not quite the permission you might want to dive into your stash of Halloween fun packs, it’s solid evidence suggesting that the antioxidants in some type of chocolate may enhance memory.
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The study team set out to determine if a there was any way to slow the progression of age-related memory loss, something that occurs in a part of the brain called the dentate gyrus. They theorized that food high in an antioxidant called flavanols might do the trick. Previous research found that flavanols, found in chocolate (as well as tea and some veggies), improved blood flow, which they thought could affect the dentate gyrus in such a way that memory functioning would be enhanced. So they enrolled 37 healthy adults between 50 and 69 and had them drink either a high-flavanol or low-flavanol cocoa beverage every day for three months. At the end of the study, the high-flavanol group had reverse some of their age-related memory loss—so much so that their memory functioning was considered equivalent to that of people up to three decades younger. And MRIs showed that functioning in the dentate gyrus also got a boost.
Now, the caveats: First, the research was partly funded by a chocolate company—and independently funded studies are obviously preferable in the nutrition world. Second, the study size was pretty small, so more data needs to be gathered on a wider range and number of people. And finally, though flavanols are naturally found in cocoa, the average candy bar isn’t exactly a great source (whereas cocoa powder or dark chocolate are). Undaunted? Try these brilliant ways to add cocoa powder to your meals and these raw chocolate truffle recipes.