Is chocolate good for you? Well from the research I've been reading it seems that it is….. but wait a minute…it’s NOT every piece of chocolate. It seems to be the cocoa flavanols that seem to protect people from cognitive decline. We must always be mindful that SUGAR is the biggest enemy to brain health and chocolate that contains sugar is not going to do anybody any good.
The Active Ingredient
Flavanols and flavonoids are plant chemicals, nutrients, that are found in many natural foods such as green tea, berries, apples and of course grapes. They have excellent antioxidant effects because they roam around the body ‘mopping up’ free radicals. Free radicals are implicated in cognitive decline and dementia. They are formed in the body by natural processes and our bodies can usually cope with them. However they are also formed in abundance by bad diet and poor health choices such as smoking. Because free radicals are unstable they alter other chemicals in the body and can damage our cells and even alter our DNA.
The Benefits of Flavanols
Flavanols have known health benefits such as the ability to lower blood pressure by improving the elasticity of peripheral blood vessels and enhancing brain function, probably by improving vascular health (1, 2). Cocoa flavanols have been shown to be particularly effective and are thought to have neuro-protective properties (2). They are also known to reduce the risk of developing dementia and cognitive decline not only because of their antioxidant qualities but also via direct action on brain processes (4, 5, 6). This would certainly suggest that flavanols may have a direct role to play in prevention of cognitive decline and the maintenance of cognitive abilities (3). Flavanols are clearly worth taking for cardio-vascular health and it would seem that there may well be significant brain advantages too.
The Good and the Bad
Without a doubt sugar is bad. If your chocolate contains added sugar just do not eat it. According to Dr Beatrice Golomb (MD, PhD) the best type of chocolate is that with very high cocoa content (75% plus) and raw, or as close to the natural state as possible. Another goodness indicator is color because the darker the chocolate, the higher the cacao content. This type of chocolate tastes very bitter but the bitterness is caused by the flavanols and after a few days of eating, our taste buds seem to adapt and the taste becomes very palatable. I personally keep a small container of cacao nibs (Aldi) on my desk and snack away while I’m working….this is to keep a steady intake of flavanols over a few hours each day.