Episode 130

Rejoice chocoholics!  Regular consumption of chocolate appears to be beneficial for cognition.

In episode 130, Jesse talks to Dr. Georgina Crichton, NHMRC (Australia) Research Fellow, University of South Australia, about her work looking at the effects of long-term consumption of certain foods — including chocolate — on cognition.

Chocolate and Your Brain

Most research on chocolate focuses on the acute effects of consumption.  A typical study involves feeding subjects dark chocolate and then almost immediately testing their cognition.  But Dr. Crichton was more interested in the long-term effects of regularly eating chocolate.

Using data on 1,000 people from Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study, a 25-year study, Dr. Crichton and her fellow researchers looked at the effect of regular chocolate consumption on cognition.

The results?

People who eat a small amount of chocolate at least once a week perform better cognitively.

Frequent chocolate consumption is associated with:

  • Better working memory, so you can remember your grocery list
  • Better abstract reasoning
  • Better visual-spatial memory
  • Better multitasking, like being able to talk and drive at the same time

These results held up when the researchers controlled for cardiovascular health, lifestyle, age, gender, education, and dietary factors.

Plus, it’s not that smarter people tend to like chocolate more.  Looking at the data, chocolate consumption affects cognitive ability, not the other way around.

Dark or Milk?

We’ve all heard about the health benefits of dark chocolate.

Dark chocolate has a higher cocoa content, meaning it has more flavanols than milk chocolate.  Cocoa flavanols are good for your brain, improving age-related cognitive dysfunction, and increasing blood flow to the brain.  Chocolate also contains methylxanthines, which enhance concentration.

But that doesn’t mean that milk chocolate isn’t beneficial.  Milk chocolate still has cocoa, and all the attendant beneficial compounds.  Plus, the study didn’t differentiate between dark or milk chocolate consumption — so have that milk chocolate Hershey’s kiss without guilt.

How Much Chocolate?

One of the limitations of this study was the lack of precise measurements of the amount of chocolate consumed.

One serving of chocolate is about 25 grams (or four small squares of chocolate).  According to Dr. Crichton, one or two servings a week may be enough to benefit your brain.

Further Reading

PS:  Get more good news about cognition when you join our weekly Brain Breakfast.

Written by Hannah Sabih
Hannah believes there's nothing 8 hours of sleep and some kale can't cure (yes, she's from California). She's an avid runner, reader, and traveler, who brings you the latest and greatest in neuroscience via our social media channels.
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