Next time you buy some chocolate, pick up the dark chocolate so that you don’t have to feel too guilty about it.
Chocolate is made from the tropical Theobroma cacao tree seeds and can be traced back to the Olmec civilisation in Mesoamerica. The Aztec believed that it was a gift from the God of wisdom and the seeds held so much value that they were used as a form of currency. After its arrival in Spain, sugar was added to it and it became popular through Europe, first through the ruling classes then among the common people. In the 20th century, chocolate was considered a staple and was essential in the rations of the Australian soldiers at war. Although is it not considered a staple for many anymore, it is still a beloved treat.
After milk chocolate was slammed for its high sugar, high fat health risks, dark chocolate has made a comeback. Dark chocolate with 85%+ cacao has been recognised as a rich source of flavonoids, mainly flavanols, which are potent antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents with established health benefits. Did you know that chocolate can increase your concentration, intelligence and brain function?
A university of Nottingham research team has found that drinking cacao rich in flavanols boosts blood flow to key parts of the brain for 2 to 3 hours. This increased blood flow may help to increase performance in specific tasks and boost general alertness over a short period of time. The study also suggests that the cacao flavanols found in dark chocolate could be useful in enhancing brain function for people fighting fatigue, sleep deprivation and even the effects of ageing.
Further studies have confirmed this by showing that a diet high in cacao flavanols was found to enhance age related brain function, as measured by fMRI and cognitive testing. Another study concluded that there is a strong correlation between improved cognitive function and cacao consumption in those with baseline impairments. Further to this, dark chocolate is believed to enhance moods via stimulatory and serotonin benefits. This is due to the theobromine component of dark chocolate.
With this being said, over-indulgence of chocolates can still lead to negative health. When eating chocolate always choose dark chocolate (the darker the better) and eat it in moderation.
 Francis ST et al, 2006, The effect of flavanol-rich cocoa on the fMRI response to a cognitive task in healthy young people. J Cardiovasc Pharmacol. 2006;47 Suppl 2:S215-20.
 Brickman AM et al, 2014, Enhancing dentate gyrus function with dietary flavanols improves cognition in older adults. Nat Neurosci. 2014 Dec;17(12):1798-803. doi: 10.1038/nn.3850. Epub 2014 Oct 26.
 Sorond FA et al, 2013, Neurovascular coupling, cerebral white matter integrity, and response to cocoa in older people. Neurology. 2013 Sep 3;81(10):904-9. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0b013e3182a351aa. Epub 2013 Aug 7.