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Chocolate May Make Your Brain More Efficient

The latest issue of Physiology and Behavior, published on February 28, 2012, has great news for chocolate lovers: the flavanols in dark chocolate may be helping your brain perform more efficiently. Flavanols are antioxidants found in cocoa beans, fruit and vegetables.

Researchers at Swinburne University in Australia recruited 63 volunteers between the ages of 40 and 65. Over the course of 30 days, the participants consumed a chocolate drink that contained different amounts of cocoa flavanols: 500 mg, 250 mg and a placebo

The volunteers were given a set of tasks to determine spatial working memory to measure brain activity. The researchers also administered brain scans on the first and last days of the study to enable them to compare brain activity between the groups.

They found that accuracy and reaction time to the tasks was the same for all three test groups. However, the scans showed less strain on the brains of the high and medium level flavanol groups when compared to the low flavanol group.

The researchers believe that the high flavanol chocolate lowered stress levels in the brains of those participants. This allowed them to achieve the same performance levels as the low flavanol group without having to use as much brain power.

Chocolate isn't just for brain health; it has also been shown to help the cardiovascular system, improve insulin resistance, and reduce blood pressure. To get the health benefits of chocolate, focus on darker chocolates which contain more flavanols. Flavanols are known for their antioxidant activity and are the most likely reason for the health benefits of chocolate.

It’s important to keep in mind that excessive consumption of chocolate could negate the positive effects seen here and in other studies, as chocolate also has high fat, sugar, and calorie content. Your best bet is to eat small amounts of chocolate with high cocoa content.

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