In their recent review published in Frontiers in Nutrition, Italian researchers examined the available literature for the effects of acute and chronic administration of cocoa flavanols on different cognitive domains. In other words: what happens to your brain up to a few hours after you eat cocoa flavanols, and what happens when you sustain such a cocoa flavanol enriched diet for a prolonged period of time?
Although randomized controlled trials investigating the acute effect of cocoa flavanols are sparse, most of them point towards a beneficial effect on cognitive performance. Participants showed, among others, enhancements in working memory performance and improved visual information processing after having had cocoa flavanols. And for women, eating cocoa after a night of total sleep deprivation actually counteracted the cognitive impairment (i.e. less accuracy in performing tasks) that such a night brings about. Promising results for people that suffer from chronic sleep deprivation or work shifts.
It has to be noted though, that the effects depended on the length and mental load of the used cognitive tests to measure the effect of acute cocoa consumption. In young and healthy adults, for example, a high demanding cognitive test was required to uncover the subtle immediate behavioral effects that cocoa flavanols have on this group.
Dr. Stegall’s Comments: This research will make a lot of people happy! Yes, chocolate has powerful health-promoting properties. However, all chocolate is not created equally. Ideally, the chocolate consumed will be dark chocolate – at least 70% – and thus have less sugar. Be sure to seek out an organic chocolate with no high fructose corn syrup or other artificial sweeteners. There are even chocolates today which are sweetened with stevia instead of sugar, which makes the chocolate even better. As always, moderation is key, so don’t go overboard!