Health Benefits of Chocolate
Mmm, just the word ‘chocolate’ makes the mouth water. From satiny fondues to rich and creamy, melt-in-your-mouth bon bons, chocolate is delicious, and it can be healthy, too! Rich in antioxidants, flavonol-rich dark chocolate may improve memory and curb appetite.*
In a recent study led by scientists at by Columbia University, and reported in a New York Times article,1 researchers found that high intake of flavanols or antioxidants, especially epicatchin, which are found in dark chocolate, improved memory in humans. They also found increased function in an area of the brain’s hippocampus called the dentate gyrus, which has been linked to memory and recall.
Dr. Steven DeKosky, a neurologist and visiting professor at the University of Pittsburgh, said this about the study participants. “They got this really remarkable increase in a place in the brain that we know is related to age-related memory change.”
As for why high intake of cocoa flavanols would help memory, a theory favored by Dr. Scott A. Small, a neurologist at Columbia University Medical Center and the study’s senior author, is that they may cause dendrites, message-receiving branches of neurons, to grow.
Dark Chocolate for Appetite Control
In a different study published in the 2011 Nutrition & Diabetes journal found that intake of 100 g of dark chocolate promotes satiety, lowering the desire to eat something sweet, compared with consuming an equal amount of milk chocolate.2
This randomized crossover study looked at 16 young, healthy normal-weight men who were given a meal of either milk chocolate or dark chocolate. Appetite sensations before and after the test meal were recorded every 30 minutes for 5 hours.
The study found that the participants felt less hungry, and consumed less food after consumption of the dark chocolate rather than after the milk chocolate. They also had less desire to eat something sweet, fatty or savory after consumption of the dark chocolate.
We don’t recommend eating candy bars to reap these benefits. “You would have to eat a large amount of chocolate to see these benefits,” said Hagen Schroeter, director of fundamental health and nutrition research for Mars, which funds many flavanol studies including the memory study mentioned above. And we all know, chocolate also comes with a lot of fat and calories.
*To consume the high-flavanol group’s daily dose of epicatechins (138 milligrams), one would have to eat at least 300 grams of dark chocolate/day (about seven bars).