By now, many of us have heard all about the amazing health benefits of indulging in a square (or two) of chocolate – from being a mood enhancer to lowering your blood pressure – but is it better for your brain than exercise?
According to a recent study published in the journal Nature Neuroscience and conducted by Columbia University and New York University, those who consumed large amounts of cocoa powder daily experienced improved memory and enhanced blood flow in the hippocampus – this is the part of the brain that is essential in forming memories.
It’s important to point out that this study involved adults between the ages of 50 and 69. While it’s true that cocoa powder is rich in flavanols, which supports healthy blood circulation, Gary L. Wenk, a professor of Psychology & Neuroscience & Molecular Virology, Immunology & Medical Genetics at the Ohio State University and Medical Center, had the following to say about the study:
Chocolate is an excellent example of how difficult it is to differentiate food from drug. The cocoa powder used to produce chocolate is rich in flavanols and many other potentially psychoactive chemicals. Although the amount and types of flavanols depend on how the cocoa powder was processed and manufactured, the powder produced may contain up to 10% its weight in flavanols. Overall, chocolate is not a great source of these flavanols. While expensive dark chocolate may contain anywhere from 45-80% cocoa powder, the chocolate found in the average candy bar has only about 5-7% cocoa powder.
So how much chocolate would a person need to eat in order to achieve the results reported in this study? The subjects in this study consumed a specially prepared commercial product that contained about one gram of flavanols every day for three months. One hundred grams of cocoa powder usually contains about 100 milligrams of flavanols. These values suggest that you would need to eat about one kilogram of pure unrefined cocoa powder or about 44 pounds of chocolate candy every day! Therefore, in spite of the hype surrounding this report in the popular press, I would not recommend that anyone attempt to replicate this study at home.
Bottom line: Chocolate is great for you, but in terms of how it effects your cognitive function, it’s probably best to stick with good ‘ole fashioned exercise. So, grab your sneakers and get ready to break a sweat!