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Can Eating Chocolate Make You Smarter?

More International Studies, U of U Research

Now, let’s take a look at the newest international studies on cocoa while comparing and contrasting these interesting findings with the results obtained from a cardiovascular study performed at the University of Utah.

Professor David Kennedy is the director of Brain, Performance and Nutrition Research Center at Northumbria University in England. He recently led a group of researchers in exploring the effects of cocoa on the human brain ability to perform mathematical equations. Professor Kennedy, co-author of the study, concluded from the study that consuming chocolate could benefit people when performing mentally challenging tasks.

―For things that are difficult to do, mentally demanding things that maybe crop up in your work, [consuming cocoa] could help,‖ Professor Kennedy said.

The researchers gave a flavanol-rich hot cocoa drink to 30 individuals, and then had them answer various mathematical questions. The cocoa used in the study contained 500 milligrams of flavanols—more than would normally be found in fruits and vegetables. Dark chocolate, as one of the three major sources of flavanols discussed above, contains higher quantities of flavanols than the highly processed chocolate we see in the candy aisle of the grocery store. Flavanols, as previously discussed, are part of a group of chemicals called polyphenols. They increase the level of cerebral blood flow, among many other health benefits.

After consuming the cocoa drink, the volunteers in this study were asked to count backwards in groups of three, beginning with a random number between 800 and 999 (generated by computer). The study showed that the subjects’ mathematical performance was clearly affected by the drink, and suggests that students who binge on chocolate while studying for exams may actually benefit from doing so—at least in terms of mental acuity. Subjects accomplished the calculations more quickly and more accurately than the control group.

The findings were presented at the British Psychological Society annual conference at Brighton, and also showed that subjects were inclined to feel less tired and less mentally drained after answering the questions.

In the interest of full disclosure, the study also found that the same test subjects did struggle with more complex mathematical tasks.

Professor Kennedy stated, ―The amount of flavanols given in the study is more than in the [normal] diet, but there is quite a lot of evidence that general amounts are protective against declining function. The more foods you eat that are high in polyphenols, the better it is for your brain in the long run.

Conclusion: High levels of flavanols found in chocolate can improve mental acuity when taken in the proper amounts.

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