There are many reasons why you might want to give someone chocolate on Valentine’s Day. There’s the tradition of it, and the idea of sweets for your sweetheart. Here’s another tempting reason: certain compounds in chocolate called cocoa flavanols which have recently been linked with improved cognitive function.
Flavanols are plant-based, health-supporting antioxidants naturally occurring in tea, blueberries, red wine, apples and cocoa. Cocoa flavanols are a highly unique blend of super nutrients found only in the cocoa bean.
Italian researchers tested the effects of cocoa flavanols in 90 healthy 61- to 85-year-olds. Whose memories and thinking skills were in good shape for their ages. Participants drank a special brew of cocoa flavanols each day. One group’s brew contained a low amount of cocoa flavanols (48 milligrams [mg] a day), another’s contained a medium amount (520 mg), and the third’s contained a high amount (993 mg).
After eight weeks, people who consumed medium and high amounts of cocoa flavanols every day made significant improvements on tests that measured attention, executive function, and memory.
A similar study by these researchers published in 2012 showed that daily consumption of cocoa flavanols was associated with improved thinking skills in older adults who did have thinking problems, a condition called mild cognitive impairment. And both studies found that cocoa flavanols were associated with reduced blood pressure and improved insulin resistance.
Flavanols are particularly abundant in the seeds of the cacao tree—cacao beans. Fermenting, drying, and roasting cacao beans yields cocoa powder, which is used to make chocolate. The darker the chocolate, the more cocoa flavanols it contains.
The amount in dark chocolate can range from 100 mg in 100 grams of chocolate to 2,000 mg.
Therefore, if you give someone chocolate this Valentine’s Day, are you giving that person cocoa flavanols? Yes, but not nearly as much as the volunteers consumed in the Italian study mentioned above. The amount of cocoa used in chocolate varies by manufacturer. And flavanols are often destroyed in the production of chocolate.
Consumer groups studying the amounts of cocoa flavanols in products have found that the actual amount in supplements and cocoa powders varies widely. Therefore, the best way of getting cocoa flavanols is through cocoa powder that is as natural as possible. Moreover, meaning it has not been processed through the Dutch method. This method reduces the content of flavanols. However, the non-processed cocoa powder will be bitter.
Furthermore, Dr. Alonso-Alonso says, “The benefits of cocoa flavanols on cardiovascular health are well established, and for the general population a daily intake of 200 mg of cocoa flavanols is starting to emerge as a potential target within the context of a balanced diet,”.
Chocolate is high in calories. Therefore, adding it to your diet without taking out other foods can lead to weight gain, which may wipe out any health gain. So try to find dark chocolate that has the highest concentration of flavonols per gram.
To conclude, give the gift of chocolate this Valentine’s Day, but throw in some other sources of flavanols—blueberries, cherries, and red wine too!
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