Doing the rounds this week has been research investigating the brain-enhancing benefits of chocolate. According to Larry Stevens, co-author of the new study, eating a piece of high-cacao content chocolate in the afternoon can boost your attention.
“A lot of us in the afternoon get a little fuzzy and can’t pay attention, particularly students, so we could have a higher cacao content chocolate bar and it would increase attention,” claimed Stevens, a professor of psychological sciences at Northern Arizona University. Does this mean that we can all now stuff our faces with chocolate guilt-free? For now, I’d probably put that candy bar back.
The study, published in NeuroRegulation, is apparently the first to use electroencephalography (EEG) to see how eating the brown stuff affects our brains. There might, however, be a slight conflict of interest here, as the study was provided with “a generous grant in supplies from The Hershey Company.” Hmmm.
Not infrequently are there new studies claiming the health benefits of chocolate, from a good source of antioxidants that fight cancer to providing flavonoids that improve cardiovascular health. Most of the time, however, these studies are looking at raw cacao, and the processing of it to form chocolate removes many of the chemicals from the end product, even in the darker varieties.
The researchers in this study took 122 participants aged between 18 and 25, and looked at the effect eating 60% cacao chocolate had on their EEG levels and blood pressure when compared with controls. They found that “the brain was more alert and attentive after consumption,” but also that blood pressure increased.
They then looked at what happened when the 60% cacao was mixed with a certain amino acid found in green tea, L-theanine, known to reduce mental stress. Unsurprisingly for this study perhaps, Hershey is looking into bringing this product to market. According to Stevens, “L-theanine is a really fascinating product that lowers blood pressure and produces what we call alpha waves in the brain that are very calm and peaceful.”
Whilst just the 60% cacao was shown to increase blood pressure, apparently this new combination was able to reduce it, giving scope to producing “a heart healthy chocolate confection.” Whether it might just be easier to drink more green tea rather than wait for Hershey to produce a new “healthy chocolate” was not investigated.