August 17, 2012

istock_000016088140xsmall_1_I have some good news . . . and some not-so-good news. The good news is that a recent study found that the flavanols found in chocolate might help improve memory loss. The not-so-good news? This finding doesn’t mean that chocolate lovers can now consume as much of the sweet treat as they want. Balance and moderation still trump any benefit research may suggest. Here is what you should know about the latest news on what may be your guilty pleasure – chocolate.

Flavanols are type of phytochemical found in cocoa (as well as in apples, tea, grapes and red wine). Scientists have been researching the effect of flavanols on heart health for many years. Flavanols may benefit the brain as well by helping to improve blood flow or working on the structure of the brain to preserve neurons.

The latest study, conducted in Italy, involved 90 elderly participants with mild cognitive impairment. Simply stated, participants were randomly divided into three groups. Each group drank an assigned amount of a dairy beverage containing cocoa flavanols over an eight-week period. Researchers then measured participants’ cognitive function. Participants who had consumed more of the beverage showed significant improvement in cognitive ability and memory.

Each year, more than six percent of people age 70 and older develop mild cognitive impairment, which manifests as memory loss and can progress to dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Naturally, when findings such as those from this recent Italian study hit the headlines, people pay attention. But it’s important to take such news “with a grain of salt.” In this case, the study was quite small and was funded by a company that makes chocolate beverages. The study authors are quick to note that more research is necessary to fully understand the role of cocoa flavanols in health. In the meantime, savor good-quality chocolate in moderation as part of a well-balanced, calorie-appropriate, nutrition-rich diet.

 

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