Healthy aging has a lot to do with having a nutrient-rich diet. The focus is usually on healthful foods, but there’s a favorite indulgence proving to be the key to graceful aging that you’re probably neglecting: chocolate.
According to a new study published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a diet rich in cocoa can improve healthy cognitive function in older adults (1).
The double-blind study consisted of 90 elderly individuals with no signs of decreased mental function who were split into three groups: each group received a daily dietary supplement containing either a high, intermediate, or low dose of cocoa flavanols. Flavanols are the plant-derived compounds that have been the subject of extensive investigation examining their antioxidant properties and beneficial impact on cardiovascular health (2).
Before and after the eight-week study, the researchers measured markers of cognition in the subjects and made comparisons across groups. The group consuming high levels of flavanols showed significant improvements in their cognition scores, along with improved insulin sensitivity and blood pressure.
The researchers attributed the reduction in age-related mental dysfunction as the result of the improved insulin sensitivity. Previously, scientists speculated that flavanols played a role in cognitive health, especially with age, but had no real explanation as to why or how (2). This latest study suggests a possible mechanism as to how flavanols support brain function, possibly through improved insulin sensitivity.
Because of the rich composition of flavanols in cocoa, quality chocolate has become a popular target of study. Findings have also suggested that chocolate may be a beneficial tool for individuals seeking long-term, sustained weight loss (3), with daily consumption of chocolate with a high cocoa content, such as dark chocolate, being particularly advantageous (4).
With a growing body of research touting the benefits of habitual and moderate intake of cocoa flavanols, quality chocolates are increasingly seen as a useful tool to support weight loss and mental health.
- Mastroiacovo D, Kwik-Uribe C, Grassi D, Necozione S, Raffaele A, Pistacchio L, Righetti R, Bocale R, Lechiara MC, Marini C, et al. Cocoa flavanol consumption improves cognitive function, blood pressure control, and metabolic profile in elderly subjects: the Cocoa, Cognition, and Aging (CoCoA) Study—a randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr 2015; 101:538–48.
- Williams RJ, Spenncer JPE. Flavonoids, cognition, and dementia: Actions, mechanisms, and potential therapeutic utility for Alzheimer disease. Free Radical Biology and Medicine. Volume 52, Issue 1, 1 January 2012, Pages 35–45. doi:10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2011.09.010
- Bohannon J, Koch D, Homm P, Driehaus A. Chocolate with high cocoa content as a weight-loss accelerator. Int Arch Med 2015; 8(55): 1-8.