We’ve often written about foods with health benefits now backed up by research. Some of those benefits are pretty big and often pretty surprising to most people. Well we have some more good surprises for you! Some of the tastiest foods have now made that list.
First, just a brief listing of a few:
Almonds — have been found to help maintain healthy cholesterol levels.
Blackberries and Blueberries — fruits that contain anthocyanin. A Harvard study found older adults who eat lots of blueberries and strawberries are less likely to have cognitive decline.
Another fruit — Avocados — have been found to be useful in helping with high blood pressure, and researchers found the nutrients in them are “able to stop oral cancer cells from growing”, per the report published in Ivanhoe Medical Breakthroughs.
Green Tea — there have been a lot of benefits reported from Green Tea, but the one we saw recently was that those who drink 5 cups of it a day are less likely to get stressed than those who drink only 1 cup of it a day.
But the “star of the show” today (really the star of this article) is the tasty treat known as Dark Chocolate. This tasty item has been found to help keep our minds in “top form”.
A group of Italian researchers reviewed studies on the brain benefits of dark chocolate and focused on the flavanols in dark chocolate. Flavanols are a group of natural chemicals that have been found to protect neurons and defend the nervous system from damage.
The researchers reported that their findings showed that every time a person consumes those flavanols their brain undergoes some changes that may improve its performance. And they also concluded that if you eat it every day, you also get long-term benefits from it.
Some of the benefits to your brain include:
· Better working memory: This involves short term memory and the ability to learn new ideas and put them to use.
· Improved visual information processing: This is being able to rapidly and accurately analyze what you see, and then process that information, and then be able to remember it later.
· Better mental performance after missing out on sleep: In women, research shows chocolate flavanols can make up for the blurry thinking that results from staying up all night.
And one other thing that the researchers reported which seems especially good to us is that many of the benefits to the brain seem to be strongest in older people who are starting to show the first signs of problems with their memories.
The researchers explained the benefits they found in dark chocolate this way: “Cocoa flavanols have beneficial effects for cardiovascular health and can increase cerebral blood volume in the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus. This structure is particularly affected by aging and therefore the potential source of age-related memory decline in humans.”
Here’s another thing… a reason to consider taking zinc along with eating your dark chocolate… Another study, this one in Germany (with a researcher in Alabama also involved), found that taking zinc with your chocolate activates an organic molecule that helps protect your brain – and the the rest of the body, too – from excessive oxidative stress.
Why or how does that occur? It sounds complicated to us, but here’s how we read it explained:
Their analysis shows that a natural chemical group in chocolate called a hydroquinone group is activated by zinc so that it provides natural protections against a harmful substance called superoxide. Superoxide is thrown off by mitochondria – the cells’ energy “factories” – sort of the way a power plant spouts pollutants.
Left unchecked, superoxide can cause severe oxidative damage to cellular structures. This type of harm is believed to play a major role in the aging process by causing inflammation linked to both cancer and neuron destruction. Hydroquinone by itself can’t break down superoxide. But when it combines with zinc, it creates a metallic complex that yields an enzyme that prevents superoxide from inflicting harm. (Hydroquinone groups are also found in coffee, tea and wine, though researchers say the alcohol in wine negates its antioxidant effect.)
Why dark chocolate? If you eat milk chocolate, you’re just diluting the benefits with milk, milk fat and sugar. Researchers around the world generally agree you should eat the dark kind and avoid varieties with other additives. Dark Chocolate products generally list the percentage of chocolate vs. other ingredients. The highest are usually 88% to 92% dark chocolate. These have a little sugar and are sweet enough for most people — indeed some people say they have to get used to the level of sweetness in dark chocolate when they first start eating it.
You can also choose to go with maybe 70% chocolate if you can’t get used to the richness and sweetness of dark chocolate. So there you have it .. a way to get your “chocolate fix” and benefit your health in the process! Hard to think of anything better than that. Good News for sure!