When choosing foods each day, we have an opportunity to improve our health now and in the future. Small decisions can add up to significant boosts for brain and body. Today’s offering is easy on the lips: Research on the benefits of cocoa for those with mild cognitive impairment.
The research from Italy, published in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension, focused on 90 older people with mild cognitive impairment. Subjects were divided into three groups and given a dairy drink with different amounts of cocoa.
Cocoa as well as grapes, tea, red wine and apples contain flavanols that have been shown to improve cognitive function. In this study, other flavanol sources were eliminated.
The subjects in the high and intermediate cocoa-intake groups had higher overall cognitive scores and lower insulin resistance, blood pressure and oxidative stress than those in the lowest group. The authors question whether the cognitive benefits are from the cocoa directly or a consequence of improvements in cardiovascular function.
Another contributor to these improvements could be magnesium, which is critical for regulating blood pressure. Two teaspoons of non-alkalinized cocoa powder has 50 milligrams of magnesium.
These findings are not a free pass to eat candy. There is the issue of fat and calories with many processed chocolates. But when a craving hits, the best choice is dark chocolate with a high cocoa content.
Start by eating a piece, not the whole bar, and see how that feels. One to two squares might satisfy the craving.
I do recommend an increase in dietary flavanols. Frequent consumption of apples and grapes, and an occasional glass of red wine, is easy.
Cocoa powder is bitter and needs a mixer. My personal favorites: adding cocoa powder to turkey chili, beans, banana-nut smoothies and batters.
Sheah Rarback is a registered dietitian on the faculty of the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine.