Cognitive Benefits Of Dark Chocolate And Cocoa

While sweet treats often get a bad rap, typically because of the overwhelming sugar content within, there is some specific benefits that can be obtained when you include dark chocolate and natural cocoa into your diet. While some may argue that having a daily chocolate habit can’t be a good thing, it is as long as the amounts of chocolate consumed aren’t too big and the sugar content isn’t too much. It’s important to note that the options with less sugar are preferred. You can get unsweetened cocoa powder and naturally rich dark chocolate in your grocer’s candy and baking aisle.

A recent study found that overall cognitive function was improved after the daily intake of cocoa flavanols. Researchers have been trying to ascertain what type of acute effect the cocoa flavanols may have on specific cognitive experiences and processes. Italian researchers sought to find out what happens to the brain only a couple of hours after cocoa flavanols are consumed. They also considered what type of cognitive improvements could be measured from daily consumption.

The Trial

A randomized and controlled trial was launched to investigate the improvement of cognitive functions in the face of these cocoa flavanols. Those participants that consumed these flavanols on a continual basis showed noticeable enhancements in their working memory performance as well as increased processing of visual information. For many women, it was found that eating a piece of dark chocolate or consuming hot cocoa after a night of sleep deprivation can counteract the cognitive impairment that occurs. Cognitive impairment in such situations usually looks like less accuracy when performing tasks that require premium focus.

It does need to be mentioned that these findings are more noticeable in those who are in their mid life or older. For individuals who are considered young and healthy, the high demand in cognitive testing is necessary to ascertain specific behavioral changes. For those who are older and who consume these cocoa flavanols on a consistent basis, their overall cognitive framework and cognitive abilities take a notable and impressive uptick. Things like verbal fluency, attention to detail, processing speed and working memory are tremendously improved.

The Factors

The reason that these factors are likely more noticeable in older individuals is because of the normal memory decline that tends to happen at a certain age. This is also true of individuals that have suffered from some type of cognitive impairment that occurred as a result of a minor injury that may have resulted in a concussion.

Michele Ferrara and Valentina Socci from the University of L’Aquila in Italy explain: “This result suggests the potential of cocoa flavanols to protect cognition in vulnerable populations over time by improving cognitive performance. If you look at the underlying mechanism, the cocoa flavanols have beneficial effects for cardiovascular health and can increase cerebral blood volume in the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus.”

It can be difficult for some to make dark chocolate or cocoa a consistent part of their dietary patterns because of other aspects of the food that is linked to caloric value, caffeine content, milk content and sugar amounts. So with these specific factors in mind, sometimes consistent consumption of chocolate is a bit harder to navigate. But the darker the chocolate the better it is for you and potential brain power.

Sugar And Inflammation: What You’re Eating Can Harm You

It has become abundantly clear to so many that what we put in our bodies can negatively or positively impact them. The cause and effect symmetry that is pertinent to our diets and our health has been obfuscated by inaccurate information for years. While trans fats, processed foods and fast food is historically unhealthy, the food industry sold a bag of goods when they purported that fat is bad and makes people fat. This is incorrect as fat alone does not do that. The real enemy is sugar. What happens when we consume too much sugar is that our inflammation receptors are activated.

While our body is trying to properly absorb the nutrients of the meal, it’s also trying to thwart off bacteria. That natural process is made more difficult when massive amounts of sugar are in the way. This means that the body is then faced with the challenge of distributing ingested glucose and ridding the system of the bacteria simultaneously. This conflict is what often promotes inflammation. Doctors from the University Hospital Basel have conducted a study on how this conflict is directly related to inflammation and how, in individuals who struggle with their weight, can lead to diabetes.

Weight And Diabetes

Diabetes has many unsavory health implications that shouldn’t be ignored of shirked. The presence of adult-onset diabetes is almost exclusively the result of weight issues and this can lead to widespread inflammation that becomes chronic after awhile. This then becomes an issue as it causes insulin-producing beta cells to stop functioning properly and eventually die off. For those who are a healthy weight, the inflammation isn’t all bad. Mostly because it happens on a short-term basis, as that type of sugar uptake lasts a much shorter amount of time and can even help in activating the immune system.

The research found that the number of immune cells that exist around the intestines naturally increase when a person is eating. They are also referred to as “scavenger cells”. The glucose in the blood then has to be managed by the insulin that the pancreas provides. The substances that the cells contain – called IL-1beta – help to regulate blood sugar along with the insulin naturally produced. For those who have diabetes, this process isn’t simple and it’s effectively thwarted because insulin production is very low. This is what can cause inflammation and then lead to other more serious health concerns if not properly addressed and treated.

Metabolism And The Immune System

The metabolism and the immune system itself and the way that it functions or struggles is directly impacted by this occurrence. The nutrients and bacteria that are ingested with meals can often come against the glucose level and insulin sometimes can’t manage it the way it should. Inflammation is then the result. Many people aren’t aware of the extreme correlation between sugar and inflammation. Sugar is one of the greatest threats to health in this country but so many continue to focus on fat or meat or diary. Although everyone isn’t the same and some people do react poorly to these other options, sugar is the only one that is habit forming.

This is why it’s so essential to be mindful about what you eat and what’s in the things you consume. Sugar is such a palette gratifier that it’s literally in everything – things like tomato soup, bread and fruit. If you have issues with noticeable inflammation, cut sugar out of your diet.

Debunking Medical Mysteries

 

Staying out in the cold will give you a cold
Colds are caused by viruses, either from inhaling infected air droplets sneezed or coughed by someone infected, or by touching something that an infected person has touched and transferring it to your mouth or nose. You don’t get colds from cold air or wind, but the viruses that cause them are more active in the winter- which is why more people get them in the colder months.

 

Chocolate causes acne
Acne is formed when oil glands in the skin make too much of a waxy substance called sebum that can clog pores along with dead skin cells. This allows bacteria to grow and irritate the blocked pores and lead to the red, swollen appearance. Over washing can cause further inflammation too, so a good balance is key. Studies have disproved the chocolate link, though stress has been shown to cause outbreaks.

 

Knuckle cracking leads to arthritis
The popping sound when someone cracks their knuckles is caused by bubbles bursting in the fluid that lubricates joints. When the bones are pulled apart, the capsule containing this fluid is stretched and can “pop”. A study of 74 people who habitually cracked their knuckles and 226 people who didn’t found no difference in rates of arthritis.

 

Sugar makes children hyperactive
Obesity and cavities are much bigger concerns for children having too much sugar than hyperactivity. At least 12 double blind studies have been conducted that observed how children react with diets containing different levels of sugar. None of them could tell the differences between the children who had and had not consumed the most sugar.

 

Stay Awake At Work…Naturally

Take A Breather
Deep breaths raise your body’s blood oxygen levels, which can help increase your energy and alertness by lowering blood pressure and slowing your heart rate. The idea is to breathe deeply into your belly, not your chest. While sitting upright, inhale slowly through your nose and feel your abdomen push out, then exhale slowly through your mouth. Alternatively, a method used for quick energy in yoga calls for quick inhaling and exhaling through your nose while your mouth is closed. It is recommended to take 3 of these rapid breaths within a second, and repeat up to 15 seconds.

Move Around
If you have an office job like so many Americans, try getting a little exercise either on your lunch hour or if you get a shorter break throughout the day. A study from California State University, Long Beach suggested that the participants had a longer time of increased energy after taking a 10 minute walk than they did if they ate a candy bar or other sugary quick fix. The reason that a little brisk exercise works better than a store bought solution is that walking pumps oxygen through your veins and muscles.

Drink More Water
Your brain is made of 83% water, so it just makes sense that if you’re dehydrated it’s not going to function as well as it could or should. Fatigue isn’t the only symptom of dehydration of course, it can also cause depression, confusion, aggravation, constipation, and headaches. Make sure you drink plenty of water, or eat foods that have high water content like fruits and vegetables. Excess caffeine can cause dehydration, so be sure to balance it carefully.

3 Foods You Didn’t Think Were Good For You…But Are

Watermelon
The high liquid content of watermelon, along with the natural sugars and fiber, make it the perfect snack. However, it’s much more than just a snack. Tomatoes are highly touted for their high content of the immune strengthening antioxidant lycopene. The fact is that watermelon actually contains more lycopene (40% actually) than tomatoes. If you bring one home, keep it out even once it’s cut instead of refrigerating it. This may sound strange, but you get the most benefit this way. Room temperature watermelon can continue producing antioxidants for up to two weeks.

Onions
Primarily used for seasoning, onions are high in vitamin C, fiber, folate, and vitamin B-6. They also contain large amounts of quercetin, which can help relieve allergies and has also been known to have anti-cancer effects. Studies have shown that people who eat the most onions can reduce their risk for oral cancer by 84%, colon cancer by 56%, breast cancer by 25% and prostate cancer by 71%. Red onions have the most quercetin, but pink shallots have a wider mix of antioxidants.

Lettuce
Looking at the light green color of most lettuce would generally lead one to believe that it doesn’t have the nutrients of other vegetables, but this is not the case. Iceberg lettuce contains lutein and zeaxanthin, which are carotenoids that reduce the risk of cataracts and age related macular degeneration. Add a salad at the beginning of a meal to get some of these benefits, and you’ll also likely eat fewer overall calories due to feeling more full and satisfied.

What Your Food Cravings Really Mean

If you’re craving a steak or a burger:
Cravings for red meat can signal a lack of iron, or conjugated linoleic acid, which is a fatty acid that helps your body burn stored fat. A healthier option to replace iron is dark, leafy greens like spinach. This is especially beneficial if your diet is high in fat or carbohydrates. Try incorporating smaller amounts of red meat into your diet so that you don’t go overboard when you do indulge.

If you’re craving baked goods:
This usually indicates that your blood glucose levels are fluctuating. The stress hormone cortisol triggers the release of glucose, and thereby insulin to regulate it. The sugars and carbohydrates in baked goods raise levels of blood sugar and serotonin, which is a brain chemical that invokes feelings of happiness. Instead, try a piece of fruit or a glass of 100% fruit juice. Not only will the natural sugars help level you out, but they also provide nutrients like vitamin C that you can’t get from a brownie.

If you’re craving chocolate:
Chocolate contains an amino acid called phenylalanine, which is essential in the body’s production of brain chemicals dopamine and serotonin. These chemicals enhance mood, and reduce pain. A better choice is dark chocolate as it has less sugar and more cacao. Another option is to mix unsweetened cocoa powder with skim milk and add a natural sugar substitute like Stevia.

If you’re craving French fries:
This usually means you’re lacking sodium, or experiencing a blood sugar imbalance caused by cortisol. The simple carbs in potatoes break down to glucose, and the salt will satisfy your need for sodium. The healthy alternative is salted nuts like almonds, pecans, or walnuts. These are full of sodium as well as healthy omega 3 fatty acids. The protein found in nuts will help keep your energy up as well.