In my experience, there’s no problem to which chocolate is not the answer. Bad day at work? Eat some chocolate. Feeling stressed about your love life? Reach for the cacao. Need to decide whether to go out with friends or stay in and watch Netflix? Grab a handful of chocolate covered almonds and your decision will become abundantly clear.
Seems that I’m not the only one who turns to the oracle of cacao in times of trouble: the average American eats about 11 pounds of chocolate per year, while the Swiss eat about 20 pounds of Lindt, Toblerone, and other cacao-based products every year. Of course, most chocolate lovers first reach for the stuff because it tastes delicious … not because of the outright health benefits.
Good news, though, if your chocolate-eating habits look more Swiss than American—a new study out of Italy found that when people ate chocolate, their brain function and cognition improved. Participants in the study were better able to recall memory and to process visual information after eating cacao flavanols, the superfood compound in chocolate that boosts brain activity. And best of all? When the researchers studied women in particular, they discovered that eating cocoa after a night of total sleep deprivation counteracted the cognitive impairment associated with getting fewer zzz’s.
Flavanols, the nutrient that researchers found helped most with cognition, are found in tea, wine, apples, berries, and of course, cacao. Technically, indulging in any of those drinks or foods after a long sleepless night could help with brain function (except probably the wine). But flavanols are most abundant in chocolate—which is why the lead researchers on the study recommend going straight to the source to help boost brainpower. “Dark chocolate is a rich source of flavanols. So we always eat some dark chocolate. Every day,” Valentina Socci and Michele Ferrara from the University of L’Aquila in Italy told Science Daily.