You likely already know that eating cacao can help you lose weight, lower your blood pressure and even decrease your risk of heart attack. But now, thanks to a new finding uncovered by a team of chocolate-loving scientists, there’s one more reason to give in to your sweet tooth: It can make you smarter. (Cue the confetti!) In science speak, the researchers found a positive association between eating chocolate and improved cognition.
How'd they come to this life-altering finding? After analyzing data from the 1,000-person Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study (MSLS), the team discovered that those who ate chocolate at least once a week performed stronger on visual-spatial memory, working memory, and abstract reasoning tests compared to those who reported eating chocolate “rarely” or “never.” Lead study researcher Georgina Crichton explained that these functions translate to everyday tasks "such as remembering a phone number, or your shopping list, or being able to do two things at once, like talking and driving at the same time." These positive associations between chocolate intake and cognitive performance—with the exception of working memory—remained significant even after adjusting for variables like age, education, and dietary habits. But that’s not all: As previous studies have suggested, chocolate lovers were also found to have lower incidences of hypertension and type 2 diabetes, compared to non-consumers.
Although the researchers aren’t certain why eating chocolate improves brain function, they speculate that three main cacao compounds are to thank: flavanols, caffeine, and theobromine. The former is an antioxidant that increases blood flow to the brain while the latter two are compounds that have been shown to improve concentration. These active components are found specifically in cocoa, which is used in much higher percentages in dark chocolate (anywhere from 30–100%) than in milk or white chocolate (only 7–15%). So, although the study didn’t site a specific type or quantity of chocolate, if you want to reap the brain-boosting benefits—without consuming excess calories—your best bet is to stick with no more than a one-inch square of the dark stuff per day.