We already know that a good dose of chocolate can make us happy. But new research shows it can give our brains and energy a boost as well.
When thinking starts to get fuzzy this afternoon, reach for a piece of dark chocolate to sharpen your mind, says a new study published in the journal NeuroRegulation.
A 60 percent cacao confection will get you past a midday slump by making your brain more alert and attentive while its stimulants give your blood pressure a short-term boost, according to the research from Northern Arizona University.
A regular chocolate bar with high sugar and milk content won't be as good, Larry Stevens, Ph.D. and NAU professor of psychological sciences, told the university's news center.
60% is the magic number
His team's first-ever chocolate consumption study using brain-wave measuring electroencephalography, or EEG technology, also measured blood pressures of its 122 participants. (It must have been tough to recruit participants for this study!)
The Hershey Company, the study sponsor, provided confections that looked identical but had either low cacao content, higher cacao (60 percent), or higher cacao plus L-theanine, an amino acid in green tea that acts as a relaxant.
Chosen for taste and availability, the 60 percent cacao was moderate and kept its effect small but statistically significant, researchers said. If you want to go for it, "there are quite palatable chocolate preparations publicly available containing up to 90 percent cacao," they added. Really.
(Because the study was sponsored by Hershey, you may want to take the results with a grain of salt—er, sugar.)
Jim Gold is a veteran journalist who divides his time between Seattle and the Bay Area.