Six squares of dark chocolate a day ‘may keep the memory loss at bay’ – as long as you wash it down with a cup of green tea, apples and berries
Eating chocolate might be good for your brain, scientists said today.
Powerful compounds lurking in chocolate — particularly dark varieties — have now been found to boost memory.
Flavanols, as they are called, are also abundant in apples, berries and green tea.
Researchers from the universities of Harvard and Columbia found memory benefits came from consuming 500mg of flavanols each day, in the form of a supplement.
Yet independent nutrition and preventative medicine experts claimed this amount is ‘readily achievable’ through diet.
Powerful compounds lurking in chocolate — particularly dark varieties — have now been found to boost memory
Professor Aedin Cassidy, of Queen’s University Belfast, said: ‘This is a really important study showing that dose of flavonoids called flavanols… is key for improving memory in the ageing brain.
‘The dose required for these improvements in brain health are readily achievable.
‘For example, one mug of tea, six squares of dark chocolate, a couple of servings of berries and apples would together provide about 500mg.’
An apple on its own can contain around 10mg.
The research, published in the journal The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, involved more than 3,500 adults, who were in their 70s, on average. Most were already eating a healthy diet packed with plenty of flavanols.
Participants were given either a daily 500mg flavanol supplement or a dummy pill for three years.
Throughout the study, volunteers were made to perform several memory tests and filled in surveys on their diet.
Memory scores improved only slightly for the group taking the flavanol pill.
But bigger benefits were seen among a subset of people who had poor diet and low flavanol consumption at the beginning of the study.
Their memory scores improved by around 10 per cent more than their peers taking a placebo, results showed.
Researchers stressed, however, that flavanols have ‘no effect on people who do not have a deficiency’.
Professor Adam Brickman, a neuropsychologist at Columbia University, argued the findings ‘raise the possibility of using flavanol-rich diets or supplements to improve cognitive function in older adults’.
Professor Gunter Kuhnle, an expert in nutrition and food science at the University of Reading and co-investigator of the study, described the findings as ‘exciting’.
He said the results ‘suggest that there is an optimum amount of flavanols in the diet’, which is around 500mg daily intake.
But not everyone agrees.
Professor David Curtis, of University College London, said the study showed ‘those taking a flavanol supplement for years had about the same memory function as those taking placebo and any differences were well within chance expectation’.
He added: ‘The authors do claim that a couple of results are statistically significant but in my view this because the analyses have been performed incorrectly.
‘If anything, this study shows that flavanol supplements don’t have any major effect on memory function.
‘The study fails to provide evidence that increasing flavanol intake is beneficial and there is no need for anybody to contemplate changing their diet in the light of its findings.’
The study was funded by Mars, which has it own range of cocoa flavanol products.
WHAT SHOULD A BALANCED DIET LOOK LIKE?
Meals should be based on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally wholegrain, according to the NHS
• Eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day. All fresh, frozen, dried and canned fruit and vegetables count
• Base meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally wholegrain
• 30 grams of fibre a day: This is the same as eating all of the following: 5 portions of fruit and vegetables, 2 whole-wheat cereal biscuits, 2 thick slices of wholemeal bread and large baked potato with the skin on
• Have some dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soya drinks) choosing lower fat and lower sugar options
• Eat some beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins (including 2 portions of fish every week, one of which should be oily)
• Choose unsaturated oils and spreads and consuming in small amounts
• Drink 6-8 cups/glasses of water a day
• Adults should have less than 6g of salt and 20g of saturated fat for women or 30g for men a day
Source: NHS Eatwell Guide