It is supposed to be the perfect bedtime drink to send you off to sleep. But in fact, a cup of hot chocolate could be just the thing to peep you up, scientists say.
Research shows that flavanols — plant chemicals abundant in dark chocolate — stave off fatigue and boost mental sharpness.
It is thought that they widen blood vessels, boosting blood flow to the brain. Psychologists asked 30 people to carry out a battery of mental arithmetic tests before and after having a flavanol-rich chocolate drink or a dummy beverage.
They found the sweet drink boosted performance on one of the tests, which involved repeatedly subtracting the number three from a start point of between 800 and 999.
The flavanols also appeared to counteract the tiredness brought on by doing the intensive arithmetic, the British Psychological Society’s annual conference heard.
Researcher Crystal Haskell (CORR) said: “We asked them about their mental fatigue and that increased but the cocoa offset that increase.”
The study, carried out at the Brain, Performance and Nutrition Centre at Northumbria University, also found that a 500mg dose of flavanols was more effective than a higher one.
With this being equivalent to five bars of chocolate a day, the researchers are now trying to find out if lower levels would also be of benefit.
Flavanols belong to a group of compounds called polyphenols, which are also abundant in tea, olive oil, onions, broccoli and blueberries.
Co-researcher David Kennedy said: “The amounts we were giving them were more than you would get from eating small amounts in diet but there is quite a bit of evidence showing that general consumption over time is protective against neurodegenerative disease and decline in cognitive function.
“The more fruit and vegetables and things containing polyphenols that you eat, the better for your brain.”
Other research has credited flavanols with cutting the inflammation linked to heart disease, and with reducing the odds of dangerous blood clots.
They are also said to help keep diabetes and high blood pressure under control.
One of the key attractions for many is that chocolate simply makes us feel good — stimulating the release of chemicals more normally associated with sex and exercise.
Researchers have even gone as far as to claim that the smell of chocolate alone can protect against colds.
But, sadly for chocolate lovers, the treat’s high fat and sugar content means dieticians recommend it is eaten as part of a balanced diet, rich in less appealing foods such a brown rice, pulses and fruit and vegetables. The News