Chocolate is a globally consumed delicacy.
Luckily, this tasty snack may also confer various health benefits, but not all chocolate is equal in this regard.
Recent research from the United Kingdom further supports this notion.
Flavonoids are a class of natural food compounds which can have a wide variety of bioactive properties.
Cacao is a rich source of flavonoids and a main component of dark chocolate.
Earlier research has been found that cocoa flavonoids can increase levels of nitric oxide. The figure below shows the effects of a cocoa drink containing low or high amounts of the cocoa phenols flavan-3-ols on RNO, a marker for nitric oxide.
Nitric oxide dilates blood vessels and can thereby increase blood flow. This increase in blood flow could theoretically improve nutrient delivery to bodily tissues such as the brain and retina and thereby augment their functions.
Each subject consumed 35 g of commercially available dark chocolate (which is naturally rich in cocoa flavonoids) and in a separate visit they consumed 35 g of white chocolate which only contained trace amounts of cocoa flavonoids.
Forty five minutes later the subjects underwent a variety of visual or cognitive tests.
They found that ingestion of dark chocolate improved several visual and cognitive functions. Most notably, visual contrast sensitivity was increased, which for example, could improve the ability to work in the dark.
Another major finding was a reduction in the time required to integrate visual motion, which could be beneficial in everyday tasks such as driving.
The results suggest that cocoa can improve visual and cognitive performance
Interestingly, the researchers suggested that the positive effects of cacao flavonoids might be larger when chronically consumed, due to their anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties.