Accidentally Brainy: Can Drinking Cocoa Make You Smarter?:
So while Winter is still here, let’s take a short break from our nearly year-long run of coronavirus coverage.
One of the great things that every season brings us is the food and drink that is traditional to it.
And the interesting questions of why we’ve been doing it that way for so long.
One of the best culinary traditions we have from Wintertime is: Drinking Hot Cocoa!
It turns out that depending on what kind you can get, you might be doing yourself a huge favor; and not just your taste buds…
The Short Answer:
- Let’s take a short break from coronavirus coverage.
- Seasonal food & drink is awesome stuff.
- The reasons we eat & drink it might be even more interesting.
- Hot cocoa might be much more interesting & healthy than something that just tastes good.
- Maybe ancient man like the Aztecs liked it for some very intuitive-reasons.
- Hot cocoa and dark chocolate can cause an endorphin rush.
- We might even drink it to get rid of the winter blues.
- But it also contains magic compounds called flavanols (or flavonoids).
- These compounds are common to all SuperFoods.
- The study showed it improves oxygenation in the brain.
- It happens 60 seconds faster and 300% more.
- Subjects drinking high-flavanol cocoa completed challenging mental tasks 11% faster.
- It seems to also affect the newest & most-creative part of the brain more.
- Many foods we eat that have anti-oxidants also do other great things.
- CocoaVia seems to be one of the few suppliers of high-flavanol cocoa products, but they’re expensive.
- It may be possible to achieve similar effects to their products by using 2Tbsp of natural cocoa.
- High cocoa-content chocolate bars are tough to stomach.
- Perhaps experiments on other high-flavanol/oid foods can yield similar results at lower costs with fewer calories.
Read on to find out the details…
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So ever since explorers came to the new world and found indigenous peoples whipping up some kick-butt cocoa drinks,
The world has had a fascination with chocolate.
Strangely enough, just as we keep learning new lessons today that Ancient Man was not stupid,
Those crazy Aztecs might have really been onto something when the called hot cocoa, “The drink of the gods”.
Because, not only can you catch a serious endorphin Buzz off of really dark chocolate,
It’s probably doing a lot more; and not just from the sugar.
So yes, chocolate does release endorphins in quantities you can actually notice,
Especially if it’s Dark and not Milk, or that rectangular war-crime some people refer to as White Chocolate.
Now we might have been seasonally-attracted to a drink that could help us knock-out the Winter Blues,
Because how often do we drink hot cocoa in the sunny months when people don’t have SAD anymore?
And even though it probably won’t help you shake off “Long COVID” brain fog,
The University of Birmmingham’s School of Sport, Exercise, & Rehabilitation Sciences found that key components in hot cocoa actually Do make your brain work better.
So a few entries ago, we learned that it’s hard to supplement your way out of a bad diet.
But in another super-post, we found that Flavonoids & Flavanols are at the center of many real-world SuperFoods.
These compounds are generally associated with these common properties:
But for us, they do so much more.
They also happen to be the thing Birmingham’s team found was at the center of hot cocoa’s impressive effects.
So in a small study of almost 20 healthy males, aged 18-40,
Subjects were given either normal cocoa, or high-flavanol cocoa.
Then in both tests, they were asked to complete a series of increasingly-complex cognitive tasks.
To check their theories about what the flavanols were doing, both infrared measures of circulation,
And making the subjects breathe in carbon dioxide at a concentration 100x the normal amount in breathing air,
Were both used as indicators.
The results show that for complex cognitive tasks, subjects drinking cocoa with extra flavanols had both a 3x higher and 60-second faster oxygenation response in their blood,
When the artificially-increased intake of carbon-dioxide should have lowered it.
Not only that, but the study also showed the quickest & most-affected areas in the brain were the higher-reasoning centers of the prefrontal cortex,
That newest part of the brain that’s right behind your forehead and does most of the really fancy stuff like inventing Pixar.
Because of this, the subjects drinking the fancier cocoa completed cognitively-taxing tasks 11% faster than those drinking the regular stuff.
And strangely-enough one other group of subjects showed no response at-all.
Those were speculated to be a group of individuals who were already in fantastic cardiovascular shape.
So, at least for the short-term, it seems there might be a limit to what cocoa-flavanols can do.
And as we learned in the flavonoid super-post,
They are concentrated in different forms in several different SuperFoods.
And cocoa was just one of them.
Not only that, but if you look back at the properties of Flavonoids/ols an interesting thing we’ve all heard a million times-over really sticks-out:
So, if we eat foods with anti-oxidants in them, even though those specific compounds may have a hard time making it into our cells to protect them,
(and it is Absolutely possible to get too many anti-oxidants, resulting in other problems)
The food that has anti-oxidants in it also seems to have some other amazing qualities, too!
So, can you achieve the same benefits as the study subjects?
The short answer is: It’s Pricey!
One of the only producers I know of making high-flavanol cocoa products is CocoaVia, which I think is owned by Mars.
And honestly, they sound kind-of expensive. So you’d better be pretty-serious to start spending there.
Other ways might include rolling your own super-dark cocoa with as little sugar as you can stand.
If a 2008 study by Hershey is to be believed, you would need about 15 grams or .2 cups (~2Tbsp) of non-dutched natural cocoa powder to get the same amount of flavonoids from one standard 450mg CocoaVia serving of anything they make.
Another study showed that the process called “Dutching” which makes cocoa taste different, and some say better, results in an average-loss of 60% of all flavonoids in cocoa powder.
This may be the manufacturing process that CocoaVia refers to on their info page that they say makes other sources of cocoa lower in flavanols than theirs.
You might also try the high-content bars from Lindt, which go all the way up to 99%+ cocoa.
Honestly, for my money, anything above 78% tastes, and very-interestingly also feels like Medicine, rather than eating sweets.
Seriously. You get a very definitive buzz after anything above 80-85%, and it isn’t just emotional that would feel like endorphins.
Why spend money on fancy drugs when you can get a very healthy buzz off some super-dark chocolate?
Who knows, you might also just find a source of capsules of natural cocoa powder and take a handful of them that adds up to .2 cups.
Now, the interesting experiments that could be done in the future would be to test if other foods that also have high flavanol content can also have a similar-effect on brain-function.
-Like a more-formalized results-oriented version of what Dr. Neal Barnard did with his pre-dementia patients.
This might be especially-relevant, because it might be possible to get a less-processed, less-expensive version of a flavonoid brain-booster.
But hey, it’s still Winter. Who doesn’t like a seriously kick-butt cup of hot cocoa anyway?
• Source:U. Birmingham
• Source Study: Nature/SciRep – Dietary flavanols improve cerebral cortical oxygenation and cognition in healthy adults
• More Coverage: CocoaVia