Dark chocolate is touted as being good for your skin, your digestive tract and your taste buds - and now there is evidence that it is good for your brain too.

Experts have been studying the possible health benefits of flavanol-loaded dark chocolate for years, but a recent experiment is the first to show that it can improve brain activity.

An independent study by Professor Andrew Scholey and Con Stough from Swinburne University in Australia shows that regular consumption of chocolate or cocoa powder containing higher amounts of flavanols helps reduce stress on the brain.

In the experiment, people who had regularly consumed cocoa products with high levels of flavanol performed memory tasks equally well as those who had not - but the brains of those who had consumed cocoa were less strained afterwards.

“When consumed regularly, the brain is able to complete memory tasks with less effort,” says Hans Vriens, chief innovation officer at Barry Callebaut, a cocoa and chocolate manufacturer that produces high flavanol products using a method called Acticoa.

The experimenters observed 63 people between the ages of 40 and 65 over 30 days, splitting them into three groups and assigning different drinks to each. Group 1 received a cocoa drink with 500 mg of flavanols, the second group received a drink with 250 mg of flavanols and the control group received a drink with almost no flavanols.

The experimenters then conducted brain scans on the subjects on the first and last day of the study to compare spatial working memory, which is the ability to remember things such as the location of an object.

The results showed that chocolate lowered stress levels in the brain after consumption and allowed test subjects to achieve the same performance with less effort

Flavanols are found in plants, fruit and also in cocoa beans.

For more information, visit www.barry-callebaut.com/51?release=7946.

- M.K.