Flavonols, natural compounds in the cocoa bean, have neuro-protective effects. In other words, problem-solving, memory and general cognition skills are kept sharp when we eat chocolate or drink cocoa, or hot chocolate.
They seem to have a special effect on women, and can counteract the bad effects of a poor night's sleep. The elderly should also be eating some chocolate every day as it helps with attention, processing, working memory and verbal fluency. The effects are more pronounced in those whose cognitive abilities have already started to decline.
The effects are subtler in young and healthy adults—such as during stressful times when they're sitting exams—but they're still there, say researchers from the University of L'Aquila in Italy.
Cocoa flavonols improve the blood flow in the brain, and especially to the hippocampus, which controls memory and is often vulnerable as we age. Flavonols also help maintain heart health, say the researchers, who took another look at a range of previously-published studies.
But you can get too much of a good thing, apparently. Regular consumption of chocolate will increase the calories in our diet, and many of the commercially-available products contain additives, and sugar and milk, that aren't so great for other aspects of our health.
The take-home message: yes, eat chocolate every day, especially as you get older, but try dark chocolate—and ideally containing 70 per cent cocoa—from smaller manufacturers.