In praise of chocolate

Back in the 70s, when I first started getting interested in food and nutrition, chocolate was recommended as part of a vegetarian diet because of its high iron content. But apart from that, there wasn’t much good you could say about it; it gave you spots, rotted your teeth, made you fat and/or hyperactive, and was a well-known trigger for migraines.

How times change. Recent studies have found that the flavanols in chocolate can boost memory and brain power. It improves cognitive function in the elderly, and can mitigate or even ward off the symptoms of dementia. If you’re sleep-deprived, it can help with mental alertness. The effects were most noticeable in older adults with mild memory loss or other symptoms of cognitive decline.

Of course, this is dark chocolate we’re talking about, with a high content of cocoa and relatively little sugar and fat. And it’s still true that some of the other constituents of cocoa, like caffeine and theobromine, can cause trouble. When you add in the vast amounts of sugar and other additives that go into the cheaper varieties of chocolate, any health benefits are certainly outweighed by the drawbacks. But still, it’s nice to know that not all ‘sweets’ are bad for you.