- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 26, 2018

Researchers are stepping up efforts to concretely determine the health benefits of cacao-rich dark chocolate, with human trials yielding positive results that the dessert has direct impact on our moods and increases functioning of the brain and heart.

Dr. Lee S. Berk, associate dean of research affairs at Loma Linda University in California, presented new findings this week on how cacao-rich dark chocolate influences the cellular immune response and increases brain function, in two separate studies presented at the Experimental Biology 2018 meeting in San Diego.

Separately, a new study by researchers in Texas and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on Thursday, showed that eating dark chocolate compared to milk chocolate improved eyesight among participants for up to two hours after consumption.

Dark chocolate with a high percentage of cacao rich in flavonoids, a potent antioxidant, has shown numerous health benefits for the consumer, including lowering blood pressure and improving and increasing blood flow throughout the body and in particular to the brain and heart.

In Dr. Berk’s findings, eating chocolate with 70 percent cacao was shown to increase communication involved in a number of immune responses, such as T-cell activation, cellular immune response and genes involved in neural signaling and sensory perception, associated with the brains ability to adapt and learn new information and skills, according to a press release of the study.

The second study presented at the San Diego conference shows positive results in increasing brain functions of learning, memory, recall and mindfulness. The participants, who ate 48 grams of dark chocolate with 70 percent organic cacao, were monitored by electroencephalography (EEG) and monitored at 30 minutes and 120 minutes for response.

A typical serving size of packaged dark chocolate is about 38 grams, or three squares of a partitioned bar, with calorie ranges between 200 and 230 per serving. This is about 26 percent of a person’s recommended daily fat intake.

Both of Dr. Berk’s studies were preliminary and serve as a basis for future research with a larger population and longer follow-up time.

The JAMA study, conducted by researchers at the University of the Incarnate Word Rosenberg School of Optometry, San Antonio Texas, found that participants who took an eye exam after eating dark chocolate did better than a similar pool who ate milk chocolate.

The choclate used in the experiment were both from Trader Joe’s, with the dark chocolate having 72 percent cacao, with total flavanols equaling 316.3 mg. The other bar was a crispy rice mix milk chocolate bar with 40 mg of total flavanols.

“The findings reported suggest that a single dose of dark chocolate improves visibility of small, low-contrast targets within 2 hours compared with milk chocolate, but the duration of this difference and clinical relevance remains uncertain,” the authors wrote.

According to the National Confectionary Association, 70 percent of shoppers will “at least occasionally switch to dark chocolate as a better-for-you alternative to milk chocolate.”

As of 2015, dark chocolate sales grew by more than 9 percent. Other trends of shoppers include more people buying higher-end and organic, fair trade and GMO-free chocolate.

Libby Mills, a spokeswoman for Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, said that chocolate isn’t the most sustaining food and that the macronutrient composition of three squares is similar to a slice of white bread with two teaspoons of butter.

“Not exactly the snack of champions,” she wrote in an email to The Washington Times. “So you have to weigh out your hunger. For a more sustaining snack, try an apple and a couple tablespoons of peanut butter. The fiber and protein helps this 200-calorie snack stay with you longer.”

• Laura Kelly can be reached at lkelly@washingtontimes.com.

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