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Facts about dark chocolate and well-being

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The daily diet of elderly people can well include some dark chocolate. This was confirmed in the chocolate study conducted by Fazer and Gery (the association for gerontological nutrition).

Fazer and Gery conducted the FlaSeCo (Effects of coca Flavanols on Seniors Cognition) study in 2018. The purpose of the study was to find out whether eating dark chocolate is connected with the health and cognition of elderly people.

Most earlier studies on the health benefits of cocoa flavanols have been based on drinks and other products that have been boosted with cocoa flavanols. The FlaSeCo study, however, used genuine dark chocolate, which is naturally rich in flavanols.

A daily dose of dark chocolate

The participants of the chocolate study were men and women in good health, aged 65 or more. The study lasted 8 weeks, and the participants ate 50 g of dark chocolate every day throughout the study – that adds up to a daily dose of seven chocolate pralines.

FlaSeCo was conducted as a randomised controlled double-blind trial*. Some participants were given research chocolate, while others received another type of chocolate for comparison. The research chocolate was Fazer’s 70% dark chocolate, which contains plenty of flavanols (410 mg/ 50 g portion). The other chocolate, on the other hand, was produced from cocoa powder instead of cocoa mass using a special production method, which resulted in a lower level of flavanols - the control group got only 86 g of flavanols each day.

The two different chocolates were marked with different colors of wrappers: one chocolate type with silver wrapper, the other with a white one. The colour code was opened after the study was finished, when both the researchers and the participants found out the exact content of the chocolates.

The participants’ health and brain functions were observed in various ways

The participants brain functions were observed with three tests, as well as a memory test and a quality of life indicator. Their blood samples were also monitored and their nutrition evaluated both before and after the study.

All of the participants were very healthy: those with hypertension, high cholesterol or diabetes were not allowed to participate in the study. If a person had low scores in the memory test in the beginning of the study, they were instructed to go to the health center, and were not able to participate in the study.

Recruiting participants proved to be easy – the senior citizens were interested in chocolate. Their motivation also lasted throughout the study. Of 104 participants, only four dropped out, which is a very small share of all participants particularly considering the age of this group.

The participants also made various interesting observations of themselves during the study. One reported, for example, that chocolate was so energizing that it had an impact on falling to sleep.

The daily diet of seniors can include a moderate amount of dark chocolate

The participants of the FlaSeCo chocolate study were healthy seniors. They already kept a versatile diet and other habits that benefit brain health, and did not gain additional benefits from the daily dark chocolate. As the participants were carefully selected and therefore exceptionally healthy, any changes in their well-being, memory or cognitive functions were small and therefore not scientifically meaningful – even though the methods used to measure memory and other brain functions were sensitive.

The tests showed an improvement in both groups: those who ate research chocolate as well as those who ate the chocolate that contained only little cocoa flavanols. This is likely to be due to learning: when the same test is repeated several times, the results improve and the participants manage to complete the test faster and with less mistakes.

The moderate daily dose of chocolate did not have a negative impact on blood sugar or fat levels. The participants did not gain weight either, which seems to suggest that while they added some chocolate to their diet, they either changed their other habits, too, or observed their sense of hunger and continued to eat sufficiently. This is in line with previous studies: a moderate amount of dark chocolate fits well with a healthy lifestyle and daily diet.

The study also investigated the connections of other aspects of diet and cognition: the seniors who ate fish more frequently, more vegetables and less red meat scored higher in the tests that measured cognition.

Read more about cocoa flavanols and their benefits here.

Dark chocolate contains plenty of valuable nutrients

Flavanoids are antioxidants that can be found in colourful fruits and vegetables. The cocoa bean is rich with flavanols, which are flavonoid antioxidants.

The impact of cocoa flavanols - and the dark chocolate made of cocoa – on the cardio-vascular health, memory and functioning of elderly people has been studied. The results have been partially promising: the cocoa flavanols in dark chocolate are known to benefit the elasticity of blood vessels, which supports blood flow – and healthy, well-functioning veins are also important to brain health.

Dark chocolate contains plenty of potassium, magnesiumi, sink and fibre, as well as some protein. These may also benefit health, and potassium for example is known help control blood pressure.

Read more about the health benefits of various nutrients. LINKKI TERVEUSVÄITEARTIKKELIIN.

According to research, a 30 g daily dose of 70% dark chocolate is sufficient to gain the health benefits.

* A randomised controlled double-blind trial means that the researcher does not decide which of the participants receives the product, and the participants are split into groups randomly.

Blind trial means that the participant does not know whether they get the actual research product or a placebo. Doble-blind means that even the researchers don’t know which of the participants get which product.

A randomised controlled trial is an important tool for studying the prevention and treatment of various diseases, for example.

When the goal is to investigate the impact of dark chocolate, it is important to compare those who eat dark chocolate with those who eat hardly any dark chocolate, or who eat chocolate that contains less cocoa flavanols, for example.

The research was published in a peer-reviewed scientific publication. Read the whole article here.