Yep, that’s right. Scientists are officially saying that one delicious dessert out there is actually good for you! All you dessert-lovers who are holding your breath right now — I hope this doesn’t disappoint. The brain-food that your sweet tooth will love? Cacao!

It turns out that the antioxidants found in cacao beans help boost memory and cognitive function. Even better – regular consumption of cacao could help protect your brain from cognitive decline as you age.

The Study

A team of Italian researchers (who in my opinion, deserve a standing ovation), conducted a meta-analysis of past cacao studies. They looked specifically at what happens to your brain after eating cacao, immediately and after a prolonged period of time. The study was published in Frontiers in Nutrition.

The researchers found that consuming cacao actually boosts blood flow to key parts of the brain. The flavanols work to improve memory, attention span and the speed of processing when it comes to visual imagery.

They also discovered that eating cacao on a regular basis over a long period of time affected the part of the brain linked to age-related cognition. The flavanols in cacao significantly improved the performance of older adults who were already experiencing mild cognitive decline.

Study authors Valentine Socci and Michele Ferrara explained, “This result suggests the potential of cacao flavanols to protect cognition in vulnerable populations over time by improving cognitive performance. If you look at the underlying mechanism, the cacao flavanols have beneficial effects for cardiovascular health and can increase cerebral blood volume in the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus. This structure is particularly affected by aging and therefore the potential source of age-related memory decline in humans.”

Of course, this doesn’t mean you should stuff your face with pounds of cacao day in and day out. The authors of the study were careful to point out that even though “regular intake of cacao and chocolate could indeed provide beneficial effects on cognitive functioning over time,” eating too much could be detrimental to your overall health.

The next time you spot a cacao bar in the checkout line at your local health food store, you might remind yourself that you have a few good reasons to pick it up. Just some food for thought!

Watch the video below for more information (remember cacao, not cocoa):

IFL Science
Frontiers in Nutrition