Your taste buds love cocoa. Now, more and more new research shows us that your body loves cocoa, too.

A research study that was published last week shows that compounds called flavanols in certain kinds of cocoa can reduce memory loss. A diet high in flavanols was associated with increased function of a region of the brain called the dentate gyrus, a region of the hippocampus, which may be related to memory.

The study, published in Nature Neuroscience on October 26, found that flavanols from cocoa help retain memory in humans. Previous research showed that the same flavanols helped to reverse age-related memory decline in mice.

Scott Small, the author of the study on cocoa, said that one day, if the findings that flavanols support memory health are replicated by other studies, you might be able to get flavanol supplements in a drug store to support your recall. Flavanols are also found in other foods, such as tea and wine.

However, the authors of the study stressed not to confuse the beneficial flavanol amounts found in cocoa with chocolate.

"Chocolate has only minute amounts of flavanols. Thus, our study does not in any way recommend or suggest eating chocolate," Small said.

Eating small amounts of chocolate can be good for you, however. The best kinds of chocolate are dark chocolates without added sugar or fat. Many flavanols have the health benefits of antioxidants, meaning that they are linked with preventing certain types of cancer, heart disease and even cholesterol.

"They protect the body from free radicals, which can cause damage that leads to heart disease. Flavonoids can also relax blood vessels and lower blood pressure, which may reduce the risk of certain illnesses, such as heart attacks, hypertension and atherosclerosis," said Dr. Murray Mittleman, associate professor of epidemiology at Harvard Medical School.

Other research shows that eating dark chocolate without added sugar is associated with reduced risk of type II diabetes, because it can increase the body's resistance to insulin.

What's the takeaway from these results? You might get an added health boost by adding a touch of unsweetened cocoa powder to your morning protein shake, or by replacing your normal dessert with a few squares of unsweetened dark chocolate. Don't take these findings as a free license to eat as much of your child's Halloween candy stash as you want, though. Sugar, fat and other harmful ingredients added to most commercially produced chocolate still outweigh the health benefits (though it can't hurt to celebrate National Chocolate Day today).

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