It’s 3 p.m. You’re at your desk, struggling to keep your eyes open and your mind focused on that expense report. Yawning is about all you can muster. Well, forget about chugging a cup of coffee or slipping away for a 10-minute power nap—you can beat that mid-afternoon slump by eating some dark chocolate.
New research, published in the journal NeuroRegulation, showed that dark chocolate is the perfect pick-me-up, actually boosting the brain’s ability to pay attention. The study was conducted at Northern Arizona University by Larry Stevens Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences, and his team. During the study, researchers placed electrodes on the scalps of the study participants to record their brain activity, a process called electroencephalography (EEG). EEG studies were done on 122 people between the ages of 18 and 25. Some participants snacked on a confection containing 60-percent cacao, the raw ingredient in chocolate. Other participants consumed an alternative, like zero-percent cacao chocolate or sugar water. The results? The EEGs for the high-cacao tasters showed that their brains were stimulated, becoming more alert and attentive during cognitive tasks.
“A lot of us in the afternoon get a little fuzzy and can’t pay attention, so we could have a higher cacao content chocolate bar and it would increase attention,” Stevens wrote. Chocolate, the report says, is particularly good at reducing diminished attention, “a common complaint among college students attending lectures and reading academic material.” Alas, for those of us who love a good Snickers or Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, Stevens noted that a regular chocolate bar, with a high sugar and milk fat content, wouldn’t work as well. It’s the high-powered cacao content that boosts attentiveness.
Chocolate also briefly boosts blood pressure, so another component of the study looked at a 60-percent cacao chocolate that contained L-theanine, an amino acid found in green tea. L-theanine lowers blood pressure, which could serve as a counterbalance. Stevens wrote, “The potential here is for a heart healthy chocolate confection that contains a high level of cacao with L-theanine that is good for your heart, lowers blood pressure and helps you pay attention.”
Now that’s something we’ll crave seeing inside the office vending machine.
Kathryn Drury Wagner is a writer and editor based in Los Angeles. Her latest book is Hawaii’s Strangest, Ickiest, Wildest Book Ever!