Is Chocolate the New Coffee?

When the midday slump hits, try reaching for some chocolate instead of a cup of joe. Your brain may thank you.
Related To:
FNK_BakingIngredientGuideChocolate_H

FNK_BakingIngredientGuideChocolate_H

Food Network Kitchen’s Baking Ingredient Guide to Chocolate for THANKSGIVING/BAKING/WEEKEND COOKING, as seen on Food Network.

Photo by: Renee Comet ©Renee Comet

Renee Comet, Renee Comet

Chocolate lovers have a lot to be happy about lately. New research is emerging all the time about the potential health benefits of this sweet treat. The cacao plant (from which chocolate is made) is a rich source of antioxidants called flavanols. Antioxidants keep you healthy by fending off free radical damage that leads to — among other things — cancer. And flavanols have specific benefits for your heart: They can lower blood pressure, make blood platelets less sticky and improve blood flow — all of which helps prevent heart disease.

But a brand-new study took a look at chocolate in a new light. The researchers' aim was to investigate not the well-documented vasodilating effect of some flavanols (which dilate blood vessels and lower blood pressure), but the vasoconstricting effect that others can have. "The sympathomimetics are stimulants that acutely vasoconstrict blood vessels and activate the brain in unique ways," explains Larry Stevens, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Northern Arizona University and author of the study. The researchers had subjects eat 60-percent-cacao chocolate and then tested brain activity using EEG images. What they found is that after eating the chocolate, subjects experienced an immediate stimulant effect, their brains were more alert and their blood pressure increased temporarily. This makes chocolate perfect for combating what Stevens calls "the afternoon cognitive slump."

Not any old candy bar will do the trick, however. Look for dark chocolate bars that contain at least 60 percent cacao.

Here are a few that fill the bill:

Or, whip up one of these attention-improving treats:

Sally Wadyka is a Boulder, Colorado-based journalist who writes about nutrition, health and wellness.

Keep Reading

Next Up

This Week's Nutrition News Feed

Eating Chocolate, Midnight Snacks, and Nutrition Labels all in the news this week. More nutrition tips like these at Food Network.

This Week's Nutrition News Feed

In this week's news: Doctors embrace the food-as-medicine concept; chocolate is awesome for a whole new reason; and saturated fat (slowly) comes back into the fold.

This Week’s Nutrition News Feed

In this week’s nutrition news: Chocolate is good for more than just your heart, the war of the protein powders, and say buh-bye to this popular fad diet.

War of the Chocolates

Chocolate is the aphrodisiac of choice on Valentine’s Day. But not all varieties of this confection are created equal. Here’s a rundown of the most-lovable options for you and your waistline.

Chocolate 5 Ways

Just a touch of chocolate is all you need to remind that special someone how you feel. This Valentine’s Day,scrumptious chocolate recipes morning, noon or night.

Chocolate Guide

Buy, use and store the best chocolate for your baking needs.

Inside Scoop: Hot New Foods

Is your head swirling with all the newest “healthy” products you see on market shelves? I just attended the annual Food & Nutrition Conference and Expo in San Diego, California where I was able to check out several hot new items. Here are my top 7 favorite finds.

Chocolate Raspberry Trifle

A trifle is a great make-and-take picnic dessert; bring this chocolate and raspberry layered treat to your next picnic.

Chocolate Tasting Guide

Learn how to taste and select chocolate like a pro.

Fall in Love With Chocolate

There aren’t many things on earth better than chocolate -- even though it's often a fattening sweet, a little bit here and there can be a healthy reward.