Cocoa flavanols from dark chocolate improve vision and cognitive function

(NaturalNews) Potent cacao flavanols from dark chocolate have proven effective in lowering the risk from heart disease and sudden heart attack in recent studies. Writing in the journal Physiology and Behavior, researchers demonstrate that antioxidants released by consumption of cocoa products can improve multiple aspects of eyesight and cognitive performance. Scientists from the University of Reading found that improvements in visual function were evident for two and a half hours after ingesting foods high in cocoa flavanols (CF) and certain cognitive brain functions were enhanced. Small amounts of unsweetened dark chocolate can aid visual acuity and boost memory performance.

Prior research studies have shown that the consumption of CF have improved markers of blood hemodynamics, increasing both central and peripheral blood flow. Increased blood flow is an important factor in cerebral health and function and is also essential to the heart and enhanced eyesight.

The study involved 30 healthy adults aged 18 to 25 that were fed either 35 grams of dark chocolate or an equal amount of white chocolate at one week intervals. Visual acuity of the subjects was tested two hours after ingesting each form of the chocolate and set to determine the effect of eating a high cocoa flavanol load (dark chocolate) compared with the low CF condition (white chocolate).

Visual sensitivity was tested by reading numbers that became progressively more similar to the background. Motion sensitivity was determined by detecting moving signal dots against a random motion background. Additionally, cognitive function was assessed by determining the reaction time required to engage processes of attention and inhibition.

The researchers found that participants ingesting the highest amount of cocoa flavanols improved visual contrast sensitivity, and reduced the amount of time needed to detect random motion. The study authors noted of their findings “A reduction in the time required to integrate visual motion could be beneficial in time critical everyday tasks, such as driving. The effect on the simpler early phase of the choice reaction time task suggests that CF can increase response speed in simple tasks.”

An independent study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology examined the effect of cocoa flavanols on sustained levels of cognitive function and mental fatigue. 30 healthy adults consumed drinks containing 520 mg, 994 mg or a control placebo and were tested with a Cognitive Demand Battery to determine memory and ability to accomplish new tasks. Participants were also asked to self-rate themselves on a standard `mental fatigue` scale.

Scientists found that those subjects consuming the CF drinks experienced significant improvement in all cognitive ability tests performed. Mental fatigue was `significantly attenuated` by consumption of the drink containing 520 mg of CF. Natural flavanols have been shown to exert powerful effects on many aspects of health, and cocoa flavanols taken before periods of cognitive demand prove beneficial to memory, learning and fatigue reduction.


By John Phillip


What are dark, milk and white chocolate?

White chocolate is made from cocoa butter, sugar, milk and flavourings such as vanilla.
Milk chocolate is made from cocoa liquor, cocoa butter, sugar, milk and flavourings.
Dark chocolate is made from cocoa liquor, cocoa butter, sugar, and flavourings.
Some standards for chocolate do not classify white chocolate as chocolate because it does not include cocoa liquor, only cocoa butter. For example the Codex Alimentarius international standards for chocolate do not include white chocolate, instead they have a separate standard where they are called cocoa butter confectionery. In this standard a minimum of 20% cocoa butter is specified to be included in the cocoa butter confectionery.



How To Reset Your Taste Buds With Chocolate

Reset Your Taste Buds — Using Chocolate

By Pooja Mottl 10.05.11

Dear Fellow Chocoholics,

Chocolate, in small amounts, can be good for you. But how do you know you’re really eating pure chocolate? Could you in fact be consuming an adulterated knockoff?

The truth is, most of the chocolate America eats is what I call “chocolate in disguise.” Why? Because chocolate Hershey’s Kisses, Milky Way and many bars out there are mostly made of white sugar, milk solids and very little chocolate — as little as 10 percent in some cases! Dark chocolate, the healthier kind, can contain as little as 35 percent. Eating chocolate this way can make you gain weight, increase cravings, desensitize your taste buds and lead to a dysfunctional relationship with this divine dessert.

Here I introduce my “3-Day Chocolate Reset” to help you eat chocolate as close to its whole food origins as possible. I teach this simple, revolutionary tool to assist people in learning what pure chocolate really is, helping them change their cravings, balance their taste buds and eat more mindfully in the process. I know that if you taste the real thing, you’ll find it hard to go back to low-quality chocolate. And you’ll enjoy your chocolate treats in surprisingly smaller portions. You’ll also experience richer flavor profiles while obtaining the maximum health benefits from low glycemic, nutrient-rich cocoa (or cacao), the basic ingredient of chocolate. Best of all, this “reset” isn’t about restriction, it’s about enjoyment!

Let’s get started! Here’s how my Reset is designed:

Part 1: We define “chocolate.”
Part 2: I’ll give you strategies and tips for identifying whole food-based chocolate.
Part 3: You’ll eat only this kind of chocolate for a consecutive 3-day period.

Part 1: What is Chocolate?

Let’s start by understanding that the basics of chocolate come from a plant. The Theobroma cacao tree bears fruit (pods) from which cacao (or cocoa) beans are derived. These beans are fermented, dried, usually roasted and then crushed into nibs. These nibs are then ground into something called cocoa mass, and then might be liquefied. At this stage, almost no processing has taken place, and if you were to add a sweetener like raw cane sugar, vanilla or spices you’d create chocolate in it’s most pure form. This is similar to how chocolate was consumed by the Aztecs, before the bean was discovered by the Spanish in the 16th century. And in this state is where you’ll taste and discover what unadulterated chocolate actually tastes like! You’d also get the greatest nutritional benefits if you ate it in this unprocessed form.

But mass-produced chocolate by companies like Nestle require several more processing steps. From a liquid, it is processed into two parts: cocoa solids (sold as cocoa powder) and cocoa butter. These parts are then combined with large amounts of refined white sugar, milk fat and various additives — amounts so high that the actual cocoa in the chocolate is overshadowed.

The numbers are eye-opening. According to the FDA, most mass-produced chocolate (sweet chocolate) requires only 15 percent of cocoa parts. White chocolate requires only 10 percent. And semisweet/bitter/dark chocolate requires only 35 percent. So that leaves us with the fact that roughly 65 percent of commercial chocolate consists of either sugar, milk and/or additives.

Here’s the ingredient label of a well-known milk chocolate bar. As you can see, sugar is the first ingredient listed:

Milk chocolate (sugar, cocoa butter, chocolate, lactose, skim milk, milkfat, soy lecithin, artificial flavor)

Part 2: Choosing Pure Chocolate

Now that you know how little cocoa there is in everyday chocolate, here are the tools you need to find the pure stuff:

1) Buy only “70 percent” dark chocolate and higher.

The first rule is to pick solid chocolate confections that are made mainly of cocoa, and little else. The highest quality, purest kind of chocolate is usually made up of no more than four to five ingredients: 1) cocoa butter, 2) cocoa solids or cocoa mass 3) sugar, 4) an emulsifier like soy lecithin, and 5) vanilla. No milk, no additives. Most labels will give you a percentage on the front. This percentage pertains to the combined amount of cocoa butter and cocoa solids. If the label doesn’t give you a percentage, even though it says “dark chocolate,” don’t pick it up! The higher the percentage (ex. 80 percent or 90 percent), the more antioxidants, the less sugar and most importantly, the more rich and intense the chocolate flavor. And never buy a bar if sugar is the first ingredient. It should be listed last, or close to last.

2) Choose nibs.

Cocoa nibs are as pure as you can get when it comes to tasting the whole cocoa bean. Nibs are simply the cocoa bean, roasted, dried and crushed into tiny pieces. You can find nibs at places like Whole Foods and on my Shop. I like the Navitas Naturals brand. Their package will last you a very long time. You can also find nibs that come sweetened with a small amount of cane sugar.

3) Choose cacao powder.

Not quite as whole-food based as nibs, cocoa powder usually involves two further steps after the beans are crushed — they’re liquefied, then processed using a press to squeeze out the butter. What remains are the cocoa solids, that are then transformed into powder. So if you’re using cocoa powder to make chocolate milk for example, your drink won’t contain any cocoa butter. The benefit to experiencing pure cocoa powder is that most of the antioxidants from cocoa beans are found in this part, not in the butter!

Part 3: Start Your 3-Day Reset!

Now that you know some common forms of pure cocoa, start eating it! Over a consecutive 3-day period, only eat from the list below. Substitute your chocolate tastings for your daily dessert, so your taste buds can fully acclimate to pure chocolate treats and not get confused by other sugary dessert foods. Over this reset, you will discover a new, gloriously rich chocolate flavor that isn’t masked by sugar and milk. You’ll tame your taste buds and prevent them from getting over-stimulated by mountains of refined sugar. Indulge in one to two portions of the following per day:

Dessert Choice #1: Square chocolate pieces from a 70 percent cocoa or higher solid bar

Have a 1 ½ inch square piece of a 70 percent cocoa or higher, solid chocolate bar as your dessert. Read the ingredient list, keeping in mind the notes from above. I like bars from the Grenada Chocolate Company (, and Alter Eco’s Dark Chocolate Blackout ( But there are plenty of wonderful brands to choose from. You’ll be dishing out about $4.00 for this kind of bar, but it will last you several days, so it’s actually very cost effective.

Dessert Choice #2: Pooja’s Basic Hot Chocolate

Yield: 1 cup


1 cup unsweetened almond milk
2 tablespoons pure unsweetened cocoa (cacao) powder
2 teaspoons (or to taste) pure maple syrup


1. In a heavy-bottomed small sauce pan, heat almond milk over low-medium heat.
2. Turn heat to low, add cocoa and syrup and gently mix together using a small whisk. Whisk until fully incorporated and slightly frothy. Pour and enjoy hot!

Dessert Choice #3: Pooja’s Chocolate Snack Bowl

Yield: Approximately 2 servings


2/3 cup frozen organic raspberries
4 teaspoons pure maple syrup
6 tablespoons (3 oz) old fashioned rolled oats
2 tablespoons cocoa (cacao) nibs


1. In a heavy-bottomed small sauce pan, heat raspberries until mixture melts into a thick sauce, stirring gently over low heat. Stir in syrup. Remove from heat and set aside.
2. Lightly toast oats using a fry pan over low-medium heat, about 3 minutes, or until oats turn slightly light brown at edges. Remove from heat.
3. Using two small ramekins (or equivalent), plate dessert by pouring in 3 tablespoons of oats into each ramekin, then adding 1 tablespoon of nibs as a second layer, finishing by pouring 2 to 3 tablespoons of warm sauce over the top. Enjoy with a spoon, stirring before the first bite to experience all flavors at once!


Congratulations! At the end of these three days, you’ll have learned what most people never get to experience: what true chocolate really tastes like! You’ll have a strong knowledge of what chocolates have been “spiked” (or “disguised” by artificial and processed ingredients like sugar and milkfat), and how to avoid them when you want to. You’ll have helped to partially reset your taste buds in the process and significantly lessened your cravings for commercial chocolate. If you continue eating chocolate this way, you’ll build a deeper appreciation for this powerhouse plant-based food that has become so heavily processed since its ancient origins. Clients who have gone on this reset and have continued to implement these tools in their daily eating patterns have told me they now get “sugar rushes” from eating brand name candy bars. They don’t even like the taste anymore!

If you’re ready to change your health and your diet by staying true to whole foods-based eating, and wish to experience the lusciousness of real chocolate as its naturally meant to be eaten, you’ll now have the knowledge and tools to do it for life! Viva cocoa!

Pooja Mottl, a Whole Food Chef, focuses on sustainable, whole-foods based cuisine. She is a graduate of the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts. You can find all her latest recipes and “3-Day Resets” for a healthier life at Pooja’s Way and on Facebook.

Recipes by Pooja Mottl © 2011 Pooja Mottl. All rights reserved.



Happy National Trivia Day! Test Your Chocolate IQ


Thank you!!


1. Who first discovered the value of the cocoa plant?
2. Where, when, and by whom were the earliest cocoa plantations established?
3. What is the name of the drink made by the Mayans from cocoa beans?
4. Chocolate has not only historically been enjoyed for its flavor, but also for what purpose?
5. When was chocolate introduced into the United States?
6. By 1810, which country was producing half of the world’s requirements for cocoa?
7. By 1810, which country was consuming one-third of the cocoa being produced in the world?
8. When was the cocoa press invented?
9. In 1875, Thomas Jefferson wrote to whom, making a declaration about chocolate’s superiority over tea or coffee for both health and nourishment?
10. Why is lecithin used in making chocolates?


1. The Aztecs and the Mayas
2. In 600 AD, in the Yucatan, by the Mayans
3. Legend had it that one could gain wisdom and power from eating the fruit of the cocoa tree.
4. Medicinal
5. In 1765 when cocoa beans were brought from the West Indies to Dorchester, Massachusetts.
6. Venezuela
7. Spain
8. In 1828 by C.J. Van Houten, a Dutch chocolate master. It was used to squeeze cocoa butter out from the beans.
9. John Adams
10. It is used to reduce the viscosity of chocolate, and to lessen the amount of cocoa butter required in the manufacturing process.



…Great chocolate manufacturers choose their beans in the same way as a wine-maker chooses his or her grape varieties.

…Years ago, when harvesting was over, a dance was performed on the cocoa seeds which had been put out to dry in the sun. This tradition continues today in certain regions of Central and South America.

…Africa is now the world’s leading producer of cacao , Ghana is a leading producer country.

…In the Chuao Valley, In Venezuela, the cacao bean is still cultivated just as it was at the time of the Aztecs.

…Wicker baskets, filled with cacao beans, were among the gifts which the Aztecs offered to the conquistadors.

…For the Aztecs, cocao chocolate was a luxury and the cocao beans were like gold, a rare commodity that served as both currency and gifts for kinds and gods.

…The Aztecs used to prepare a drink for the gods made up of ground cocao bean paste mixed with spices and corn.

…The Imperial torte, a square chocolate cake with five thin layers of almond paste, was created by a master pastry chef at the court of Emperor Franz Joseph (1830 – 1916).

…In 1900, Queen Victoria sent her New Year’s greetings to the British troops stationed in South Africa during the Boer War in the form of a specially molded chocolate bar.

…The end of the Second World War marked a new era in chocolate advertising and image-making, which henceforth would be based on photography rather than the graphic arts.

…On April 4, 1828, Coenraad Johannes Van Houten took out a patent for his newly invented cocoa press, which extracted the cocoa butter from the chocolate liquor, leaving behind powdered cocoa.


How To Tell When Chocolate Has Gone Bad

By Kate Steffens, Chocolate Expert for

We’ve all had that moment, putting on a jacket and finding a long-lost Hershey’s Kiss in the pocket, or finding a forgotten bar of baking chocolate in the back of the pantry. Such is the power of chocolate that many of us would throw caution to the wind and gobble it right up when there is a good chance of stomachache–or worse. So how do you know whether your newly unearthed chocolate is still good? Do yourself a favor and watch out for the following five signs to determine whether your chocolate’s spoiled or if it’s safe to eat.

1. Fat Bloom

When you see a white or grayish film on the surface of your food, it normally means the product has gone bad, but it’s a different story with chocolate. When the cocoa butter fats in chocolate separate from the cocoa mass and rise to the surface, it results in something called “fat bloom.” While not the most attractive thing to see on your chocolate bar, fat bloom is usually safe to eat.

2. Sugar Bloom

Chocolate that has been exposed to humidity or moved quickly from cold to hot temperatures can cause the sugar to crystallize. The result is a grainy, unpleasant texture, and while it’s not harmful to consume, sugar bloom doesn’t make for a very pleasant eating experience.

3. Odor

A sniff test is an easy way to tell if your chocolate will be tasty or off-putting. Chocolate absorbs odors like a sponge, especially when stored in a fridge full of savory foodstuffs. Chocolate is best stored tightly wrapped, in a cool (about 65 °F, unrefrigerated), dry environment away from strongly scented foods.

4. Quality & Freshness

Chocolate is best when eaten within a year of its production, but high quality chocolate can be consumed well past its sell-by date. Some chocolate improves like wine, with age. High quality chocolate contains natural preservatives called flavanols. Flavanols provide excellent antioxidant health benefits while keeping the chocolate fresher-tasting longer than store-bought chocolate containing artificial preservatives.

5. Taste

A small nibble should be enough to alert you to any rancid or off tastes. Watch out for overpowering bitterness and the presence of other, non-chocolate flavors like onion or garlic. Cocoa powder can last a long time if stored properly in a sealed container, but can quickly take on a funky taste and scent if exposed to a pantry full of spices.