Attention chocolate lovers: Your favorite treat might protect you from age-related memory loss, according to a new study recently published in the medical journal Nature Neuroscience.
In the study, Columbia University Medical Center scientists tested the brains and memories of 37 healthy adults in their 50s and 60s before and after a three-month dietary intervention in which subjects drank a mixture containing either a low or high dose of flavanols (a chemical found in cocoa as well as tea and certain kinds of produce) every day. Half the participants also took up an hour of aerobic exercise four times per week too, because previous studies suggest that physical activity can improve brain functioning.
At the end of the study, the high-flavanol group performed much better on the memory tests, regardless of whether they exercised. Researchers said that flavanols helped the typical 60-year-old brains function as if they were just 30 or 40 years old, which is pretty much miraculous. Those who took high doses of flavanols also had significantly better functioning in the area of the brain responsible for memory formation, which could help explain the results. As for exercise? Researchers say older brains might just need more intense activity to benefit.
Before you kick up your feet and tap into your chocolate stash, keep in mind that the flavanol products studied weren't like the stuff you unwrap when a chocolate craving strikes. Because much of the best-tasting chocolate is highly processed and loaded with sugar and milk, it's not a particularly potent source of flavanols. You'd have to eat about seven average-size dark chocolate bars (about 300 grams) per day to emulate the high flavanol doses people consumed during the study: that's 900 milligrams of flavanols (including 138 milligrams of the specific flavanol epicatechin), if you're counting. And while eating loads of chocolate (for your mental health!) might sound super appealing, the benefits don't cancel out the fat and calories in all that candy.
Also worth noting: This study was partially funded by the candy maker Mars Inc., which sells CocoVita flavanol supplements and has an obvious stake in proving that its products work. Like many small clinical studies, more research is needed to confirm the results on a larger scale. But until the results are in, no shade if you want to start upping your chocolate ante. After all, there are plenty of other reasons to eat chocolate for your health. (Thank god.)
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.