Indulgences or Brain Food?

by Steve Matthew
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May is a busy month with school winding down and winter finally settling. May also happens to host National Wine Day on May 25th, as well as National Chocolate Chip Day on May 15th. These indulgences may seem unhealthy, but they surprisingly provide healthy additions to our diet and brain health. Acknowledging these benefits can assist with a better understanding of the role these indulgences play in our everyday lives!

What are flavonoids?

Chocolate and wine both contain Flavonoids, which are actually a family of antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables. Flavonoids are a part of many biological activities and are often responsible for protection, color of flower or fruit, aroma, fruit dispersion and attracting pollinators. There are many classes of Flavonoids such as flavones, flavanols, flavanones, flavanonols, flavanols or catechins, anthocyanins, and chalcones. Each class is broken into subclasses which have their own benefits. Generally, the benefits are anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, anti-microbial, lower risk for heart disease, improved cognitive function and brain health, lower risk for cancer, weight loss assistance, and can even strengthen bone health. Flavonoids provide many protective functions for the body. Studies have shown that flavonoids may perform a key role with preventing neurodegeneration caused by Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. Many times, our brains get clogged up and the flavonoids actually help “remove waste”, assisting with the overall health of our brain.


Flavanols are the specific class of Flavonoid that is contained in chocolate. Consumption of flavanols is correlated with lower vascular disease risk and many other health benefits. Regularly eating the right kind of chocolate can keep your mind sharp and your mental health strong. Sixty older people (72.9 ± 5.4 years) were studied in a parallel-arm, double-blind clinical trial that tested their neurovascular coupling and cognition in response after 24 hours and 30 days of chocolate consumption. It is concluded that there is a correlation between neurovascular coupling and cognition function, both of which can be improved by regularly consuming cocoa. Essentially if the correct chocolate or cocoa is consumed, cognitive function and brain activity can increase.


Low levels of alcohol are actually good for the brain. One study shows that it reduces inflammation and improves the brain’s ability to “remove waste”. Another study shows that age-related decline can be combated with the flavonoid Resveratrol, a compound which can be found in grapes and in red wine. This compound actually provides protection to the plant when there is bacteria or risk of infection. The study was performed on rats, but the striking results were that spatial learning and memory improved for all the rats given Resveratrol. This breakthrough can be huge in treating memory loss and diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

Flavonoid Content

Dark chocolates have a higher percentage of cocoa solids than lighter or milk chocolate. The darker the chocolate, the more flavonoids are present. Wine, on the other hand, is a different story, it is much harder to track the number of flavonoids because there are many variables that go into making the wine. The age of the wine, the cultivation area, the type to grape, the technique and sun exposure all contribute to flavonoid content. Of the red wines studied, “Tannat” wine had the highest percentage of flavonoids. Since it is hard to know the number of flavonoids in the food we eat, we can really only estimate unless it is written on the packaging or provided on the product website.

What can we do?

Since we are now all aware of flavonoids and their role with brain health, we must figure out how to reap the benefits in a safe and cost-effective way. Buying chocolate with higher than 70{44c8773cfc5435cd81ad20e0c4d9124b8149e87e023df21bb722cbe5a8d7cc51} cocoa solids is recommended because of flavonoid content. Most grocery stores carry dark chocolates, so finding a suitable chocolate or substitute will not be a challenge. The hardest part will be getting used to the dark chocolate if milk chocolate is your favorite! Eating 49 grams of dark chocolate has the same quantity of flavonoids as 196 ml of red “Tannat” wine. Drinking less than a cup of wine would contain the same number of flavonoids than eating 49 grams of chocolate! Wine seems like the easier option, but consistency is what brings results. Simply adding wine or chocolate once or twice a week can bear results. Drink(responsibly) that bottle of wine or eat a handful of 70{44c8773cfc5435cd81ad20e0c4d9124b8149e87e023df21bb722cbe5a8d7cc51} cacao chocolate chips, your brain will thank you later!
Have you ever thought about creating your own dark chocolate free of preservatives and additives? Making your own chocolate is not scary or difficult. Here is a simple recipe from Sarah Nevins who explains the ease of making this treat at home. The recipe can make chocolate bars, candies and even chocolate chips!

Homemade Dark Chocolate

Easy homemade dark chocolate – made with only 5 ingredients!
Prep time: 5 mins
Cook time: 5 mins
Total time: 10 mins
  • 1/2 cup | 105 grams coconut oil*
  • 1 cup | 118 grams unprocessed 100{44c8773cfc5435cd81ad20e0c4d9124b8149e87e023df21bb722cbe5a8d7cc51} cocoa powder or cacao powder
  • 4 tablespoons | 85 grams of honey or more to taste
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract**
  1. Melt the coconut oil in a small pot over the stove top on a low heat
  2. Once melted remove the oil from the heat and add the cocoa powder, honey, vanilla, sea salt and any additional flavors you want to add.
  3. Whisk everything completely until there are no remaining lumps of cocoa powder and the honey has dissolved into the chocolate mixture.
  4. Pour the chocolate into silicone molds or a lined baking pan and transfer to the freezer for at least 30 minutes or in the fridge for at least an hour. Once they’ve hardened pop them out of the molds and enjoy!
**You can also use cocoa butter in place of the coconut oil for a creamier chocolate.
**If you’re planning on using another extract like mint or almond use it in place of the vanilla.
Store these in the fridge for a chilled treat!


Steve Matthew

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