Benefits Of Dark Chocolate For Memory

Interesting facts about dark chocolate

Did you know that the European chocolate market is the largest chocolate market in the world, with the UK being one of the major consumers of chocolate within it? On average, each Briton ate up to 3 kg of chocolate in 2021. 

In terms of flavours, milk chocolate is still the most popular choice, although dark chocolate’s popularity is on the rise, with more people opting for vegan and healthier options.

In terms of ingredients, dark chocolate contains 50-90% of cocoa solids and other ingredients such as cocoa butter and sugar. Milk chocolate, on the other hand, contains 10-50% cocoa solids, cocoa butter, milk and sugar; white chocolate does not contain cocoa solids at all and contains only cocoa butter, milk, and sugar. While milk and white chocolate are still considered to be unhealthy snacks, a moderate intake of dark chocolate can actually be beneficial for our health! 

Benefits of dark chocolate for memory

In recent years, researchers found that dark chocolate contains nutrients that can help prevent cardiovascular diseases and diabetes and even improve brain functions, including memory.  

Dark chocolate has been shown to improve several different types of memories:

  • Working memory: a limited amount of information that can be maintained temporarily and manipulated while you perform other mental operations.1
  • Episodic memory: the recollection of your past experiences, such as what you had for dinner last night.2
  • Visual-spatial memory: the memory of an object and its spatial location.1

As the main ingredient of dark chocolate, cocoa solids are the main contributors to dark chocolate’s health benefits. Cocoa solids, which are the remains of cocoa beans when their fats are removed, contain plenty of cocoa flavonoids. Cocoa flavonoids are a group of nutrients that have antioxidant effects and can also prevent diseases associated with metabolic disorders. 

Cocoa flavonoids can help to improve our memory functions by increasing the blood flow to brain regions involved in memory functions. This is important as when we are learning or memorising something, our neurons, which are brain cells that transmit signals to one another, require a lot of oxygen and glucose to work. Cocoa flavonoids stimulate the production of nitric oxide, a compound that widens the blood vessels for more blood to pass through. The increased blood flow helps carry more oxygen and glucose to the brain to meet the increased demand when neurons are hard at work when forming or recalling memories.2 Flavonoids also protect vulnerable neurons and help regenerate neurons in memory-related brain regions that are particularly affected by ageing.3  

Why are neurons important for memory? How your memories are formed and maintained actually depends on the connections between neurons and the neurons’ firing patterns. When a memory is formed, some neurons are activated and form connections with each other. When the memory is recalled, this same group of neurons are activated again. The repetitive recalling of the memory and repetitive activation of the same group of neurons allow them to form stronger connections. The connections between neurons can be modified based on experience. For example, as you grow up, the meaning of the word ‘house’ might have changed for you. You are more likely to recall the image of the house that you think of more often, which means as a child, you may recall a drawing of a house, but as you age, you might start to picture your own house instead. 

Nutritional value of dark chocolate

Antioxidative effects

Dark chocolate that contains high levels of cocoa flavonoids can have an antioxidant effect.4 Our body produces free radicals as byproducts of metabolism. However, these free radicals are very reactive and can cause damage to cells if they accumulate. Cocoa flavonoids can ‘scavenge’ these free radicals and prevent them from causing that damage. Because of this, dark chocolate can reduce inflammation, especially in people with chronic diseases that involve oxidative stress, meaning an overproduction of free radicals. Examples of such chronic diseases include diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular diseases, and neurodegenerative diseases

Prevents metabolic disorders and cardiovascular diseases

As mentioned above, cocoa flavonoids promote the production of nitric oxide, which widens the blood vessels to improve circulation and reduce blood pressure. Besides that, nitric oxide is also important for maintaining the health of the blood vessels and preventing platelets from aggregating in the blood vessels to cause thrombosis.5 Dark chocolate can also prevent cardiovascular diseases due to hypertension by lowering ‘bad’ cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein) and increasing ‘good’ cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein).6

It has also been suggested that cocoa flavonoids are able to improve insulin sensitivity, which allows the body to respond well to the action of insulin.4 Insulin regulates blood glucose levels by stimulating glucose uptake in muscles, the liver, and adipose tissues. By improving insulin sensitivity, diseases associated with reduced insulin sensitivity can be prevented, such as diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular diseases, and metabolic syndrome.

Side effects of dark chocolate

While a moderate intake of dark chocolate brings health benefits, it is high in calories and can cause weight gain if consumed excessively. This is mainly due to its fat and sugar content. Dark chocolate also contains caffeine which might trigger migraines in some people.

Furthermore, commercially produced dark chocolate contains much fewer flavonoids than unprocessed cocoa beans of the same weight. This is because flavonoids in cocoa combined with proteins in our saliva make dark chocolate not as palatable and bitter.5 Some production processes actually reduce the flavonoid contents for the taste alone.4 Therefore, is it still unclear if commercially-produced dark chocolate can have significant health benefits.  


Dark chocolate is not only tasty but is also a good source of antioxidants and can even prevent cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. It has similarly been suggested that dark chocolate could potentially be able to improve certain memory functions and prevent neurological diseases that can cause memory functions to decline. The main component of this ability is the cocoa flavonoids. It is important to note that while dark chocolate can contribute to certain health benefits, dark chocolate should be consumed moderately and complement your daily balanced diet.


  1. Crichton GE, Elias MF, Alkerwi A. Chocolate intake is associated with better cognitive function: The Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study. Appetite [Internet]. 2016 May 1 [cited 2022 Nov 27];100:126–32. Available from: 
  2. Lamport DJ, Christodoulou E, Achilleos C. Beneficial effects of dark chocolate for episodic memory in healthy young adults: a parallel-groups acute intervention with a white chocolate control. Nutrients [Internet]. 2020 Feb [cited 2022 Nov 24];12(2):483. Available from: 
  3. Socci V, Tempesta D, Desideri G, De Gennaro L, Ferrara M. Enhancing human cognition with cocoa flavonoids. Frontiers in Nutrition [Internet]. 2017 [cited 2022 Nov 24];4. Available from: 
  4. Zugravu C, Otelea MR. Dark chocolate: to eat or not to eat? A review. j aoac int [Internet]. 2019 Sep 1 [cited 2022 Nov 26];102(5):1388–96. Available from: 
  5. Katz DL, Doughty K, Ali A. Cocoa and chocolate in human health and disease. Antioxid Redox Signal [Internet]. 2011 Nov 15 [cited 2022 Nov 26];15(10):2779–811. Available from: 
  6. Zomer E, Owen A, Magliano DJ, Liew D, Reid CM. The effectiveness and cost effectiveness of dark chocolate consumption as prevention therapy in people at high risk of cardiovascular disease: best case scenario analysis using a Markov model. BMJ [Internet]. 2012 May 31 [cited 2022 Nov 26];344:e3657. Available from: 
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Pei Yin Chai

Bachelor of Science - BS, BSc(Hons) Neuroscience, The University of Manchester, England

Pei Yin (Joyce) is a recent neuroscience degree graduate from the University of Manchester. As an introvert, she often finds it easier to express herself in written words than in speech, that's when she began to have an interest in writing. She has 2 years of experience in content-creating, and has produced content ranging from scientific articles to educational comic and animation. She is currently working towards getting a career in medical writing or project management in the science communication field.

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