Back when food was way scarcer, our ancient ancestors needed to take every advantage they had to consume high calorie foods. So the human brain evolved to perceive sugar—and fat—as very rewarding, says Schwartz. Today, our brains are still wired for feast or famine, even though you can buy thousands of calories of food for a couple bucks at the local convenience store.
Chocolate tastes sinfully sweet, but you may no longer need to feel guilty about indulging in an ounce or two a few times a week. A growing number of studies show that chocolate, especially antioxidant-rich dark chocolate, has health benefits that put it squarely on the latest list of superfoods. A key reason chocolate has so many health benefits is that it is rich in flavonoids, which are naturally occurring substances found in plants that can provide a serious boost in antioxidant action for you.
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Dark chocolate makes my list of 15 brain foods to boost focus and memory for good reason. Previous research showed that “acute as well as chronic ingestion of flavanol-rich cocoa is associated with increased blood flow to cerebral gray matter and it has been suggested that cocoa flavanols might be beneficial in conditions with reduced cerebral blood flow, including dementia and stroke.”
Aside from sunscreen, you may want to chow down on dark chocolate every day to protect your skin against harmful UV rays, according to research from the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology. But not just any old dark chocolate—it needs to be specially produced with preserved high flavanol levels (manufacturing processes destroy the integrity of flavanols).
Sugary drinks, candy, baked goods, and sweetened dairy are the main sources of added sugar. But even savory foods, like breads, tomato sauce, and protein bars, can have sugar, making it all too easy to end up with a surplus of the sweet stuff. To complicate it further, added sugars can be hard to spot on nutrition labels since they can be listed under a number of names, such as corn syrup, agave nectar, palm sugar, cane juice, or sucrose. (See more names for sugar on the graphic below.)
The research is piling up that soda is bad for your brain, as are other added sugars. An animal study from Oregon State University found that a high-sugar diet led to cognitive impairments, including memory problems. And a UK study recently found the “tipping point” at which blood sugar negatively affects the progression of Alzheimer’s. “Excess sugar is well known to be bad for us when it comes to diabetes and obesity, but this potential link with Alzheimer’s disease is yet another reason that we should be controlling our sugar intake in our diets,” study author Dr. Omar Kassaar of the University of Bath said in a press release.