In case you were looking for an excuse to eat another piece of Chocolate, a recent study coming out of Italy may be what you need. Further investigating the health claims made about dark chocolate, researchers found that the benefits of eating chocolate started within only a few hours of consumption. If you want to boost your brain health while also having a delicious treat, chocolate may be just what you are looking for.

Plants contain chemicals called flavanols

Most plants contain natural chemicals known as flavanols. These flavanols have antioxidant properties and cocoa beans have some of the highest known concentrations of them.

Antioxidants are small molecules that prevent oxidative stress in the body by capturing pesky molecules known as free radicals. Every day, your cells are preforming different cellular functions, leading to a variety of different chemical reactions. In the process, free radicals are produced. Free radicals are molecules with an odd number of electrons, making them highly reactive. As a result, they tend to attract calcium from your bones and other important atoms in your body. Antioxidants work to collect these free radicals in order to prevent cell damage.

Flavanols have also been shown to lower blood pressure and lead to better blood vessel health. Research has shown that the flavanols found in the cocoa bean specifically have almost immediate benefits in terms of cognitive functioning.

Chocolate can improve cognitive functioning two hours after it is consumed

A new study conducted in Italy at the University of L'Aquila found that the benefit of eating chocolate is almost instantaneous. This research, which was led by scientist Valentina Socci, looked at both the immediate impact of chocolate consumption on the brain, as well as the long-term effects.

They found that in as little as two hours, the flavanols in chocolate already start working to improve cognitive functioning and improve memory. Additionally, they discovered that these chemicals were able to offset the damage done by sleep deprivation, allowing people who have not gotten enough sleep to function better.

The benefits identified by Socci and her colleagues were greatest in elderly participants, especially those experiencing cognitive decline.

They discovered that consuming chocolate five days a week for a period of 3 to 5 months correlated with improvements in attention, processing, memory, and verbal fluency. This suggests that the flavanols in cocoa beans could be used as a way to slow the cognitive decline associated with diseases such as Alzheimer's.

Socci is careful to note that people should still be wary of consuming too much chocolate, as candy bars tend to be loaded with calories, sugar, and saturated fat.