Faculty in the News: Gabriele Gratton, Professor, Psychology


While sugary treats are generally considered flat-out bad for your body and brain (sorry), there's one exception that comes up often: dark chocolate. Specifically, certain compounds in cocoa, which is the main ingredient in chocolate. 

Those compounds are called flavanols, and flavanols have antioxidant properties and can fight off free radicals that cause oxidative stress inside your body and damage your cells. They’re known for being anti-inflammatory too. Over the years, a growing number of researchers have analyzed the effects of those flavanols and their impact on brain health. Here's what to know about how chocolate can benefit the brain (or not).

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“Unfortunately, it is not necessarily true that the chocolate you buy would have the potential benefits that we are talking about,” says Dr. Gabriele Gratton, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Psychology and the Beckman Institute at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

In fact, he adds, certain processes used in making chocolate can decrease the amounts of flavanols that are contained in cocoa. One example is a process called Dutch processing, or alkalization. Also, roasting has been shown to reduce flavanols and the antioxidant potential of cocoa beans. However, processing is necessary to process cocoa beans to make the final product—the chocolate you know and love—taste good.

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