Chocolate Recipes That Can Make You Smarter

man eating chocolate bar

Eating chocolate may improve cognitive function, a recent study found. | iStock.com

Chocolate may just be the perfect food. Past studies have found links between eating cocoa or chocolate and a reduced risk of heart disease and improved blood pressure. Now, new research has found a link between eating chocolate and better brain function.

“We found that people who eat chocolate at least once a week tend to perform better cognitively,” Merrill Elias, a professor of psychology at the University of Maine, told the Washington Post. “It’s significant — it touches a number of cognitive domains.”

The study, which was published in the journal Appetite, looked at the dietary habits of nearly 1,000 people between the ages of 23 and 98. The participants also completed various tests designed to measure their cognitive function. Compared to people who shunned chocolate, eating the sweet stuff regularly “was significantly associated with better performance on the global composite score, visual-spatial memory and organization, working memory, scanning and tracking, abstract reasoning, and the mini-mental state examination,” the study’s authors wrote.

The researchers didn’t look at why chocolate might be boosting people’s brain power, but they suspect it might be linked to the flavanols and methylxanthines in cocoa. Previous studies have demonstrated a relationship between those substances and brain function.

Still, you shouldn’t go out and buy up the entire candy store just yet. There’s a lot of work to be done to discover which types of chocolate are best for you and how much you’d really need to consumer to get the brain benefits. Nonetheless, “you can eat small amounts of chocolate without guilt if you don’t substitute chocolate for a normal balanced healthy diet,” Elias told the Post.

Fortunately, getting more chocolate in your diet is easy, and you don’t have to unwrap a candy bar to do it. Here are six brain-boosting chocolate recipes for every meal of the day.

1. Triple Chocolate Crunch Granola

Chocolate granola in a bowl

Chocolate granola | iStock.com

Chocolate for breakfast? It doesn’t have to be a weekend-only indulgence. The crunchy oats in this granola recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction are coated with cocoa powder and then combined with chocolate-covered raisins and melted chocolate chips for a morning treat that’s as healthy as it is delicious. In addition to the brain benefits, eating a dessert item like chocolate at breakfast may help you lose weight, according to researchers at Tel Aviv University.

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups old-fashioned whole rolled oats (not quick or instant)
  • ¼ cup coconut oil, melted (or substitute canola oil)
  • ½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ¼ cup packed dark brown sugar
  • ⅓ cup honey (or use maple syrup or agave nectar)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • ½ to ¾ cup dark-chocolate-covered raisins
  • Nuts, seeds, or dried fruit (optional)

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Add the oats to a large bowl and set aside. Combine the melted coconut oil, cocoa powder, and brown sugar in another bowl. Add the honey and salt to the oil and sugar and mix until you have a liquid paste. Pour over the oats and mix until the oats are fully coated, adding a little more honey if necessary.

Spread the oats on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and immediately sprinkle the chocolate chips over the granola. Stir so that the granola forms clusters. Let cool and then stir in the chocolate-covered raisins, along with the nuts, seeds or dried fruit (if using). Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 weeks.

2. Dark Chocolate, Raspberry, and Brie Grilled Cheese

chocolate bar

Combine dark chocolate with brie and raspberries for a delicious sandwich. | iStock.com

Savory grilled cheese gets a sweet upgrade with the addition of raspberries and healthy dark chocolate. (Dark chocolate has more flavonols than milk chocolate, according to the Cleveland Clinic, though the processing method used can affect the flavanol content.) This rich and delicious sandwich is perfect for a decadent lunch or snack. Recipe from Ambitious Kitchen.

Ingredients:

  • 4 thick slices of multigrain baguette
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 4 ounces brie cheese
  • 2 ounces good-quality dark chocolate, broken into pieces
  • ½ cup smashed raspberries (about ¼ pint)

Directions: Butter one side of each slice of bread. Spread the brie on the unbuttered side of two slices. Top with the raspberries and chocolate. Cover with the remaining slices of bread, butter side out.

Warm a skillet over medium-high heat. Place sandwiches in the pan. Cover and cook for about 5 minutes, until bread is golden brown. Flip the sandwich, reduce heat to medium, and cook for a few more minutes, until the cheese and chocolate are melted and the other side of the bread is browned. Serve immediately.

3. Roasted Beet, Mandarin, and Cocoa Nib Salad

cacao beans in wooden spoon and on table

Top a salad with cocoa nibs. | iStock.com

Cocoa nibs – dried chunks of cacao beans – deliver all the health benefits of chocolate without any added sugar and fat. You can use cocoa nibs in desserts and other sweet dishes, but they also work well in savory recipes, like this one for a roasted beet and mandarin salad from Caffeine and You. This salad serves 2 to 4 people, depending on how hungry you are.

Ingredients:

For the salad:

  • 4 to 5 cups cleaned salad greens
  • 1 to 2 roasted beets; trimmed and sliced
  • 2 to 4 mandarin oranges, peeled and separated into sections
  • 2 ounces crumbled goat or feta cheese (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa nibs
  • Sea salt
  • Coarse ground pepper

For the dressing:

  • 4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1¼ teaspoons cocoa powder
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2½ teaspoons honey

Directions: Layer the salad greens on a platter or salad plates. Arrange the oranges, sliced beets, and goat cheese on top of the greens.

Combine the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, cocoa powder, cinnamon, and honey in a small bowl. Whisk until combined. Drizzle over beets and greens. Sprinkle on the cocoa nibs, salt, and pepper. Serve immediately.

4. Creamy Chocolate Banana Smoothie

Chocolate and banana smoothie

Chocolate and banana smoothie | iStock.com

This creamy chocolate and banana smoothie from Running with Spoons may just be the perfect post-workout snack. You get protein from the milk (and protein powder, if you choose to add it) and healthy carbs and fiber from the banana. Meanwhile, unsweetened cocoa powder feeds your brain. To get the most health benefits, choose naturally processed cocoa powder, not Dutch-processed.

Ingredients:

  • ¾ cup vanilla almond milk or regular milk
  • 1 small-to-medium banana, frozen
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • Dash of cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon instant coffee granules (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons chocolate or vanilla protein powder (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon nut butter (optional)

Directions: Add all ingredients to blender. Blend until smooth. Serve immediately.

5. Slow Cooker Chicken Mole

chicken mole

Slow-cooker chicken mole | iStock.com

You can still enjoy the health benefits of chocolate even if you favor savory foods over sweet. Dark, bittersweet chocolate is a key ingredient in this spicy and smoky chicken mole from Martha Stewart. This slow-cooker dish is also incredibly easy to prepare, making it perfect for weeknight dinners.

Ingredients:

  • 4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 12)
  • Coarse salt
  • 1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes
  • 1 medium yellow onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 dried ancho chiles, stemmed
  • 1 large chipotle chile in adobo sauce
  • ½ cup sliced almonds, toasted
  • ¼ cup raisins
  • 3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (½ cup)
  • 3 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¾ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Fresh cilantro leaves, for serving

Directions: Season chicken thighs with salt and place in a 5-to-6-quart slow cooker. In a blender, puree tomatoes, onion, ancho and chipotle chiles, almonds, raisins, chocolate, garlic, oil, cumin, and cinnamon until smooth.

Add tomato mixture to slow cooker, cover, and cook on high until chicken is tender, 4 hours (or 8 hours on low). Serve chicken and sauce topped with cilantro.

6. No-Bake Chocolate Truffles

Chocolate Truffle

No-bake chocolate truffles | iStock.com

Rich and creamy truffles are a delicious treat, and they’re remarkably easy to prepare in your home kitchen. In this no-bake version from Total Noms, crumbled Oreo cookies and cream cheese are coated in semi-sweet chocolate for a dessert you won’t be able to get enough of.

Ingredients:

  • 1 package Oreos or other chocolate sandwich cookies
  • 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, cut into ½ inch cubes
  • 8 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted
  • ¼ cup white chocolate, melted

Directions: Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil.

Pulse the cookies in a food processor until they form a fine crumble. Transfer to a large re-sealable plastic bag, along with the cream cheese cubes. Close the bag.

Shake to coat the cream cheese with the cookie crumbles, then massage the bag for a few minutes to fully combine the cookies and the cheese.

Roll the cookie-cream cheese mixture into 1½- to 2-inch balls. Melt the chocolate, then dip the cream cheese balls fully in the melted semi-sweet chocolate. Shake off the excess and place on the prepared baking sheet.

Melt the white chocolate. Dip the tines of a fork into the white chocolate and shake it over the dipped truffles. Refrigerate the truffles for 30 minutes to 1 hour, until chocolate hardens, then serve.

Follow Megan on Twitter @MeganE_CS

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