How chocolate makes you smarter
Photo: Steven Siewert
The Clever Country. The Education Revolution. Australia in the Asian Century.
Over the years, Australians have tried hard to increase our national IQ. But, if we’re being honest with ourselves, there’s still a ways to go before we can call ourselves a nation of Einsteins.
The problem is that none of these attempts has ever focused on the things that really matter. If we’re going to get serious about turning ourselves into boffins, then we’re going to have to make real sacrifices and start eating more chocolate. A lot more chocolate.
No really, I’ve researched this whole chocolate eating = brain box thing. And by ‘researched’ I don’t mean I clicked on the ‘Learn about chocolate’ section of the Lindt website.
Instead, my research is pulled from none other than The New England Journal of Medicine. The October issue of which contains a paper written by Franz H. Messerli M.D. on the relationship between the per capita number of Nobel Laureates that a country has produced and its level of chocolate consumption.
Before you say ‘Who comes up with this stuff and what are they on?’, there is a method to Messerli’s madness and it all has to do with a substance called ‘flavanols’. Flavanols have been shown to slow or reverse the drop in cognitive performance that often accompanies aging. It so happens that cocoa is a rich source of flavanols.
Messerli figured that if a country has a high chocolate consumption, then its population should, in theory, have overall better brain function.
But how do you measure the brain function of a population? Messerli’s ingenious answer is that the per capita number of Nobel Laureates that a country has produced provides a rough indicator of the cognitive performance of a population.
The good news for chocolate lovers and chocolatiers alike is that the two are linked; they go together like peanuts and brittle. Switzerland has the highest per capita number of Nobel Laureates and also has the highest chocolate consumption of the 22 countries that have produced Nobel Laureates.
Australia is well down the list with only 13 Nobel Laureates in total. Clearly we need to eat more choccy if we want to turn ourselves into Smarties.
The all-important question though, is how much extra chocolate do we have to eat to increase our cognitive performance?
Messerli estimates ‘that it would take about 0.4 kg of chocolate per capita per year to increase the number of Nobel laureates in a given country by 1.’
He adds ‘The minimally effective chocolate dose seems to hover around 2 kg per year, and the dose–response curve reveals no apparent ceiling on the number of Nobel laureates at the highest chocolate-dose level of 11 kg per year.’
In short, the good doctor is telling us that the more we eat, the cleverer we get.
But, given that some people don’t eat chocolate because of allergies or New Year’s resolutions, this means that some of us will have to compensate and do the heavy lifting for the good of our national IQ. So the next time you upsize from a Freddo to a family size block of Top Deck, remind yourself that you’re effectively taking one for the team.
Of course, Messerli’s research doesn’t show that eating chocolate causes an increase in national intelligence. It only shows that there is a correlation between chocolate consumption and national genius.
There are of course other possible explanations for the relationship between a country’s level of chocolate consumption and the number of Nobel Laureates that it has produced.
One is that both are explained by a third factor, such as the socio-economic status of a country, or geographic and climatic conditions. Messerli says that even if these factors play some role, they would not fully explain the closeness of the link between chocolate consumption and the number of Nobel Laureates.
Another explanation is that smart populations eat more chocolate. Higher cognitive performance could stimulate chocolate consumption.
As Dr Chocolate explains: ‘It is conceivable that persons with superior cognitive function (i.e., the cognoscenti) are more aware of the health benefits of the flavanols in dark chocolate and are therefore prone to increasing their consumption.’
This is still good news for chocolate lovers, since it means that what used to be derided as ‘scoffing an entire box of Quality Streets in one sitting’ should now be recognised as ‘increasing one’s daily intake of cognitive enhancers’.
Clearly this is an area for more research. MUCH more research and I’m not getting any younger. Which is why I’m off to Koko Black — or, as I like to call it, ‘The Flavanols Laboratory’.
Kasey Edwards is the best-selling author of 4 books 30-Something and Over It, 30-Something and The Clock is Ticking, OMG! That's Not My Husband, and OMG! That's Not My Child. www.kaseyedwards.com