Eat, Drink and Be Brainy

More and more studies continue to emerge on the brain fit benefits of some food and drinks. The best part is that some of these are foods and drinks that many of us enjoy. We all know that fruits and veggies help our general health, but what other goodies help the function of the brain and could be part of our brain fitness program?

A new study in the Journal of Nutrition (Journal of Nutrition (2009) 139:120-127) evaluated the cognitive performance of over 2,000, seventy - seventy four year olds who regularly eat chocolate, drink tea, or drink wine. Researchers compared these adults performance on a battery of cognitive tests to same-age adults who did not partake in one or all of these culinary delights.

The study concluded that eating chocolate, drinking tea or drinking wine, was associated with improved performance on tests for learning, memory, word association and other types of intellectual function. What's more is that eating and drinking all three was better than one or two. Now let's get to a little of the nitty-gritty.

Chocolate - How Much and What Kind

Chocolate eaters performed better than non-chocolate eaters, but don't go out and stuff your face too much. First of all, the benefits are confined mostly to dark chocolate and the higher the concentration of cocoa, the better. This is where most of the beneficial flavonoids come from in this particular delicacy. As for the amount, about 10g per day did the trick, which is about one-third of an ounce for you non-metric types. Just a little square after dinner will do it.

Tea Time

Tea drinkers did better than those who didn't drink tea on all the cognitive tests as well. The researchers in this study were not able to separate green tea from black tea drinkers. Both types of tea have about equal concentrations of flavonoids anyway, but green tea has been more strongly associated with cognitive performance in the past. This may be due to the fact that it has more of a specific ingredient called, catechins. However, most of the tea drinkers in this particular study population probably drank black tea - so pick your poison, or in this case, your antidote.

Wine and Dine

Wine had the strongest effect on cognitive performance in this study. However, it was a relatively modest amount that had the biggest effect, on the order of about half a glass per day. After that, there wasn't really any added benefit. The study did not include heavy drinkers to evaluate how much is too much. However, past studies have indicated about one to two glasses a day may be OK. White and red wines were not separated for this study either and many previous studies have implicated red wine more strongly in overall health. But, several studies have also implicated any alcohol in moderation to improved cardiovascular tone, which probably translates into neurovascular health as well (the blood supply to the brain).

A big caveat to all of this is that these older adults had likely been eating dark chocolate and drinking tea and wine for a long time. It's unclear how long is necessary to see beneficial effects for any of these, but like most things, it's likely that the earlier the better, but it's never too late to start. Of course, these studies are also associative, which means we can't say for sure that chocolate, tea and wine cause better cognitive performance, but those who use them seem to do better.

So this year, curl up by the fire with a nice glass of wine, cup of tea, or dark hot chocolate and think about thinking about stuff more clearly.

    Editor's Note: Dr. Simon Evans is a brain scientist at the University of Michigan interested in lifestyle approaches to brain health and fitness. He is the author of BrainFit for Life: A User's Guide to Life-Long Brain Health and Fitness. Visit his website at