Remember your flavanols and save your memory

Here is today’s lesson: don’t forget to have your flavanols. Because if you forget to have your flavanols, you might forget to have your flavanols.

That sentence may sound like an exercise in circular logic, but it does have a grounding in scientific health advice. New research has shown that a diet low in flavanols could be a contributing factor in memory decline.

For many on the other side (I refuse to say, ‘wrong side’) of 50, memory decline is a genuine concern. In some cases, it might simply be a perception of memory decline. You might forget a couple of things and start asking yourself, “Have I always been this forgetful?”

Quite often the answer will be a simple ‘yes’. Even younger brains are imperfect, capable of forgetting items, important and otherwise.

But memory decline can be quite real for many as they grow older, so why not protect your brain function? And it appears that a diet high in flavanols may do just that.

What are flavanols anyway?

You don’t know what flavanols are? Perhaps you’ve forgotten!

In all seriousness, many people do not know what flavanols are. Before I joined the YourLifeChoices team 18 months ago, the word itself would have elicited a puzzled look.

Flavanols are chemical compounds found in an array of foods. It won’t surprise you to learn that most of those are foods we already know to be healthy – grapes, broccoli, onions and a host of other fruit and vegetables.

But for those who like to indulge in the odd treat, there’s good news. First, wine is made from grapes and the flavanols are not lost in the process. Second, cocoa is rich in flavanols, which means chocolate – especially dark chocolate – is a good source.

Flavanols and memory

The new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, involved 3500 men and women, all aged over 60. Over a three-year period, half of the group took a daily 500mg cocoa flavanol supplement. The others received a placebo. During that period the participants’ regular diets were also recorded and ‘scored’ for quality.

Taking the group as a whole, they found no significant improvement in cognitive function in those taking the supplement.

But when they drilled down further into the data, they found benefits for a particular subgroup. Those measured as having an otherwise low-quality diet did show improved memory function.

This suggests that, at least in older adults, a certain level of flavanol intake may help maintain healthy cognition. If your diet already includes foods that take you to that level, the supplement likely won’t provide any cognitive assistance.

Further research will be required to gain a greater understanding of the link between flavanol intake and memory function. But the link certainly appears to be there, so as you age, maintaining a flavanol-rich diet will likely be beneficial.

That’s not a blanket blessing for you to load up on wine and chocolate daily though. Small amounts, yes, but the ideal way to get your flavanols is through the foods that will also provide other health benefits.

As well as the grapes, broccoli and onions mentioned above, green tea, berries, tomatoes, peaches and kale are also rich in flavanols.

So, to reiterate today’s lesson: remember to have your flavanols, and you’ll be unlikely to forget to have your flavanols.

Did you know about flavanols? Are you likely to make more of an effort to include them in your diet? Let us know in the comments section below.

Also read: Nine beverages that will give your brain a boost

Health disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Andrew Gigacz
Andrew Gigacz
Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.
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