Favourites during the season of coziness and comfort food, certain chocolate and cheese varieties offer positive (and surprising) neurological effects.
Hallucinations. Feelings of bliss or excitement. A turbo-charged memory. Chocolate and cheese, those classic postprandial treats, can pack a neurological punch that goes above and beyond their wider known health benefits.
University of Maine researchers have found that consuming as least one serving of cheese a day can boost cognitive performance (most likely due to dairy content.) Another study found that eating less than an ounce of cheese before bed can promote a good night’s rest, possibly because cheese contains tryptophan, an amino acid that has been found to induce sleep.
Curiously, some cheeses do the opposite. Cheddar has been linked with odd dreams and Stilton with hallucinations. More than 80% of those who ate Stilton before bedtime reported nightmares of talking animals, vegetarian crocodiles, and warrior kittens. This is most likely due to a mold found in many blue cheeses that may have psychoactive effects.
Chocolate, on the other hand, is a famous mood enhancer and stress buster, thanks to resveratrol (the same anti-oxidant found in red wine), which boosts serotonin in the brain. It is also thought to increase the production of this happy hormone in the gut, which may help boost your mood and your immune system.
Researchers have also found that chocolate contains other natural compounds (known as flavanols) that can also impact brain function. It’s been shown that a daily dose of flavanol can improve attention, brain processing speed, working memory, and fluency of speech in the elderly.
Little wonder then that chocolate has wormed its way into our hearts (and mouths) since the Mayans started making “bitter water” from the beans found in the pods of the cacao tree. In fact, a recent study showed that six bars of chocolate a week could add years to your life – just make sure it is dark chocolate of the highest cocoa content you can tolerate.
While the right pairing of chocolate and cheese can be a heavenly combination (think goat cheese and milk chocolate or brie with dark chocolate and fruit), many of the positive effects of these delicacies are countered by the concentrated presence of dairy.
So, if you’re planning on serving up a platter of brain-boosting chocolate, maybe skip the cheese course. Or skip the buzz of dark chocolate and tuck yourself in with a nibble of teeth-friendly, tryptophan-heavy mild cheese, but consider practicing moderation with Stilton before bed time.