The cocoa-powered brain

It's true -- cocoa may be able to do what drugs can't and save your brain from dementia. But before I go any further, put away the Hershey bars. I said "cocoa," not "chocolate," and I'll tell you more on that in a moment.

First, new research finds that the antioxidants in cocoa could be even more powerful than those in green tea, especially when it comes to protecting the brain from the damage that leads to dementia and even Alzheimer's disease.

Researchers isolated the flavanols found in store-bought cocoa powder, then set them loose on some brain cells in a lab dish -- including brain cells with the beta-amyloid plaques linked to dementia.

It was like giving water to a dying plant.

The cocoa nutrients initiated something called the brain-derived neurotropic factor survival pathway.

I know that sounds like scientific gobbledygook. The key word in there is "survival" -- because the cocoa nutrients allowed dying neurons to survive in the face of certain doom.

And that means those same nutrients could help your own neurons to survive -- helping you to prolong or even reverse the process that leads to dementia.

The research on this is super early. But it's clear from this and dozens of other studies that these cocoa nutrients are healthy -- good for the brain, and good for the heart, too.

Like I said earlier, however, it's important to distinguish healthy cocoa from sugar-soaked chocolate candy -- because sugar is never healthy no matter how much cocoa it brings with it.

The best way to get cocoa power and cocoa taste is to use the same stuff they used in the study: pure, unsweetened cocoa powder.

On its own, it tastes a little like chocolate-flavored chalk. Clearly, you can't eat it that way. Instead, mix it into your coffee or smoothies. If it clumps up and doesn't mix very well, run it through a food processer first to make it extra fine, and it should blend right in.