Check Out Chocolate This Easter
By Dietitian, Juliette Kellow BSc RD
Easter might conjure up images of fluffy chicks, daffodils and hot cross buns. But for slimmers, chocolate is likely to be the first thing that springs to mind. With numerous opportunities for indulging in the odd egg or two, Easter is a time of temptation, especially for dieters who’ve avoided chocolate in an effort to lose weight.
According to Jason Vale, author of Chocolate Busters (Thorsons, £10.99), in the UK we spend a massive £4 billion a year on chocolate.
This averages at £65 per person and 53,000 extra calories – enough to help us gain 15lb in a year!
With figures like these, it’s clear that many of us have a real love affair with the dark stuff. Indeed, some surveys reveal that many women would choose a chunk over a hunk any day, opting for chocolate rather than sex!
Surprisingly, there may be a good reason for this. Chocolate contains a naturally occurring chemical called phenylethylamine, which allegedly stimulates the same reaction in the body as falling in love does.
A second chemical in chocolate called theobromine is thought to trigger the release of ‘feel good’ endorphins, giving us a sense of pleasure. And of course, the caffeine in chocolate can act as a stimulant, potentially providing the ‘lift’ in mood that many chocolate lovers claim to experience.
However, there’s little evidence that chocolate truly has any physical effect on our emotions and most health experts agree it’s a psychological effect. In other words, it tastes and feels good in our mouths!
It’s not just our emotions that appear to be affected by chocolate. Research shows chocolate may not be as bad for our health as we once thought – and small amounts may even be good for us!
First off, the cocoa bean – a major component of chocolate – is a good source of naturally occurring plant compounds called flavonoids, which may keep the heart healthy and reduce our risk of diseases like cancer.
Flavonoids act as antioxidants and help to mop up an excess of free radicals that if left unchecked, can damage cells, increasing the risk of health problems like heart disease and cancer.
But before grabbing a huge bar of Dairy Milk, it’s worth bearing in mind that plain chocolate is a richer source of flavonoids than milk or white chocolate, as it’s less processed.
There’s even evidence that the fat in chocolate may not be too bad for our heart! There’s no doubt that chocolate is high in fat – a 50g bar contains around 15g fat. However, around a third of the fat in chocolate is oleic acid – a heart-healthy monounsaturated fat that’s also found in olive oil. The remaining fats in chocolate are predominantly saturates, risk factors for heart disease. But research shows that one of the main saturated fats in chocolate – stearic acid – appears to have no impact on ‘bad’ or LDL cholesterol levels, neither raising nor lowering it.
Chocolate is a reasonable source of some nutrients, including bone-building calcium and magnesium. But bear in mind you’d need to eat large amounts to make any significant contribution to your diet.
Ultimately you’d be better off getting these nutrients from lower-calorie foods such as skimmed milk or low-fat yogurt.
As WLR members know, ultimately it’s calories that count when it comes to losing weight – and chocolate calories are high! Just 50g provides around 265 calories – that’s more than a fifth of the calories recommended for someone on a daily allowance of 1,250 calories!
Having said that, there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy chocolate at Easter – or any other time of year – when you’re trying to lose weight.
Okay, we’re not talking about munching your way through the biggest chocolate Easter egg you can find. But a small piece can give your taste buds a sweet treat and may even help you stick to your diet.
This is because chocolate has a low glycaemic index, which means it doesn’t cause the massive highs and lows in blood sugar that are linked with cravings and constant snacking!
Ultimately, it’s fine to enjoy a little bit of what you fancy – just remember to count the calories.
Chocolate Lovers' Tips for Easter…
- Downsize your eggs – if someone is planning to buy you an Easter egg, ask for one designed for small children – it will be smaller, so you’ll be less likely to overindulge.
- Enjoy the accompanying chocolates or bars and give the egg to someone else. It’s an easier way to control the amount of chocolate you eat and you’ll be more likely to have easy access to calorie information.
- Ask for an Easter egg that’s filled with fruit sweets such as jelly babies rather than more chocolate – they’re virtually fat free and so lower in calories.
- Go for plain chocolate – as well as containing more heart-healthy flavonoids, the more intense flavour will satisfy your taste buds more easily so you won’t want to eat as much.
- Don’t ‘guestimate’ the number of calories in a chocolate egg. Instead, try to work it out. Many eggs now give calorie information per 100g and the weight of the egg itself.
- To calculate the calories in the whole item, multiply the calories per 100g by the weight and then divide by 100. For example, the calculation for an egg that contains 530 calories per 100g and weighs 175g is as follows: (530 x 175) = 92,750 ÷ 100 = 927.5 calories.
- Beware of constantly nibbling at chocolate eggs – you’ll find it easy to polish off the whole egg. Instead, break off a piece and put the rest out of reach.
- Keep chocolate in the fridge – as well as keeping it out of sight, chilled chocolate will last longer in your mouth.
- If you do overindulge, cut down the next day or up your exercise intake to compensate.
- And, if you really want to be good, ask people to buy you flowers instead of chocolate.
You can find out the calorie content and full nutritional information for over 42,000 foods using the Weight Loss Resources food database. Try it Free for 24 hours.