This time last month the supermarkets aisles were filled to the brim with chocolate Easter eggs. So it’s little wonder that according to YouGov, more of us associate the oldest Christian festival with chocolate than with Jesus. From vegan to Prosecco or gin themed eggs, as well as bunnies, chicks and ducks, we’ve all scoffed a lot of chocs over the last few weeks.
If you were able to stop at one mini egg, well done you, but if you couldn’t rest until you’ve packed away the last morsel of the Hotel Chocolat Ostrich Egg (coming in at a mighty 5,946 calories), read on for some damage limitation tips and why a bit of dark chocolate can be good for you…
Good news first
Chocolate is made from the beans of the cacao tree Theobroma (which aptly means ‘food for the gods’). The beans are processed into a sticky paste, cacao and cocoa powder, or cacao nibs (roughly chopped beans). Both cacao and cocoa powder have fibre and protein, along with good amounts of magnesium and iron, and some calcium, zinc, potassium and vitamin B6. Cacao powder has higher amounts due to gentler processing. The big hitters in cacao and cocoa are the flavanols and methylxanthines with their strong antioxidant properties which scientists have found can improve our gut health in a similar way to prebiotics and probiotics.
Scientists have also found evidence chocolate has anti-inflammatory qualities, can benefit our hearts and lower blood pressure. However, the benefits are unfortunately outweighed by the negatives. The reason chocolate tastes so good is because it contains lots of sugar, milk fats and oils. So, yes it can make you pile on the pounds if you’re not careful.
However, all is not lost. Nutritional Therapist with Nuffield Health, Tracey Strudwick, shares here top tips for enjoying your chocolate fix all year round…
Buy wisely (and not in bulk)
Avoid poor quality chocolate. Look for dark chocolate with a cocoa or cacao percentage of 70 or above. It will be richer and stronger tasting, so less is more satisfying. Milk chocolate has more sugar and milk fats and oils, while white chocolate has high amounts of sugar and none of the phytonutrients found in cocoa or cacao.
Avoid buying large bars of chocolate – choose something small and delicious. Plus, painstakingly unwrapping foil-covered mini treats takes longer than diving into a big one.
Use chocolate as a dessert. Eating it alone will cause your blood sugar to peak, leading to a sharp drop, low energy levels, hunger and craving more sugary foods. Eating your chocolate after a protein and fibre-rich meal will slow down the release of glucose into your bloodstream and prevent the blood sugar rollercoaster.
Stock up on healthy snacks
Make sure you have plenty of tasty, healthy treats to hand. Chopped up veggies and houmous, nuts and seeds are all great choices. If you truly crave some sweetness, try dipping fruit into melted dark chocolate and leaving to set. Or make some chocolate-covered sunflower seeds or almonds.
Cook with cacao
You can get a chocolate hit by adding cacao nibs or powder, or even cocoa powder to smoothies and sweet treats. Alternatively add to quinoa or chia porridge for a super-charged breakfast before the gym. Try it too in savoury dishes like chilli or mole sauce, or even sprinkled on salads.