Whatever your healthy lifestyle goals, you probably encountered the temptation of chocolate at Easter. With chocolate eggs and bunnies that are only available at this time of year displayed festively at supermarkets, it’s understandable if you indulged a little.
First things first: give yourself a break. Easter only comes around once a year. While you might not consider chocolate a healthy snack, it’s ok to enjoy it in small amounts as part of a balanced diet. Here are some important things to know about chocolate, both the good and the bad.
The good news about chocolate
There’s emerging scientific evidence that chocolate and cocoa (the main ingredient of chocolate) can reduce risk factors for heart disease. Cocoa beans contain flavanols, a group of compounds that can also be found in tea, apples, and many other plant-based foods. Flavanols can have anti-oxidant effects on the heart, may help lower blood pressure and improve the vascular system.
As these good flavanols are found in the cocoa plant, chocolate with a higher cocoa content naturally contains more of the compound. So, the darker the chocolate, the higher the flavanol content is likely to be. Milk chocolate doesn’t contain as much as dark chocolate, and white chocolate actually contains none.
Is dark chocolate good for you? As well as flavanol compounds, dark chocolate also often contains less sugar and fat than milk or white chocolate. Different brands vary though, so check the ingredients label to verify.
And some bad news…
Most chocolate is high in sugar and fat and total energy so overconsumption can impact your weight so it’s important to be mindful of the amount you’re having.
Another important thing to remember is that many studies showing the benefits of chocolate are limited and not definitive, with the researchers themselves admitting that further study is required. That’s not to say the studies are wrong, we just need to be careful to not use them as a green light to over eat chocolate.
What we do know though is that eating small amounts of chocolate in moderation as part of a well balanced diet is healthiest.
Healthy snack alternatives
If you’re fond of the taste of chocolate, but don’t want to indulge, here are some healthy snack alternatives you can try.
Cocoa itself, the main ingredient in chocolate, is low in sugar. You’ll know this if you ever tried a spoonful of cocoa as a child thinking it was drinking chocolate. Plain cocoa is quite bitter but it still has that chocolatey taste. Add some to your low-fat milk and coffee for a homemade healthy chocolate mochaccino!
Cacao nibs are cocoa beans that have been roasted, removed from the husk and broken up. They’re crunchy but taste chocolatey and aren’t very sweet. They can be eaten alone or added to yoghurt, cereal, trail mix and so on.
Healthy chocolate consumption is all about choosing small amounts, enjoying it but having it in moderation. If you’re going to indulge in chocolate once in a while, consider a high quality option. Such chocolate tends to be more expensive, which may mean you’re inclined to buy it in smaller quantities anyway, and to really appreciate what you’re putting in your mouth. Good-quality dark chocolates with high cocoa content (such as 70%) are a good option.