Is chocolate bad for our health?

Susannah Hickling

We’ve become rather used to the idea that chocolate’s good for us and are happy to justify our own weakness for the sweet brown stuff when we read some new report about the health benefits. But, with Easter almost upon us, what are the facts?

Chocolate can enhance your health

There’s evidence that polyphenols, naturally occurring compounds found in cocoa and chocolate, might help reduce blood pressure. They might also help cognitive performance, especially in older people, and contain anti-oxidant qualities that could limit cell damage in the body. One study even suggested the sweet treat might enhance performance in sportspeople. Dark chocolate with a high cacao content is best. Milk chocolate has fewer health-giving properties.

 

But—it can damage it too

It’s important to remember that chocolate’s full of sugar and saturated fat. If you gorge on it on a regular basis, you’re likely to put on weight. Being overweight is a risk factor for a number of health problems, including heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

 

The ideal amount is just two squares a day

Sorry if this comes as a bombshell to those of you who think that a bar of chocolate a day is the perfect portion. An average bar will put on 250 calories. You’d have to walk for more than 45 minutes to work it off. However, a square or two of chocolate should be enough to confer the health benefits we’re after.

 

There’s no such thing as a “chocoholic”

Chocolate is the most craved food, which has led to claims that it’s addictive. But it’s likely that we’re simply attracted to the sugar and fat content. We know it’s naughty, so we’re desperate for the stuff when we deny ourselves. At any rate, the compounds in chocolate which have an effect on our brain are also present in greater quantities in other, less appealing foods.

 

People with depression eat more chocolate

Researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine found that the more down people felt, the more chocolate they consumed. The difficulty was that the boffins weren’t able to determine if people ate more bars because they were miserable or if the chocolate actually made them more depressed. In fact, Canadian research found that saturated fat—and there’s quite a bit of that in chocolate—caused metabolic changes that could be linked to depression.

 

You can still nibble a few squares if you have diabetes

It’s a myth that you can’t eat chocolate if you have diabetes. You can still consume it in moderation. And there’s no need for diabetic chocolate. It still has a high fat content, and may raise blood glucose levels.

 

You can enjoy Easter without chocolate

Think of making a few healthy swaps. How about giving a bunch of daffs rather than Easter eggs? Or decorate hard boiled eggs for an Easter egg hunt. But if it would all seem a bit dull without chocolate, opt for the dark variety.