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The Healthy Food Guide team believe that making small diet and lifestyle changes brings the best long-term gains. We look at the science behind the headlines and promote a balanced way of eating.

Easter can be a tough time of temptation for healthy eaters – but choose your chocolate carefully (and set a limit!) and you can enjoy a sweet treat

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We dig up the truth in this chocolate Q&A…

 

Q Which is healthier – dark, milk or white?
A One of the ingredients in chocolate is cocoa beans and it’s the antioxidants (called flavonoids) in these that seem to be responsible for many of the heart health benefits. These flavonoids, also found in tea and red wine, mop up an excess of cell-damaging free radicals, which can go on to cause disease if left to run riot in the body. As a rule, dark chocolate tends to have a higher cocoa content than milk chocolate, which in turn contains more cocoa than white chocolate. This means dark chocolate is a winner for flavonoids. Indeed, according to one study, dark chocolate contains twice as many flavonoids as milk chocolate and four times more than white chocolate. Meanwhile, there’s some evidence that milk may interfere with the absorption of flavonoids from chocolate. This means dark chocolate is probably the better option for our heart health.

Q Is plain less fattening than milk chocolate?
A Chocolate is high in fat, and therefore calories, so it makes sense to stick to small portions if you eat it regularly and don’t want to gain weight. Interestingly, though, a recent study carried out by researchers from the University of California, found that adults who ate chocolate more frequently had a lower Body Mass Index than those who consumed it less often, despite taking in more calories overall. Quite why this was the case remains a mystery, but chocolate does have a low GI – in other words, it doesn’t cause the massive highs in blood sugar that you’d expect after eating a high sugar snack. Do check labels, though, as chocolate varies tremendously in calories, fat and sugar. As a rule, the higher the percentage of cocoa solids, the higher the calories and fat, but the less sugar there is. For example, Green & Black’s Organic Milk Chocolate with 34% cocoa solids has 545kcal, 32.6g fat and 47.9g sugar. In contrast, its Dark Chocolate with 70% cocoa solids has 570kcal, 41.9g fat and 28.7g sugar. And its Dark Chocolate with 85% cocoa solids has 630kcal and 53.2g fat – but just 13.6g sugar!

Q Does chocolate really stop you feeling tired and miserable?
A Chocolate increases neurotransmitters in the brain such as phenylethylamine and serotonin, which help to regulate our mood and sleep patterns. Indeed, in a small study from Hull University, researchers found that eating 45g dark chocolate with 85% cocoa solids each day – equivalent to one small bar – for two months eased the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome. In reality, though, chocolate is unlikely to have any greater effect on your mood than a balanced healthy diet will, and is certainly no substitute for a good night’s sleep.

Q Can it help lower blood pressure?
A Studies reveal that consuming small amounts of chocolate or cocoa drinks every day may help to lower blood pressure, although the effect is modest. The priorities for reducing blood pressure are to lose weight, quit smoking, exercise more and eat less salt while eating more potassium-rich foods such as fruit and veg.

Q Does it really give you spots?
A There’s little evidence to suggest that chocolate itself gives you spots or acne. However, research does show that eating a healthy balanced diet that includes plenty of fruit and veg helps leave us with clear, healthy skin.

Q So how much should I allow myself?
A Even though there appears to be a link between chocolate and health, it’s still high in calories and so can contribute to weight gain. Being overweight increases the risk of many of the diseases that small amounts of chocolate potentially help to protect against, such as high blood pressure and heart disease! We recommend sticking to good quality plain chocolate and enjoying it in small amounts – that’s around 25g, equal to three to four pieces or half a small bar. And savour every mouthful.

*Weight-loss results will vary and are down to your individual circumstances and the amount of weight you have to lose.