EAT SMART NUTRITION CONSULTANTS
With the Easter bunny hopping around the corner in a few short days, and Easter eggs gracing our supermarket shelves months ago, it is hard to resist the tradition of chocolate Easter eggs. But our chocolate intake isn't confined to Easter, Australians enjoy kilos of chocolate every year! Whether its milk, dark or white; filled with caramel, encrusted in nuts, laced with cookie pieces or simply plain. Australians love their chocolate!
It is well known that chocolate is a treat which should be enjoyed occasionally but recent hype in the media about chocolate being good for us has caused many people to be confused. Is chocolate that good that it should be consumed daily or bad enough that it shouldn't be consumed too often or ugly enough that we shouldn't eat it at all? The good news is its not ugly - all those chocaholics out there rejoice!
So let's examine chocolate a little more closely - chocolate is made from the cacao seed which is roasted and then separated into cocoa solids (which is then dried to become cocoa powder) and cocoa butter (which is used to make dark, milk and white chocolate). Cocoa butter is mixed with condensed milk and sugar to make chocolate and is refined to make it smooth and creamy. Swiss and German chocolate which is often described as very smooth or silky is refined for longer than Australian or American chocolate.
Nutritionally, chocolate is approximately 30% fat, with over half of this being saturated fat (the nasty cholesterol forming kind!). There is some evidence that the saturated fat in chocolate does not raise cholesterol but more research is required before we can conclude this. Chocolate also contains high amounts of sugar with milk chocolate having 57g per 100g or 13.5 teaspoons!
Chocolate has been purported to have many health benefits, mainly these stem from its high antioxidant content. Cocoa is high in flavenoids, a type of antioxidant. Darker chocolate is higher in cocoa solids and therefore has a higher antioxidant potential, while white chocolate contains no cocoa solids (only cocoa butter) and therefore has few antioxidants. Those people with high levels of antioxidants in their diet tend to have lower rates of health problems so antioxidants have become the super nutrient of the 21st century!
So what is an antioxidant?
Think about cutting open an apple. If you leave it for 5 minutes it will turn brown, this is oxidation or damage from oxygen molecules. If you pour an antioxidant on the cut apple, say orange juice with a high vitamin C content, this will prevent or repair the oxidative damage and the apple will last longer without going brown.
Thus, antioxidants in the body can prevent or repair damage to cells produced by free radicals which can contribute to health problems such as heart disease and diabetes and the aging process. Many foods are rich in antioxidants such as fruits, vegetables, tea, coffee, wine, herbs and spices and dark chocolate.
Ok chocolate is sounding pretty good, how much can I eat?
Chocolate is high in fat and energy so those who cannot stop at a few squares - beware! 1 row or 5-6 squares (30g) of dark chocolate has 8.5g fat, 5g of which are saturated. It contains 650kJ which is equivalent to 2 slices of bread. A block of milk chocolate will set you back 4440kJ (about half of a females daily intake) and 60g (1.5 times a females recommended intake) of fat! Eat it today and you may wear it tomorrow!
So how good is it?
An Italian study into cardiovascular risk factors found low to moderate dark chocolate consumers, in the order of 20g every 3 days had the lowest heart event risk. The flavenoids in chocolate appear to protect the lining of the arteries from cholesterol build-up as well as prevent the clumping of blood platelets which can cause blood clots. Cocoa butter also contains small amounts of plant sterols, which inhibit the absorption of dietary cholesterol. Chocolate also contains the amino acid arginine which may assist in checking blood pressure in check.
So chocolate does have positive health benefits but before you go scoffing Easter eggs with gay abandon over the long weekend, think about this...
o 5 mini chocolate Easter eggs contain 738kJ which is equal to 100g lean steak
o One 40g Cadbury Crème egg contains 764kJ which is equivalent to 2.5 apples
o 100g Lindt Dark choc bunny contains 2243kJ which will take over an hour jogging to burn off
o 150g Red Tulip rabbit contains 3195kJ which will take 1 hr 20 minutes of continuous swimming to burn off
o 162g Ferrero Gold gift pack 13 pieces contains 3786kJ which is equivalent to almost 2 bottles of wine
o 250g Darrel Lea Rocklea Road Easter egg contains 5025kJ which will take 4 hours and 45 minutes of moderate paced walking to burn off
So if you are watching your weight or don't want to run a marathon to burn off your Easter indulgences then choose your chocolate intake wisely!
So the official word on chocolate - it tastes good, but the bad news is you can only eat it in small quantities and if you do eat too much it can be ugly!