8 common myths about chocolate being good for you
The first of March might bring with it the fasting of Lent, but there’s also thousands of people giving up chocolate this month to raise money for charity!
Sweet-toothed fundraisers are taking part in ‘Dechox‘, a national sponsored challenge that requires giving up chocolate for 30 days while raising cash for life-saving heart research.
And it won’t be easy. Anything with chocolate in it, from chocolate bars to chocolate ice cream, even the sprinkles on a cappuccino are off-limits. Any sort of cocoa is pretty much a no-no.
The money they’ll raise will help fund the British Heart Foundation’s life-saving heart research work.
Over the last two years, nearly 40,000 people have taken on the challenge to chuck the choc and raise money to fund the charity’s world class researchers.
Raising money for a good cause is definitely a positive, but what exactly could be the benefit of giving up smooth scrumptious velvety chocolate goodness?
According to organsiers, “If you’ve ever found yourself sneaking a cheeky chocolate bar after the gym or digging into your desk drawer for an afternoon cupcake, then now’s the time to test your willpower, have fun and feel good in the process.”
Though if chocolate isn’t your thing anyway, lovers of others kinds of sweet and savoury treats are also invited to challenge themselves to take on an ultimate snacking detox and give up all kinds of candy and crisps.
Myths about chocolate
It is tempting to swallow the hype about chocolate being good for you, but don’t believe all that you read:
1. Chocolate is good for me
Chocolate is made from cocoa beans, which contain naturally occurring polyphenols. There is some evidence that polyphenols help reduce blood pressure and have antioxidant properties. However, chocolate is also high in sugars and saturated fat. It is a high-energy (calorie) food, and too much of this energy can contribute to weight gain which is a risk factor of cardiovascular disease. Healthier sources of polyphenols include beans, pulses, fruit and vegetables.
2. Eating chocolate will give me more energy
Chocolate contains small amounts of caffeine, which may contribute to the idea that chocolate makes us more energetic. When you’re hungry, you are better off trying to eat foods that will provide a more sustained energy release. Choose foods with less sugar and fat, and more fibre like a small sandwich, a piece of toast, an apple or a small bowl of unsweetened cereal.
3. Dark chocolate is better for me
Dark chocolate contains more cocoa solids and cocoa butter than milk chocolate but the amount of polyphenols depends on how the chocolate is processed. So, dark chocolate isn’t necessarily better.
4. Hot chocolate doesn’t really count
The cocoa powder used to make hot chocolate contains less fat because it doesn’t contain the cocoa butter and other fats that a chocolate bar will have. But depending on what you mix the cocoa powder with, your hot chocolate drink can contain as much energy (calories), fat and sugar as one to two and a half average chocolate bars.
Be wary of hot chocolates made with full fat milk, and served with high-energy toppings (whipped cream, marshmallows, cocoa sprinkles etc.) Switching your chocolate bar for a lower calorie drink made with semi-skimmed, 1% or skimmed milk and cocoa powder with just a little sugar or sweetener could save you about 100kcal over a chocolate bar and will be a more nutritious option.
5. I’m addicted to chocolate
There is no solid evidence that chocolate causes physical addiction. Instead, it is more our feelings about chocolate that tend to dictate our behaviour, as we associate chocolate with being happier, giving us comfort, and eating as a reward. This connection means that we might emotionally feel that we ‘need’ it, which can make it hard to control how much of it we eat.
Instead, try to obtain pleasurable feelings through other activities that will make you happy in yourself, such as walk in beautiful surroundings, calling friends, or indulging in hobbies you love, like gardening or singing.
6. Chocolate with bubbles in is ‘lighter’
The energy, fat and sugar content per 100g are similar to other chocolates. The difference is in the ‘per portion’, as the added air that gives the bubbles texture makes it less dense than ‘solid’ chocolate, so eating chocolate with bubbles is a bit like eating a smaller bar: you are getting more air and less chocolate, fat, saturated fat and sugar per portion. But watch-out for your portion size as some bubble chocolates are sold as bigger units than your usual ‘solid’ chocolate bar.
7. A chocolate bar is the right portion size to eat
Any excess energy we consume will lead to weight gain. One chocolate bar averages 250kcal: this is equivalent to around 10% of a man’s and 12% of a woman’s recommended intake over a day – often gobbled down in a few minutes. In order to lose the energy obtained from a chocolate bar, a 50 year-old person needs to walk 45-55 mins.
8. I can’t eat chocolate, I’m a diabetic
If you have diabetes, you should be able to consume chocolate in moderation and as part of a healthy lifestyle and diet. There is no need for special diabetic chocolate products that are higher in energy, fat and may still raise your blood glucose levels. Instead, keep to a small amount of regular chocolate and try to have it at the end of your meal, so that your body absorbs it more slowly.
Combat the chocolate cravings
Here’s the British Heart Foundation’s top 7 ways to help banish those chocolate blues:
1. Drink a glass of water, this helps to fill you up and take your mind off those cravings.
2. Go for a walk, even if it’s just to the printer and back! By thinking about something else you will soon forget about those pesky cravings.
3. Chew sugar-free gum – a low calorie, inexpensive snack. It will help keep your gums and teeth healthy and freshens your breath too.
4. Try something bitter, hot or sour to overwhelm the sweetness craving; we find a a glass of lemon water works every time.
5. Keep fruit handy for when those chocolate cravings hit. Swapping out the chocolate for some fruit will mean that you get fibre and nutrients as well as your sweet fix.
6. Eat regularly, long gaps between means may mean you end up snacking on sugary/chocolately foods.
To find out more about the British Heart Foundation’s charity fundraising Dechox challenge, visit: www.dechox.bhf.org.uk