If chocolate’s a superfood, are Easter eggs good for you?
Friday 07 April 2017
Reading time: 2 minutes
We asked nutrition expert Dr Trevor Simper, how healthy (or otherwise) is this Easter tradition?
I'm looking forward to my Easter egg. I heard somewhere chocolate is a superfood – is it good for me?
Yes and no. Chocolate gives many of us pleasure – it has physiological effects that make it more-ish if not downright addictive. In the short term, this is a benefit!
Some research studies claim that certain types of chocolate are a superfood – something that's particularly good for us. After all, one of the ingredients of chocolate is cocoa, which is a good source of iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous and zinc.
In dark chocolate, with a high cocoa level, there is some evidence that small amounts may reduce risks of heart disease due to flavonoids which are associated with health benefits such as better blood sugar control and better insulin sensitivity (which are both indicators of protection from diabetes).
But one of the difficulties in assessing evidence around this area is that not many neutral studies have been done – work has only ever been done over the short term. Before we can say for certain, there's a need for much longer trials (that are not funded by chocolate manufacturers). There are lots of other foods which contain flavonoids too – vegetables, for instance – but maybe they are not as marketable.
So there's a chance my Easter egg is good for me?
Probably not. Your average Easter egg is likely to contain more sugar and saturated fat than cocoa. There’s little or no nutritional benefit to standard milk chocolate. The only reason to eat it is because it gives us pleasure.
OK. So a dark chocolate egg would be better then?
For something you eat once a year, the type of chocolate is not going to make much difference. What matters is the rest of your lifestyle – what your diet's like over the rest of the week, and how much you move around and exercise.
We recently conducted an experiment that split people into three groups. The first group consumed a drink which contained calories from sugar only. The second group drank the same beverage but then did some gentle walking. And the third group drank a beverage with the same calories but from protein and a little fat, and not so much sugar.
When we traced everyone's blood sugar levels over the next two hours, we found that the second and third groups had a much lower spike in blood sugar. This is a good indicator that gentle exercise after eating or consuming foods which contain a mixture of protein and fat – rather than sugar alone – helps us maintain steady blood sugar.
In the long term, this may help people protect themselves from diabetes.
Final verdict then?
In the end, Easter is once a year. Your annual chocolate egg is unlikely to make a huge difference to your overall health or weight.
So go ahead and enjoy – because that's what the Easter eggs are for – but maybe you'll take advantage of the bank holiday to go for a walk as well!