British Heart Foundation’s dietician Tracy Parker debunks some chocolate myths
A new survey by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) has found that more than two-fifths of Brits confess to being chocoholics, and as many as 45 per cent would really struggle to try and give up the chocolate if push came to Crunch(ie).
This March the British Heart Foundation is asking chocolate lovers take on the Dechox challenge and give up chocolate for the month of March to raise funds for the BHF’s vital research into heart and circulatory diseases.
But how much do we really know about one of the nation’s favourite treats? Tracy Parker, Senior Dietitian at the British Heart Foundation (BHF), spills the beans and debunks some of the most common chocolate myths.
1. Chocolate is good for me
Tracy says: “Sadly, with the average bar containing 250 kcals, it’s not the healthiest choice. Too much chocolate of any type can contribute to weight gain, – a risk factor for heart and circulatory diseases. Dechox is the perfect opportunity to take a Time Out from chocolate but it’s also a great chance to enjoy other foods. The BHF have put together some tasty and nutritious treat ideas available at www.bhf.org.uk/dechox. All of these will provide you with less calories, saturated fat and sugar than an average chocolate bar.
2. Eating chocolate will give me more energy
Tracy says: “The caffeine and sugar in chocolate may give you an energy spike, but the crash that follows will leave you feeling more tired than you did before. When you’re hungry, you’re better off trying to eat foods that provide more slow releasing energy to sustain your energy levels throughout the day. Choose foods with less sugar and more fibre – such as a handful of nuts, a piece of fruit, a small sandwich, or a small bowl of unsweetened cereal.”
3. Dark chocolate is better for me
Tracy says: “Dark chocolate isn’t necessarily better. Dark chocolate can contain more cocoa solids and cocoa butter than milk chocolate. Dark chocolate (with 70% or more cocoa solids) contains the most polyphenols, which can help to reduce blood pressure. But the number of polyphenols depends on how the chocolate is processed. If you are eating Dark chocolate choose 70% coco solids or higher but there are plenty of healthier sources of polyphenols such as berries, nuts and tea.
4. Hot chocolate doesn’t really count
Tracy says: “Unfortunately this isn’t always the case. Cocoa powder used to make hot chocolate does contain less fat because it doesn’t contain the cocoa butter and other fats that a chocolate bar does. However, depending on what you mix the cocoa powder with – whole milk, syrups or cream – your hot chocolate drink can contain as many calories, fat and sugar as one to two and a half average chocolate bars.
5. I’m addicted to chocolate
Tracy says: This is a common misconception. Although it may feel like it, there is no solid evidence that chocolate causes physical addiction. Instead, it is more our feelings about chocolate that tend to affect our behaviour, as we associate it with comfort, reward and celebration. 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.”
6. Chocolate with bubbles in it is ‘lighter’
Tracy says: There is some truth in this – although the energy, fat and sugar content per 100g are like other chocolates. Added air 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 always check the portion size – 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
Tracy says: “There’s a lot to consider here. Any excess energy we consume will lead to weight gain. One chocolate 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. To burn the energy obtained from a chocolate bar, a 50-year-old person needs to walk 45-55 mins.”
8. I can’t eat chocolate because I’m a diabetic
Tracy says: “Most people who have diabetes can usually eat chocolate in moderation and as part of a healthy lifestyle and diet. There’s no need for special diabetic chocolate products. In fact, these are often are higher in energy and 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.
Since Dechox began in 2015 more than 100,000 people have ditched the dark stuff and taken part. Their Aero-ic efforts have raised over £4.5m for the BHF’s vital research. The charity is now calling on even more people take a (chocolate) break and get involved this March.
Each year, around 170,000 lives are cut short by heart and circulatory disease – that’s one person every three minutes. By joining the thousands of other Dechoxers, you can help the BHF keep more hearts beating and blood flowing.
So, send chocolate packing and challenge yourself to a Dechox this March! Sign up now at www.bhf.org.uk/dechox
Tracy’s a registered dietitian. Before joining the BHF, where she advises on nutrition and acts as a spokesperson, she worked in the NHS and private sector specialising in heart health, workplace health and sports nutrition.