Last year, the average Briton devoured 11.2kg (24.7lb) of chocolate – the equivalent of munching through 266 Mars bars. And as a nation, our insatiable taste for chocolate accounts for nearly a third of the European market – we spend more than £4 billion on our cocoa-based friend each year!
The delicious taste, smell and texture of chocolate has had people hooked for almost 2,000 years and is a sweet treat craved by millions every day. However, many of us worry that it’s bad for us – and when it comes to birthdays or Christmas, nobody wants to give a loved one a present that may not be helping their health. The good news is that the cocoa in chocolate can actually have lots of health benefits and doesn’t necessarily need to come with lots of sugar and fat that aren’t so good for us. So, how do we make sure our chocolate is doing us favours? We consulted NHS Weight Loss Consultant Dr Sally Norton for her advice.
Choose chocolate with a high cocoa content
Cocoa powder contains a rich source of flavonol compounds. These are types of antioxidants (prompting the naming of dark chocolate as a ‘superfood’) and may improve our brain power, blood pressure and stress levels whilst reducing our risk of heart disease, diabetes and more.
A bar containing 70% cocoa solids has about twice as much health-giving antioxidants per serving as a bar with 35% cocoa solids.
Make sure the cocoa is good quality
The steps involved in processing the cocoa seeds can affect how much of these antioxidants are left by the time we come to eat our chocolate. So it’s important we choose a good manufacturer who ensures the antioxidants aren’t processed out of the cocoa. In its purest unprocessed form, it is often called cacao rather than cocoa – so that’s a good term to look out for.
Keep to the lower sugar variety
By choosing higher cocoa content, you are automatically reducing the amount of sugar in the bar – aim for 85% cocoa. However, if your penchant is for white chocolate or poor quality milk chocolate that is mainly fat and sugar, you need to train your taste-buds to enjoy the delights of really good quality dark chocolate.
Don’t overdo it!
All things in moderation! Even a small bar of dark chocolate can have several teaspoons of sugar that need to be taken into account. Once you get a taste for the darker stuff though, the intense flavours mean that a few squares often satisfy the chocolate cravings quite nicely!
So, giving someone some delicious, good quality dark chocolate for their birthday or just as a treat is a heart-healthy way of showing how much you really love them!
- Dr Sally Norton is an NHS WEight Loss Consultant Surgeon and founder of www.vavistalife.com