In one of Roald Dahl’s famous novels, Mr Willy Wonka throws open the doors to his factory to sweet-toothed youngsters with a taste for chocolate. It’s a tale of greed and temptation but also a celebration of Wonka’s passion for the sweet stuff. And chocolate lovers have cause for celebration this week too; it’s Chocolate Week 2011.
As a dietitian, chocolate crops up in my job quite a bit because there are plenty of truths and myths flying around about just how heart healthy it is. Let’s unravel three of them.
1. Chocolate can keep heart disease at bay
This is a myth. Eating chocolate will not stop you having a heart attack. Various pieces of research over the years, often reported in the media, have suggested chocolate, eaten in small quantities, might have some health benefits. But there are still lots of unanswered questions about chocolate. In the absence of conclusive evidence, I’d never advise anybody to eat chocolate to help prevent heart disease. Fruit and veg as part of a balanced diet, physical activity and giving up smoking are the things that really make a difference.
2. Dark chocolate is more heart healthy than milk chocolate
There may be some truth to this one, but we’re still not clear as to what it is in dark chocolate that might be beneficial. Dark chocolate does contains more cocoa and therefore antioxidants than milk chocolate, which may contribute to good health. You see antioxidents help to mop up harmful free radicals – unstable chemicals that can damage other cells. Scientists think some of these nasty free radicals may also speed up the furring of our arteries. But we can get the beneficial effects of antioxidants by eating plenty of fruit and veg.
It’s also worth remembering that dark chocolate has the same amount of saturated fat as milk chocolate; too much saturated fat can mean higher cholesterol which, in turn, raises your risk of heart disease. So you should still keep dark chocolate as an occasional treat in a healthy balanced diet.
3. Chocolate should be avoided altogether
Another myth. There’s no harm in allowing yourself a treat like chocolate now and again. Completely stopping yourself from eating all the foods you really enjoy isn’t a great idea and won’t help in the long run if you’re trying to eat a healthy, balanced diet. You’ll probably eventually give into temptation and then feel like you’ve failed and abandon your healthy eating efforts.
So let’s not use this year’s Chocolate Week as a golden ticket to cocoa excess, but there’s no reason why we shouldn’t enjoy chocolate as an occasional treat. I know I probably will!
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