We’re all familiar with ‘Easter eggs’ – secret contents or treats hidden in everything from Blu-rays to computer games. But did you know that chocolate Easter eggs themselves contain nine hidden secrets to discover?
The truth is that, in moderation, Easter eggs are not necessarily bad for you. In fact, dark chocolate eggs contain properties that may boost your health.
Dr Avinash Hari Narayanan (MBChB), Clinical Lead at London Medical Laboratory, says: ‘‘Whatever our background and beliefs, on Easter Sunday many of us can’t resist the lure of a well-decorated and tasty chocolate egg. Given chocolate eggs are the hallmark of Easter and nearly 80 million of these treats are sold each year in the UK, it is important to be mindful of how many we consume and how this impacts us. Apart from giving us that feel-good rush, there are potential benefits to eating a moderate amount of chocolate and so we’ve come up with 9 reasons to relax and enjoy your egg on the 9th:
1 Reduced blood pressure and improved cholesterol: Cocoa beans, the main ingredient of chocolate, contain natural, beneficial plant compounds called polyphenols. These have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties while also influencing blood vessel function. Polyphenols such as flavonoids stimulate the body to produce nitrous oxide in the blood, helping relax blood vessels and so reduce blood pressure. Eating chocolate at least once a week is linked with a 8% reduced risk of heart disease, according to research published in the “European Journal of Preventive Cardiology”. It also found that chocolate contains heart healthy nutrients that may reduce inflammation and improve the amount of good cholesterols in the body.
2 Combatting diabetes: It’s perhaps the opposite of what you might expect, but eating a moderate amount of dark chocolate can help fight diabetes. Dark chocolate contains a flavonol called epicatechin, which can improve the way cells in the body communicate and respond. In blood sugar (glucose) control, this enables the body to better respond to insulin, reducing the risk of diabetes. A 15-day study in “Nutrition and Metabolic Insights” also found daily consumption of flavonoid-rich dark chocolate reduced blood pressure and improved insulin sensitivity in healthy participants.
3 A healthier heart: A fascinating review of studies in the “British Medical Journal”, which included over 114,000 participants, found that those who ate the most chocolate were 37% less likely to have coronary heart disease than people who ate the least chocolate. It’s thought that the effects of chocolate on the circulatory system – opening the blood vessels and reducing inflammation – can help keep our hearts healthy and ward off heart disease. Of course, the full effects of chocolate consumption on the cardiovascular system remains to be studied in robust clinical trials.
4 Prevents liver damage: High blood pressure in the veins of the liver is thought to be linked with liver damage and chronic liver disease. Early research has shown that dark chocolate improves blood flow in the liver, and there are even studies underway looking at whether dark chocolate can prevent liver damage. It is already well established that improving your cholesterol and keeping your blood vessels healthy indirectly protects the liver against disease.
5 A source of minerals: Eating dark chocolate can give you a valuable range of minerals, including copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus and zinc. We all know how important iron is for our blood cells, but copper is equally important in helping our body produce red blood cells. Manganese and phosphorus help keep our bones healthy, while zinc is vital in keeping our immune system, skin and wound healing in check.
6 Better mental health: In a study reported by John Hopkins Medicine, people who ate dark chocolate said that they felt less stressed, and researchers confirmed that, after eating dark chocolate, there were reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Chocolate is also known to improve mental focus. It is widely known that consuming chocolate enables the brain to experience greater positive hormones such as serotonin and endorphins. It’s no surprise, then, that chocolate is so frequently consumed when we are upset.
7 Boosts athletic performance: The flavonoid epicatechin, found in dark chocolate, can increase the production of nitric oxide in the blood. According to research by John Hopkins Medicine, this supports circulation and reduces the amount of oxygen an athlete uses while exercising, allowing them to work out for longer. It’s anti-inflammatory and also has a slightly stimulating effect, due to the fact chocolate contains caffeine. This helps with improved short-term performance and recovery.
8 Keeps your brain healthy: Flavonols in dark chocolate have a positive impact on brain function, including better reaction time, increased visual-spatial awareness and improved memory. One reason for this may be that flavonols increase blood flow to the brain. A study by Oxford University researchers in the “Journal Of Nutrition” examined the relationship between brain performance and chocolate consumption of 2,031 Norwegian people aged between 70 and 74. Those who consumed chocolate (as well as wine and tea) had significantly better cognitive performance than those who did not. In terms of neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, research has suggested that regular chocolate consumption may be associated with a lower risk of disease. Early evidence shows that antioxidants in chocolate protect the brain from harmful substances that damage cells and increase neurodegeneration.
9 Helps fights cancer: Finally, chocolate may have anti-cancer properties. Its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties help protect cells from sustaining damage. In turn, this reduces the risk of cancer cells appearing. Positive associations have been reported in prostate and colon cancers. However, so have negative associations, so definitive conclusions remain to be made.
Dr. Hari Narayanan said, ‘Of course, there’s always a catch. Food items with high sugar and fat content are the leading cause of obesity which is a contributing factor in many conditions.
‘These range from high blood pressure and diabetes to kidney disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, coronary heart disease and stroke. The best way to manage potential risks from obesity is by talking to your doctor and regularly monitoring your biometrics (weight, BMI, body composition, waist circumference) and biomarkers (blood tests).