As it’s Easter weekend, there could only be one superfood we championed this month – chocolate!

It’s Easter Egg Time Again

It’s quite likely that by lunchtime on Sunday, quite a lot of us will be full of chocolate! Easter brings many gifts, but the giving of Easter Eggs is a particular blessing for those of us who are chocoholics. 

For many shift workers, chocolate is so much more than an annual act of Paschal gluttony.

Guilt-free chocolate – The Night Shift’s Holy Grail

Chocolate is notorious for being the night shift workers friend! After all, who hasn’t craved that chocolate bar in the snack machine at 3am in the middle of a night shift? How else are you expected to keep going?

The only problem is that we all know that chocolate is really bad for us. It’s fattening, filled with sugar and also mildly addictive.

So, a few years ago, when chocolate was suddenly being branded as a superfood, many of us leapt in the air for joy! At last, we could indulge ourselves in the chocolatey treats we crave!

Except that, it seems we might have been jumping the gun a little. More reliable sources have shown that the “chocolate is a superfood” claim isn’t quite what we all hoped it would be.

To get some clarity on the sticky subject, we took a look at some of the claims made about chocolate to see how accurate they really are.

“Chocolate is Full of Antioxidants”

Superfoods are usually classed as foods that are high in antioxidants – compounds which prevent oxidisation and can stop healthy cells from being damaged.

Cocoa is a good source of iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous and zinc, and is also high in antioxidants. But it’s hardly the only source of antioxidants in our diet … there’s red wine for one!
In reality, cocoa scores just above raspberries, pecans and ginger for antioxidants, but has lower levels than sorghum, acai, rose hips and a variety of spices.

Which means that even that glorious combination of red wine and chocolate together won’t give us the same level of antioxidants as many other foods. But who needs antioxidants when you have chocolate and red wine?

“Chocolate can help reduce blood pressure”

The Kuna Indians of Panama drink cocoa as their main beverage, and have very low blood pressure – which is a leading cause of heart disease and stroke.

Unfortunately there are all sorts of factors which might contribute to this healthiness.  A study in 2012 which looked at the effects of chocolate on blood pressure concluded that cocoa and dark chocolate might help to slightly lower blood pressure.

Which sounds good. But just to pour water on our chocolate fire, the authors of the review go on to say that longer-term trials are needed to clarify exactly what effect cocoa has on the cardiovascular system. And also, that cocoa is different from chocolate anyway, with all the sugar and fat that have been added to it … Killjoys!

“Eating Chocolate Prevent Cancer”

A slightly extravagant claim, but certainly one that you can find out there in internet land, and according to the NHS website, it’s not totally outlandish!
There is some limited research which links a cocoa-rich diet in mice and the laboratory experiments with added protection against bowel cancer. Unfortunately, results from some lab experiments aren’t quite the same as saying that by eating your body weight in chocolate this Easter you’ll prevent cancer. Sad Face!

“Chocolate stops stress!”

Surely this must be right?
There is lots of anecdotal evidence from people saying that they need chocolate when they are stressed. And a small study from 2009, found that 30 healthy people who were given 40g of dark chocolate a day for 14 days experienced a reduction in stress hormones.
But, before you rip into the kids Easter eggs, it’s worth knowing that the study was funded by a major chocolate manufacturer, had several limitations and didn’t provide any medical evidence that chocolate has any benefits or effects on stress. Which makes many of us angry and upset, and a little stressed too. 

“Chocolate Helps You Get Over Dementor Attacks”

We know this to be true!

“Two Chocolate Bars a Day Prevent Strokes”

A study carried out in Norfolk in 2015 looked at chocolate consumption and cardiovascular disease. It reported people who ate the equivalent of two chocolate bars a day had a slightly lower risk of stroke than people who never or rarely eat chocolate.
Once again though, it’s never quite as simple as we chocoholics want. The study failed to establish a direct cause and effect relationship, as there was evidence the chocolate eaters were healthy in other ways. Sigh!

Is there any good news out there for chocolate lovers?

It’s important to remember that most of the studies into the health benefits of chocolate, focus on cocoa, not chocolate. Some cocoa products and extracts do seem to have beneficial effects. However, to make chocolate, cocoa is combined with sugar and fat – which is what makes it so delicious, but unfortunately also means it is an energy-dense food that could contribute to weight gain and a higher risk of disease.
So, it seems the answer is no. Chocolate can’t really be classed as a superfood and isn’t really that healthy for us …
But, who cares?!
Chocolate is delicious, and we eat it because it tastes good, not because we think it’s going to make you super healthy.
It may not not be the best thing to eat in vast quantities if you’re trying to stay slim and healthy. But as an occasional Easter treat, and to get you through the odd nightshift, you don’t need to pretend that it’s healthy. Just eat it and love it!
You may not really be a superfood, chocolate, but you are super to us, and we love you!
Long live chocolate …
and a very Happy Easter to you all.
From the My Shift Planner Team