Lovers of chocolate and those eagerly awaiting their Easter eggs can rest easy this April knowing their guilty indulgence can actually be a health benefit.
Dr Shawn Somerset, nutritionist and Associate Professor of Public Health at Australian Catholic University (ACU), said it’s all thanks to a group of chemicals known collectively as flavonoids - which can have antioxidant properties and improve arterial function.
“In chocolate, the essential ingredient containing flavonoids is cocoa,” he said. “Clinical trials show that these chemicals can help protect us from damage to the heart and blood vessels, control inflammation, and guard our DNA from damage that can lead to cancer.”
“In general, the darker the chocolate the more flavonoids you’ll find – so we’re looking at chocolate with a cocoa content of at least 70 per cent. Unfortunately, the majority of chocolate consumed in Australia is the less-cocoa and more-sugar type, which doesn’t have the same benefits.”
Dr Somerset said that research has shown that tea is by far the major source of flavonoids in the Australian diet.
“There are a huge range of foods that contain flavonoids – including fruit such as berries and apples, and vegetables such as onion and broccoli – however they are obviously not as appealing to most as a bar of chocolate.”
Dr Somerset warned that those tempted to indulge should remember that chocolate also contains high amounts of calories and saturated fats, and, in some cases, trans fats – linked to weight gain and high cholesterol.
“The key is as always to eat in moderation – and this Easter go for the better quality dark chocolate.”
ACU will launch undergraduate degrees in Applied Public Health next year in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne.