Opinion: I’m sorry, how many chocolate bars?

I recently happened across a story that suggested eating up to six chocolate bars a week could be good for the heart.

I’m sorry, how many chocolate bars?

SMH entitled it just like that: “Six chocolate bars a week could be good for the heart;” could being the operative word here, I presume: It could be, but it’s probably not.

Either we’re all about to be blown out of the water by some new revelations that what we’ve all learnt about consumption of sugar and chocolate in large amounts is actually wrong, or this headline is (just a little bit) misleading.

The claim was backed up by research from Harvard University: A staggering 50,000 people were part of the study that found strong links between chocolate consumption and reducing heart flutter, otherwise known as irregular heart rhythm or cardiac arrhythmia.

As someone who already has an irregular heart beat (it’s fine, really; my cardiologist told me so), naturally I was intrigued about this apparent miracle cure!

The article went on to suggest that men who eat between two and six portions per week had the strongest association. For a woman, it’s much less generous, with the strongest association being to only one portion a week.

The portion or “bar” in this case is classified as a 30 gram, small bar of chocolate. But if we’re truthful about it, there aren’t actually that many chocolate bars that are only 30 grams.

A quick internet search revealed that Cadbury’s ‘Chomp’ and ‘Flake’ bars were of the suggested 30 gram size. The next closest I could find was a Mars ‘Maltesers’ bar at 35grams.

These smaller products aren’t the kind that spring to mind when I think ‘chocolate bar’: Give me something like a Nestle ‘Violet Crumble’ (50grams), a ‘KitKat’ (45grams) or a Cadbury ‘Time Out’ (40 grams) any day of the week. Even the humble Freddo Frog is a hefty 35 grams.

One serve of a 30 gram ‘Chomp’ is 145 calories; a ‘Flake’ is 161 calories. In the grand scheme of the recommended calorie intake for an average adult, a chocolate bar of this size isn’t much more than a drop in the ocean.

Let’s not even go into the additional ingredients: Caramel, fudge, nougat, biscuit, nuts… Are these all part of the study too?

Surely a headline like that, suggesting that it’s okay to eat a chocolate bar (of any size) almost every day of the week, is a dangerous way to get people eating more chocolate than would otherwise be recommended by a health professional?

For years now, dark chocolate has been championed at the best chocolate to eat if you’re health conscious. Dark chocolate has been proven to contain vitamins and minerals, as well as fatty acids and antioxidants which are good for the body.

Over the past six months we’ve seen a resurgence in the popularity of darker chocolates, and the corresponding NPD to capitalise on healthier snacking trends: KitKat’s dual origin, dark chocolate offer was a stellar addition to market, and Cadbury is trying to corner some turf with it’s own ‘dark milk’ variety launched this month.

But even dark chocolate should be consumed in moderation because as we know, obesity is unequivocally and Australian issue, with 63.4% of adults recorded as overweight in 2014-15 by the Huffington Post. We’re the second fattest country in the world!

Frequently consuming small amounts of dark chocolate is linked to a lower body mass index, as well as being able to improve brain power and eyesight, and while chocolate has been linked scientifically to a healthier heart, I’m not sure that six chocolate bars a week is the way to go. The sugar and fat content alone is a whole other issue, and heart health is something that needs to be looked at holistically.

It’s the equivalent of reports about the positive effects of red wine for your heart- but if you knock back a bottle most nights of the week, it’s going to do much more harm than good.

[The SMH article in question was originally written for The Telegraph, UK]


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