Easter: How much chocolate is too much?

Easter: How much chocolate is too much?Hunting for treasure or type 2 diabetes? (Photo Credit: Lee Saunders)

It’s Easter time and children (and adults) are gearing up for an Easter egg hunt, but how much chocolate is too much and what constitutes a sugar binge versus a treat?

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“It’s important for parents to be aware of what’s in Easter eggs in order to make informed choices,” says dietician and author Mpho Tshukudu. “It is meant to be a treat and portions should be controlled.”

She examined an array of Easter eggs and broke down the sugar content to give an idea of what’s actually in this seasonal treat. Marshmallow Easter eggs, probably the most widely consumed treat at this time of year, contain nearly two-and-a-half teaspoons of sugar each and half a spoon of fat.  That’s the equivalent of 10 teaspoons of sugar and two spoons of fat in one strip of four.

“It has no real nutritional value – no protein and it is mainly sugar. It’s just a sweet, a fun food.  So, try to share the strip among two or more children, don’t just let them eat all four at once,” Tshukudu advises.

A 150g hollow milk chocolate Easter bunny contains a whopping 22 teaspoons of sugar. “These are definitely not for eating by one person in one sitting,” she says. “Rather, share it as a family or among a few children or, if that’s not possible, buy smaller portion sizes.”

Portion sizes

By comparison a 60g hollow egg contains nine teaspoons of sugar. It’s still a significant amount, but it’s a more feasible option and, ideally, it too should be shared.

A 100g packet of praline eggs with 15 small eggs has 15 spoons of sugar in total. Again, this should not be consumed in one sitting and parental control is highly advised.

It is becoming increasingly common to eat large quantities of ultra-processed, unhealthy foods, like chocolates, which are high in energy, saturated fats and sugar. But these should only be eaten occasionally, as a treat and in moderation.

Tamyrn Jenkings, a researcher at the School of Public Health at the University of the Western Cape (UWC), says when selecting treats, one should consider what other treats are also being eaten at the same time or on the same day, because it’s important to take the total amount into consideration.

“Treats shouldn’t be eaten more than once or twice a week,” she says.

Recommended serving

According to Rina Swart, an associate professor at UWC’s Department of Dietetics and Nutrition, there is no recommendation for chocolate consumption per se, but there is a recommendation of 10% of energy as the upper limit of sugar consumption in a healthy diet. “On average South Africans consume closer to 25% of energy from sugar so none of us should actually be adding any sugar sources such as Easter eggs,” she says.

Swart is concerned that many Easter eggs on supermarket shelves do not have nutritional information on the packaging, making it difficult for consumers to make informed choices.

The problem with the current labelling regimen is that nutritional information is only required on the packaging of foodstuffs that make a nutritional claim.

Swart suggests that when it comes to treats people should consider the matter of “sometime food” and “every day food”.  “Easter eggs are definitely ‘sometime food’, only to be consumed occasionally. The problem is that [Easter eggs] are marketed too actively and so long before Easter that many people consume them as a daily food item,” she says.

Food Control at the National Department of Health also makes provision for “occasional” special celebration items. In the draft R429, the government’s guidelines for the labelling of food which was developed to control health claims, it was specified that these food items do not have to carry the nutritional information.

Reading the label

Tshukudu points out that on a label, the ingredients of the product or food is displayed in descending order.  So, if sugar is first on the list then a large percentage of the product is made up of sugar. The high sugar content makes it high in calories, which can lead to weight gain.

But, she adds, not all chocolate is made equal: Dark chocolate is far healthier. The higher the percentage of cocao, the more antioxidants, vitamin E and minerals like potassium. Cocao also makes it bitter, which is unappealing to consumer palates and less of an option for Easter treats, which explains why they are difficult to find in stores.

And to save cost, many ordinary chocolate bars contain many other ingredients and precious little cocao. These additions are not necessarily beneficial to health. In fact, they may counter the advantages of the beneficial substances.

“Milk chocolate by comparison is mostly just sugar and milk solids and very little cocao so it has very little nutritional value,” says Tshukudu.

A healthy meal comes first

Over Easter, suggests Jenkins, try to encourage children to take part in healthier Easter-related activities, like an active treasure hunt outside that includes searching for Easter eggs as well as non-food items, and lots of running around. Or create a healthy bunny snack with fruit and vegetables.

“It is unrealistic to expect children not to eat any Easter eggs, but by including other fun activities the Easter eggs don’t have to be the main attraction,” she says.

Tshukudu’s advice to parents is simple, “Don’t let them have all their Easter eggs at once, space them out over the week or weekend and only let them eat them after lunch or a meal so that they are less likely to binge eat.” – Health-e News