Don’t go overboard on chocolates

PETALING JAYA:Malaysians’ love for chocolates is unrivalled, at least in Southeast Asia. However, nutritionists warn that over-consumption can be detrimental to health.

Most chocolates have high fat and sugar content, and over-indulgence can lead to obesity, high blood pressure, coronary artery diseases and diabetes.

A recent survey by iPrice, an online shopping aggregator, reveals that 21.8% of Malaysians search for information about chocolates on Google, ahead of Singapore at 19.3% and the Philippines at 18.8%.

If this data is not convincing enough, Mondelēz International, a major confectionery based in Chicago, revealed that Malaysia accounted for 35% of its sales in Southeast Asia in 2018.

When it comes to food, Malaysians are an innovative lot. Who else would think of coating the simple pisang goreng, or banana fritters, with chocolate?

But, according to nutritionist Dr Divya Vanoh of Universiti Sains Malaysia in Kubang Kerian, chocolate is an energy-dense food with a high level of saturated fat and sugar, which contributes to weight gain.

“Chocolates also contain caffeine that may cause insomnia, palpitation, dizziness and anxiety. In individuals who are sensitive to caffeine, it causes heartburn and acid reflux,” Divya told theSun.

Another nutritionist, Dr Anto Cordelia Dhanapal of Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman in Kampar, said the consumption of sugary foods including chocolates, is relatively high among the young.

Chocolates are a favourite option for gifts, especially for life’s milestones such as birthdays, anniversaries or graduations.

The easy availability of chocolates is another factor that feeds this indulgence, Anto Cordelia noted.

Clever marketing also helps to drive sales. “We are told that chocolates help to ease mental stress, improve mood, reduce headaches and migraines, bring happiness and a sense of satisfaction.”

Besides, she said, a deficiency in magnesium could also lead to a craving for chocolates, and that is sometimes misinterpreted as a sweet tooth. “This deficiency is common among women. The symptoms are migraine, irritability, anxiety, extreme fatigue, insomnia and a lack of concentration.”

Anto Cordelia said taking magnesium supplements can curb such symptoms. The more attractive option is to eat dark chocolates, which is rich in magnesium.

However, she warned, many journals and articles that promote the consumption of chocolates and cocoa products for health must be taken with a pinch of salt.

“Most of these studies are funded by chocolate manufacturers that have poured millions of dollars into funding nutrition science projects to possibly benefit their products.”

For instance, a research article from last year stated that consuming chocolates reduces the risk of heart disease and that women who eat chocolates are less likely to suffer from strokes.

This, Anto Cordelia said, has been attributed to the presence of bio-active ingredients called flavanols found in cocoa.

However, what is not stated is that the subjects of those studies were getting an average of 670mg of flavanols each, achievable only by consuming 12 standard 100g bars of dark chocolate or 50 regular 100g bars of milk chocolate per day, a habit that will undoubtedly lead to adverse side effects.

“It takes 90 minutes of cycling and walking to burn off the calories from consuming 100g of dark chocolate. Too much chocolate also causes diabetes, hyperlipidemia, and dental decay,” Divya pointed out.

Of course there is no need to swear off chocolates altogether. As in most things, moderate consumption can be beneficial.

A meta-analysis from 2018 revealed that an intake of 30g of dark chocolate per day for four weeks has a favourable effect on body mass index and weight.

“Dark chocolates contain many health benefits too, but don’t take more than 10g per day,” Anto Cordelia advised.

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