A dark secret

6th April 2007 at 01:00
Some things are too good to be true. Fortunately chocolate isn't one of them. Eat the right sort, and a decent amount, and you'll soon feel the health benefits, says Hannah Frankel

It can be better than fine wine, better than shopping, even better than sex. Could it be that true happiness lies in chocolate? Chocolate manufacturers would argue it does.

They point towards scientific evidence that chocolate encourages the body's production of serotonin, an antidepressant and natural stress reducer.

Another chemical in chocolate - phenylethylamine - is what we release when we fall in love, while the endorphins it triggers can elevate moods and reduce pain. Studies also show that it can reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer.

There is no doubt that we are buying both the advice and the product in vast quantities. In 2005, the average Britain spent pound;72 on chocolate, compared with pound;40 in France and a mere pound;12 in Spain.

But it is at Easter that we flex our slightly flabby muscles in the field, spending a colossal pound;400 million on chocolate and other confectionery.

Each Easter, more than 80 million chocolate eggs are consumed in the UK, which equates to a staggering 9kg of chocolate per person.

However, chocoholics should beware. While pure cocoa might hold some health benefits, the majority of chocolate available is processed, and packed full of sugar and saturated fats. It is unlikely that the "feel-good" chemicals found in chocolate - already only present in small quantities - will make any noticeable difference in chocolate that has a cocoa content of just 20 per cent.

The general rule of thumb is to go for dark chocolate with a high cocoa content - something the more health conscious among us are already acknowledging. Although dark chocolate sales account for just 3 per cent of the market, it is expected to grow at "an astounding 48 per cent" between 2005 and 2010, according to Datamonitor, the analysts.

Even with bitter chocolate, however, one set of positives can be easily outweighed by negatives. People who want to add some chocolate to their diet should, strictly speaking, subtract calories from other areas of their diet if they are to avoid putting on weight. But reason has never played a big part when it comes to chocolate. If loving it is wrong, who really wants to be right?

Win it!

Chocoholics have the chance to win a mouth-watering treat for themselves and their class.

A scrumptious prize of a teacher's Divine Chocolate Easter hamper (worth Pounds 30) containing a dark Divine Easter egg with dark chocolate-coated Brazil nuts, plus dark and milk chocolate mini eggs and seven 100g bars, is up for grabs, along with 30 Dubble Easter Eggs (worth pound;60), for their class.

Divine Chocolate and Dubble are co-owned by the Ghanaian cocoa farmers who receive a Fairtrade price for their cocoa and share in the profit from the company.

To be in with a chance of winning, send a postcard to Treats, The TES Magazine, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX, marking your entry "Divine". Or email treats@tes.co.uk, putting Divine in the subject box.

The first entry picked will be the winner. By sending us your name and address you agree to The TES Magazine sending you this prize. We will not use your details for other communications. The closing date for entries is Thursday, April 12.

Visit www.dubbleclick.co.uk to find out more about Dubble's Fairtrade-themed computer game competition.

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