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Can Easter food treats be good for you?

Many of those moving into middle and later life will be used to finding that the food and drink we enjoy are bad for us. Guilt can be this time become something of a way of life. So it’s reassuring to find an industry expert who believes that chocolate eggs, hot cross buns and Simnel cake might have benefits too. In moderation of course.

For centuries, Easter has been associated with appealing foods, says Dr Avinash Hari Narayanan (MBChB), Clinical Lead at London Medical Laboratory .

Coming at the end of the Lent fasting period, it was no surprise that people looked forward to tasty spring treats, he points out.

And Dr Hari argues that the good news is that you needn’t feel too guilty indulging in them at Easter.

Dark chocolate Easter eggs

There’s chocolate and then there’s real, dark chocolate. It’s the dark chocolate that could be beneficial, says Dr Hari.

‘Cocoa beans, the main ingredient of chocolate, contain natural, beneficial plant compounds called polyphenols. These have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Polyphenols such as flavonoids stimulate the body to produce nitrous oxide in the blood, helping to relax blood vessels and so reduce blood pressure. Eating chocolate at least once a week is linked with an 8% reduced risk of heart disease, according to research published in the “European Journal of Preventive Cardiology”.

‘Chocolate eggs may even lead to a healthier heart. The research found that chocolate contains heart-healthy nutrients that may reduce inflammation and improve the amount of good cholesterols in the body. That’s backed up by a fascinating review of studies in the “British Medical Journal”. It found that those people who ate the most chocolate were 37% less likely to have coronary heart disease than people who ate the least chocolate. It’s thought that the effects of chocolate on the circulatory system – opening the blood vessels and reducing inflammation – can help keep our hearts healthy and ward off heart disease.’

Hot cross buns

Hot cross buns could be dismissed as a perilous collection of refined carbs, sugars, high-fat dairy and calories, but Dr Hari says there are ways to find healthier choices around the buns.

‘These traditional baked goods can be a good source of fibre and complex carbohydrates. While an average bun contains around 230 calories, there are healthier types. Good-quality, sourdough hot cross buns, purchased from health food shops and local grocery stores, contain healthier ingredients such as sultanas, currants and apricots and aren’t filled with processed additives and preservatives.

‘If you enjoy eating your bun with butter, try substituting a spread with added plant stanols that can actually reduce total and LDL (bad) cholesterol. Stanols are difficult to come by in a normal diet but fortified foods such as spreads can help you reach the amount of sterols and stanols needed to help lower your cholesterol, says the British Dietetic Association.’

Simnel cake

Simnel cake isn’t as popular as it once was, but if you crave a slice, there are ways to simulate the look, if perhaps not quite the taste.

‘Simnel cake is a traditional fruitcake that often features layers of almond paste or marzipan. The good news is that it has a high ratio of fruits to flour and hence is packed with nutrients. Avoid long shelf-life cakes with glazed and candied fruits and, instead, choose versions with naturally sweetened and dried fruits.

‘If you are baking your own Simnel cake, there are recipes available that cut out the butter, substitute white flour with wholemeal flour and slash the amount of refined sugar. Some even make use of fresh fruits rather than dried.’

Whatever you are eating

Dr Hari adds: ‘Of course, the key to healthy eating is moderation. Eating our favourite delights should be a special event, not an everyday occurrence. Food with high sugar and fat content is the leading cause of obesity, which is a contributing factor in many conditions. These range from high blood pressure and diabetes to kidney disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, coronary heart disease and stroke. The best way to manage potential risks from obesity is by regularly monitoring biometrics such as weight, body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference. You can supplement these measures with regular blood tests.’

London Medical Laboratory offers private finger-prick blood test that can risks to heart health and includes a full cholesterol profile, as well as testing for inflammation. It also tests for diabetes, showing how well the body is controlling blood sugar.


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