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Does chocolate make you slim?

in Foreign Correspondents by

With East­er com­ing up, shelves around the world are stocked to the brim with choco­late in every shape and form, nowhere more than in the tra­di­tion­al choco­late home of Switzer­land. The Swiss don’t just pro­duce a lot of choco­late, they eat a lot as well; in fact they have the high­est choco­late con­sump­tion rates world­wide.

Accord­ing to Sta­tista, the aver­age Swiss cit­i­zen con­sumes 8.8 kilo­grams of choco­late a year on aver­age. That’s twice as much as the aver­age Amer­i­can gets through.

Nev­er­the­less, Switzer­land ranks 112 places below the U.S. in obe­si­ty rates, ninth low­est world­wide, accord­ing to World Pop­u­la­tion Review. With such a choco­late-heavy diet, how is it pos­si­ble for the Swiss to stay so slim?

A study at Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty, which was designed to gain insight into exer­cise lev­els and their rela­tion­ship to obe­si­ty, com­bined dai­ly step infor­ma­tion with obe­si­ty met­rics.

An aver­age Swiss res­i­dent clocked up 5,512 steps per day, where­as an aver­age UK res­i­dent walked rough­ly the same dis­tance (5,444 steps), how­ev­er UK obe­si­ty is 38% above the aver­age while Swiss obe­si­ty is 36% below it.

Pri­ori­tis­ing a healthy lifestyle and doing sport have become fash­ion­able in Switzer­land. Since 2002, the num­ber of phys­i­cal­ly active peo­ple has sig­nif­i­cant­ly increased. Fur­ther­more, they seem to be more con­cerned about what they eat. Two-thirds of the pop­u­la­tion say they pay atten­tion to their diet and 21% say they ful­fil the dietary rec­om­men­da­tions for fruit and veg­etable con­sump­tion.

“The World Health Organ­i­sa­tion sug­ar guide­line of 2015 rec­om­mends reduc­ing dai­ly sug­ar con­sump­tion to a max­i­mum of 25g. This cor­re­sponds to about 6 tea­spoons of sug­ar a day. This val­ue is quick­ly exceed­ed, how­ev­er, since fruit quark or yoghurt already con­tains 15g of sug­ar, a cere­al bar 12g etc. Thus, we eas­i­ly devour more than 100g of sug­ar a day,” explains Kat­ja Ehrensperg­er, a nutri­tion­ist in Zurich.

Such warn­ings don’t seem to put the Swiss off their favourite sweet.

“I love choco­late. I’d say I eat slight­ly more than the aver­age Swiss… around 3 bars (300 g) a week,” states Patrick, who is out shop­ping on Zurich’s famous Bahn­hof­s­trasse. In fact, he eats almost twice as much as the aver­age Swiss per­son, and yet he looks remark­ably trim on his sug­ar-heavy diet.

The Swiss love of choco­late goes all the way back to the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry, when some of today’s most pop­u­lar choco­late brands were found­ed, such as Toblerone and Lindt. The very first choco­late fac­to­ry was opened in Switzer­land, and the divine com­bi­na­tion of milk and choco­late was dis­cov­ered by Daniel Peter, a Swiss who lat­er went on to form the Nes­tle Com­pa­ny with Hen­ri Nes­tle.

Nicole, who we encounter as she is leav­ing the Sprüngli con­fec­tionery store, is con­vinced that choco­late actu­al­ly does her good. “I eat a lot of choco­late. I think eat­ing choco­late improves my health, and it def­i­nite­ly makes me hap­py.”

Kat­ja Ehrensperg­er con­firms that this is not entire­ly wish­ful think­ing. “Yes, choco­late also has pos­i­tive effects. It’s the flavonoids in the cocoa beans which are respon­si­ble for the pos­i­tive effects. They are said to low­er blood pres­sure, reduce inflam­ma­tion, keep blood flu­id and increase the good cho­les­terol (HDL).” 

The flavonols as well as the cat­e­chins in choco­late are also the rea­son why choco­late can          pre­vent blood clots and arte­rioscle­ro­sis and thus reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. Fur­ther stud­ies have shown that choco­late boosts brain per­for­mance, improves mem­o­ry and increas­es the abil­i­ty to con­cen­trate.

There is, how­ev­er, a small catch: all these health ben­e­fits only apply to choco­late with a high cocoa con­tent, which means: to dark choco­late.

“It is impor­tant to pay atten­tion to the sug­ar intake and reduce it to avoid the risk of unhealthy weight gain. There­fore, all food must be mon­i­tored care­ful­ly. Not just the choco­late! I, per­son­al­ly, love dark choco­late and eat some almost every day,” states the Swiss nutri­tion expert.

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