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.