How many Easter eggs do children you know receive? Two? Three? More? Do you, as an adult, treat yourself on Easter Sunday or do you think the Easter bunny should be given the elbow?

Easter is all about moderation, according to dietician Orna O’Brien of the Irish Heart Foundation.

“Easter is a time when you hear a lot about chocolate eggs and the stress and guilt that goes with that,” she says.

“Adults may be worried about falling off [their healthy eating] track at this time or concerned about how much chocolate their children are consuming. There are a lot of mixed emotions around this time, but Easter eggs are a celebratory food and no one is saying that we shouldn’t enjoy them. It’s the sheer number that we often eat that’s the more concerning element.”

A lot of chocolate consumption and Easter egg buying is driven by pester power, excessive marketing and clever promotion by chocolate manufacturers, she believes.

“An Irish Heart Foundation survey in 2018 found that more than half of the Easter eggs bought for children were gifts from friends and extended family, so it’s not just parents buying for their kids,” she says.

The average Irish child receives four Easter eggs. Given the sugar content of chocolate eggs, that’s a lot of confectionery to consume.

“Just one medium sized Easter egg contains 23 teaspoons of sugar. That’s almost four times the World Health Organisation recommended daily intake, which is six teaspoons per day,” she says.

Dark chocolate = good??

We often hear that dark chocolate is good for our hearts but is this really the case?

“Some studies show that dark chocolate may offer a blood pressure lowering effect because it contains substances called flavenols [plant compounds with antioxidant benefits],” Orna says.

“But all chocolate, even that high cocoa percentage chocolate, [dark chocolate] comes with lots of saturated fat, sugar and calories which you don’t want for your cholesterol levels and for your weight management.”

She also points out that we get higher levels of flavenols in fresh foods like apricots, blackberries and apples.

“These obviously contain much less saturated fat, sugar and calories,” she says.

Holistic mindset

Orna’s advice is to approach Easter with a holistic mindset and choose your chocolate - and your portions – wisely.

She says: “When it comes to Easter, it’s unrealistic to say, ‘have an apple’. That approach doesn’t work. Have something you like but just not too much of it and think of the balance.”

If you don’t particularly like the taste of dark chocolate, don’t choose it.

Orna says: “Look for something ?

that you will enjoy. Maybe buy a small Easter egg for a child. An adult having a medium one is okay. Healthy eating is really about balance and having a good relationship with food. It’s not just about the nutrition element of it. It is also about enjoyment and celebration and social connection, so it’s probably more important what you do on a day-to-day basis with your food than what you eat on the Easter weekend.”

Non-chocolate centric activities

Thinking about restricting food makes you think more about food - not the result you want.

Orna says: “There’s the phrase, ‘don’t think of an elephant’ and what does your brain do? It thinks of an elephant! It’s the same thing with restricting chocolate and denying ourselves foods that we really enjoy. It makes us focus on them more, desire them more, so if we are coming up to Easter and we are looking forward to some chocolate, why not indulge? That is the time, after all, but pick something you are really going to enjoy, something that’s really good quality and look at balance in the rest of your day. Doing other non-chocolate-centric activities to celebrate the Easter weekend will bring that balance.”

Avoid the guilt trip

Part of the holistic mindset is not categorising foods as bad, she states.

“Some people may label certain foods as bad or fattening or junk, and Easter eggs fall into that bracket. That creates a lot of guilt so we may feel that when we are eating those foods, we are bad,” she says.

“This creates negative self-talk. No food is inherently bad but obviously if we were eating Easter eggs all the time it wouldn’t be healthy. Rather than labelling these foods good or bad we should see them more as occasional foods. Easter is one such an occasion. Making this change in the way we think of food helps to take that food off the pedestal.”

Bring balance to Easter

But what else can we all do to keep things on an even keel this festive weekend?

Orna recommends sticking to what we usually eat.

“Make sure you’re not skipping a meal in place of eating the chocolate. Stick to your usual breakfast, lunch and dinner and definitely try to have a good protein source at breakfast like a [hen] egg. Eggs - the theme of the weekend - are a great thing to include. We tend to under-consume protein at breakfast time. High protein helps to keep us feeling full throughout the day and less inclined to over-indulge. Boiled or poached eggs are preferable to fried from a cholesterol point of view and are the heart healthy option.”

Get active

Getting active over the Easter weekend also helps offset the impact of chocolate indulgence.

“Plan a family bike ride or walk or hike or even a picnic in a park,” she suggests.

“Look at alternative ways to play traditional Easter Sunday games, such as mini Easter egg hunts. You could replace mini eggs with carrots, with a little Easter egg for the winner. Then the actual game would be about competitiveness - who finds the most carrots? It means that children will have fewer piles of chocolate at the end.

“Visiting a petting farm to see some lambs is also a great idea. So too is visiting friends and bringing a bunch of daffodils rather than an Easter egg.”

Japanese inspiration

Orna mentions a useful Japanese phrase on healthy eating.

She says: “It is called ‘hara hachi bu’ which translates to ‘stop eating when you are 80% full’. The phrase comes from an area of Japan known as a blue zone, where a high number of people live to more than a 100 years of age. If you’re eating mindfully and focusing on your internal hunger and fullness cues, I think you’re already on the right path to not overdoing it. You don’t want to be going into meals when you are really hungry and you don’t want to be leaving meals when you’re stuffed to discomfort level. You want to be eating when you are on a fullness scale of one or two out of ten then leaving when you are eight out of ten.”

Non-chocolate ideas

  • Give non-edible gifts such as books, games or egg cups instead of chocolate.
  • Plan a walk or bike ride but remember to leave the chocolate at home!
  • Plan a healthy Easter lunch. Make roast lamb with lots of vegetables the main focus of the day.
  • Try hot cross buns or simnel cake for afters instead of chocolate.
  • Decorate hard-boiled eggs for an Easter egg hunt instead of using chocolate eggs.
  • Egg-and-spoon race, anyone? A good idea but use boiled eggs!
  • Take a peek at the nutrition labels before you buy chocolate eggs. Many of the larger eggs contain nearly 2000 kcals, which is about a day’s worth of calories for most people. They also contain around 70g of saturated fat – equal to 27 teaspoons of butter.
  • Remember – Easter eggs don’t all have to be eaten on Easter Sunday.
  • Savour the taste and make a small piece go a long way by letting it slowly melt in your mouth and savouring the taste, flavour and texture.
  • If it’s not an Easter egg you like, give it away.
  • If your child has several eggs, keep them out of sight so they’re not tempted to over-indulge.
  • Have chocolate as a family dessert in the days after Easter to use up the eggs.
  • Get lots of exercise over Easter.
  • Ask relatives for a book or voucher instead.
  • Did you know?

    Small Versus big

    Very small Easter eggs are equivalent to two standard bars of chocolate and the big ones are equivalent to ten bars of chocolate. (Source: safeFood)

    Which type of chocolate is best?

    Dark chocolate is better for you than milk chocolate. It has no/very little milk solids and is a good source of antioxidants and minerals which promote good health. It can contain up to 70 or 80% cocoa solids and is made from the seeds of the cacao tree.

    Milk & White Chocolate

    Milk chocolate is sweet chocolate containing milk powder or condensed milk and must contain a minimum of 25% cocoa solids. White chocolate contains no cocoa solids. It contains cocoa butter, sugar and milk. In cheaper varieties the cocoa butter is often replaced by vegetable fats. (Source: Irish Nutrition and Dietetics Institute)

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