I have been given an appropriately inscribed Easter egg. It was a gift from the Deaconess Association which I will treasure, but only briefly. Come Easter Monday, it will be well and truly gone!
The pattern for a number of years is that the Moderator conducts a communion service on Good Friday for deaconesses who serve in various ministries within the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. Currently there are 27 deaconesses, with a further 3 women in training. They carry on an amazing variety of pastoral ministries in local churches, in community projects, and as part of the chaplaincy teams in our hospitals. They bring many gifts and skills to their ministries, and are very much appreciated. You can read about their work here.
In giving me a chocolate Easter egg, these women were clearly showing a great pastoral concern for me and for my health. A recent study has shown that Easter eggs and other chocolate can actually be good for you. The study of over 19,000 people, published in the European Heart Journal, found those who ate half a bar a week had lower blood pressure. They also had a 39% lower risk of heart attacks and strokes.
The lead author, Dr Brian Buijsse, from the German Institute of Human Nutrition, Nuthetal said: “Our hypothesis was that because chocolate appears to have a pronounced effect on blood pressure, therefore chocolate consumption would lower the risk of strokes and heart attacks, with a stronger effect being seen for stroke.”
This is, in fact, what the study found. Those who ate more chocolate cut their risk of heart attacks by around a quarter, and of stroke by nearly half, compared with those who ate the least. But Dr Buijsse warned that it was important people ensured that eating chocolate did not increase their overall intake of calories or reduce their consumption of healthy foods.
“Small amounts of chocolate may help to prevent heart disease, but only if it replaces other energy-dense food, such as snacks, in order to keep body weight stable,” he said.
The researchers believe that flavanols in cocoa may be the reason why chocolate seems to be good for people’s blood pressure and heart health. And since there is more cocoa in dark chocolate, dark chocolate may have a greater effect.
On the back of this encouraging news for chocolate-lovers, heart campaigners have warned that chocolate is still bad for you if you eat too much. Victoria Taylor, Senior Heart Health Dietician, at the British Heart Foundation said:
“This sounds like a dream for chocolate lovers and just in time for Easter too, but it’s important to read the small print with this study. The amounts consumed on average by even the highest consumers was about one square of chocolate a day or half a small chocolate Easter egg in a week, so the benefits were associated with a fairly small amount of chocolate. Some people will be tempted to eat more than one square, however, chocolate has high amounts of calories and saturated fat which are linked to weight gain and raised cholesterol levels. Two of the key risk factors for heart disease.”
I think I’ll enjoy my Easter egg and maybe plan to take a bit more exercise next week to compensate for the indulgence. Thanks, deaconesses, for your thoughtful and tasty gift. May God bless you in all your work and ministry!