Updated 18 September 2013

Easter: a chocolate explosion?

At Easter time we are faced by an abundance of chocolate eggs and bunnies. Unfortunately this also includes the potential kilojoule burden that may stay with us until long after this weekend.

It's almost Easter and we are faced again by a cornucopia of eggs and chocolate bunnies. The mountain of kilojoules they are going to add to the average person’s diet in the next week or so set me thinking why we have egg-mania and bunny-mania at Easter.

Ancient roots

Eggs have been a symbol of rebirth for millennia and most of the ancient civilisations such as the Egyptians, Persians, Phoenicians and Hindus believed that the world originated as an enormous egg (Trowbridge Filippone, 2013).

It is also perfectly understandable that people who lived in cold parts of the world such as Northern Europe, regarded Easter as a time of rebirth and renewal after the long, dark and hungry winter. The egg which is a nutritious food and can in turn give life to other edible delicacies such as chickens, ducks and geese (to name but a few types of domestic fowl), would be rightfully venerated as a symbol of Spring, new growth and plentiful food supplies.


In the Christian religion, the egg is a powerful symbol of the resurrection of Jesus Christ (Catholic Culture, 2013). The hard shell of the egg represents the tomb from which Jesus arose from the dead on the third day. When Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire under Constantine the Great in the third century AD, the resurrection symbolism of the egg spread from the Atlantic Ocean in the West all the way to Constantinople on the Black Sea in the East.

Initially hen’s eggs or egg shells were coloured or lavishly decorated as Easter gifts. To this day, members of the Orthodox religions present each other with eggs coloured bright red after the Easter mass saying, “Christ is risen”.

The modern approach

So why did hard boiled, beautifully decorated hen’s eggs get replaced by chocolate eggs of varying quality, beauty and price? I suspect that shopkeepers may have decided their chocolate sales needed a boost after Lent. The latter is the period of abstinence when members of the Catholic Church avoid eating meat and other luxuries like chocolate, in memory of Christ’s sacrifice. Easter is the first time that the Lenten fast is broken and the congregation is allowed to eat meat, eggs, sweets, and chocolate, after weeks of abstinence.
In addition to the desire to boost sales, modern life with all its stresses and commitments tends to demand "instant solutions". So instead of lovingly colouring and painting hen’s eggs for Easter, modern people want to be able to buy ready-made Easter eggs at their local supermarket. Chocolate eggs and bunnies are, therefore, eaten more commonly at Easter in countries like South Africa and the USA, than painted hard-boiled hen’s eggs.

The kilojoule burden

So what does the week that lies ahead mean for us in terms of health and body weight? I can’t calculate how many chocolate Easter eggs and bunnies you and your children intend eating, but let’s have a look at the potential kJ burden you may be saddling yourself with for the coming months.

Comparison of the energy, macronutrient and cholesterol content of milk chocolate and boiled hen’s eggs (values expressed per 100g)


Milk chocolate per 100g

= 1 average chocolate egg or bunny

Boiled hen’s egg per 100g = 2 boiled eggs

Energy (kJ) (kcal)

2303 kJ or 548 kcal

616 kJ or 147 kcal

Protein (g)



Total fat (g)



Saturated fat (g)



Monounsaturated fat (g)



Polyunsaturated fat (g)



Cholesterol (mg)



Carbohydrate (g)



Added Sugar (g)



(Nutritive values obtained from Wolmarans et al, 2010)

The Table shows that eating an average 100g chocolate Easter egg or bunny will saddle you with much more energy (nearly 4 times more), fat (3 times more), and saturated fat (6 times more), than eating 2 medium-size 50g boiled and decorated hen’s eggs. In addition, the boiled eggs will also not expose you to 54g of sugar, and are a good source of high quality protein, iron, and B vitamins.

But the hen’s eggs contain much more cholesterol (14 times more), which is regarded as detrimental to heart health, than the chocolate eggs.

Chocolate, especially dark chocolate, is regarded a source of antioxidants and has been linked to a reduction in heart disease. Nowadays you can buy chocolate eggs and bunnies made from dark chocolate with higher cacao and antioxidant contents.

So what should we eat at Easter?

In view of the above nutritional composition of the favourite treats eaten at Easter, which both have their pros and cons, I would recommend that the old adage of "Moderation is the best policy" should be kept in mind for young and old in the coming week.

Be moderate when it comes to eating boiled, decorated Easter eggs and/or chocolate eggs and bunnies. Try extending the pleasure by eating your Easter treats in smaller portions over a number of days instead of gorging whole chocolate eggs and bunnies or eating half a dozen boiled eggs in one go. The example you set your children at Easter may teach them how to savour a treat without it making them ill or fat.

(References: Catholic Culture (2013). Catholic Activity: The Symbolism of Easter Eggs.;Trowbridge Filippone P (2013). Easter egg history.; Wolmarans P et al (eds) (2010. Condensed Food Composition Tables for South Africa. Medical Research Council, Parow Valley, Cape Town.)

Dr Ingrid van Heerden is a registered dietician and holds a doctoral degree in Nutrition and Biochemistry. She believes that "we are what we eat" and offers free nutrition and weight loss advice via her DietDoc service on Read more of her articles.


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