AS if things weren't bad enough in the world ... choclate lovers are being urged to give up their favourite treat this month.

Following Dry January and Sugar-Free February, Dechox March is the latest mass campaign asking people to make a month-long commitment to cutting out a little luxury deemed an unhealthy indulgence.

The British Heart Foundation is behind the challenge to give up chocolate in all its forms.

Nearly 40,000 people have signed up to chuck chocolate bars, biscuits, cakes, ice-cream, and even the cocoa powder sprinkled over their cappuccinos.

But what if you are a self-confessed chocoholic, addicted to the intoxicating mixture of fat and sugar that delivers that velvety ‘mouth feel’?

According to British Heart Foundation heart health dietician Tracy Parker, there’s no such thing as a chocoholic. “Lots of people say they are addicted to chocolate but it’s really a habit rather than an addiction.

“We associate chocolate with a treat that we eat when we are feeling down to comfort us and give us a lift, or as a reward or celebration. We use chocolate as an emotional and physical pick me up. The sweetness and fat taste good and we feel better instantly because we get a sugar and caffeine rush.

“It is difficult to give up because we think it makes us feel happy, but it’s not impossible. What it takes is replacing this habit with healthy eating habits and swapping chocolate as a reward or treat with activities that make you happy such as a walk in beautiful surroundings, calling a friend or indulging in a favourite past-time.”

Tips to give up chocolate include snacking on healthier snacks such as nuts, nude popcorn, pretzels, dried and fresh fruits, as well as raw vegetables and dips.

“We should be eating five portions of fruit and vegetables a day,” said Parker. “There is a lot of sugar and saturated fat in chocolate, both of which contribute to weight gain and associated health problems such as cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.”

A breakdown of how much sugar goes into popular chocolate foods is an eye-opener: there are six teaspoons in a small (45g) bar of chocolate, three in a mug of hot chocolate, five and a half in a chocolate chip muffin, six in a slice of chocolate cake, one in a chocolate digestive biscuit, and four and a half in a 75g bowl of chocolate ice-cream.

What about all those claims that chocolate is good for you? Not so, according to Parker, who is keen to scotch this myth.

“It is tempting to swallow the hype that chocolate is good for you, but it’s simply not true. It is true that cocoa has naturally occurring polyphenols [micro nutrients] and there is some evidence they have antioxidant properties and help reduce blood pressure. However, chocolate is also high in saturated fat and sugars. It’s a high-calorie food that can lead to weight gain. Healthier foods that contain polyphenols include beans, pulses, fruit and vegetables.

“Even dark chocolate isn’t necessarily a healthier option as the amount of polyphenols it contains depends on how it is processed. And it is still full of sugar.

“And it’s tempting to think that a small chocolate bar won’t do us any harm, but a bar averages 250 calories, which is 10 per cent of a man’s and 12 per cent of a woman’s recommended daily intake. In order to lose the energy obtained from a chocolate bar, a 50-year-old person needs to walk 45-55 minutes.”