It’s a festival celebrated across the globe, but many countries have their own traditions and customs when it comes to Easter. Lamb and fish are widely considered culinary staples in many different nations, but what about pudding?
Hot cross buns, chocolate eggs, iced biscuits, lamb cakes; several countries have a traditional, signature sweet they like to tuck into during the Easter holiday.
This year, we thought it might be interesting to explore some of the sweet items, desserts and bakes customarily consumed during the Easter period, and take a look at how these treats from different countries measure up in terms of calorie and sugar content.
- The simnel cake, a traditional pudding enjoyed in the UK and Ireland, topped our calorie and our sugar chart. One single slice can pack around 724 calories, and 62.3 grams of sugar.
- That’s roughly one third of a person’s recommended daily calorie intake, and two thirds of a person’s recommended daily intake of total sugars.
- Mämmi, Finland’s traditional Easter pudding, is much healthier by comparison. One 120 gram serving contains just 142 calories, and just 0.3 grams of sugar.
To find out which sweet we chose from each country, head down the page to take a look at our league tables.
Using the calorie and sugar value of each sweet, dessert or bake, we put together the following maps to show where items from different countries stand in comparison to each other:
(Where a country had more than one traditional Easter sweet item, we chose the item with the highest number of calories for inclusion on the map.)
- The UK and Ireland (simnel cake) stands alone in the 700-800 calorie category.
- Italy had two Easter bake entries in the 600-700 calorie category, with Columba de Pasqua (almond dove cake) and Torta di Pasqua (cheese bread).
- One pack of Marshmallow Peeps, a confectionery favourite in the US and Canada, packs just 138 calories.
- Mämmi (142 kcal) from Finland and a two piece portion of Ma’amoul (155 kcal) from Jordan help to round out the 100-200 calorie category.
- The UK’s simnel cake (62.3g) is joined in the highest category by the chocolate egg (56g), readily available in many countries but considered a particular favourite in the UK, Belgium and Brazil.
- Påskägg, the Swedish custom of an egg-shaped container filled with assorted candy, features in the second highest category at 50 grams.
- Candy is also an Easter tradition in the US and Canada. Again, we’ve gone for a 100 gram assortment, which on average would contain around 50 grams of sugar.
- In stark contrast once again is Mämmi. One serving of this humble Finnish dish contains less than half a gram of sugar.
Easter, as we know, is a festival of great religious and cultural significance, but it’s also an opportunity for families and friends to spend quality time together. And the hallmark of any great family gathering is food; so it shouldn’t be surprising then, that Easter has become an important fixture on the culinary calendar.
Like Christmas, Easter is a holiday marked across the world. Different countries, as you might expect, observe different customs during the Easter period; and this extends to Easter foods as well.
Many nations do share consistency in their choice of main course centrepiece. Lamb is widely considered to be the traditional choice in many countries, including the UK, the US, France, Germany and Italy; whereas fish is considered an Easter staple in other countries such as Sweden (pickled herring), Spain and Portugal (cod).
Eggs, cooked and decorated in varying forms, are also an indispensable feature on Easter dinner tables across the globe.
But one area where countries tend to exercise more individuality, however, is in their choice of desserts, sweets and bakes. And as we’ll discuss, when it comes to typical calorie and sugar content, these items can vary in their decadence.
In recent decades, the chocolate egg has obviously emerged as the most popular (and lucrative) Easter sweet in countless countries. In 2016, the Easter egg market in Britain alone was reported to be worth £220 million.
However, traditional bakes and desserts are for many still an integral part of the Easter festival; and many countries have their own interpretation of these. Some are eaten on the day itself, whereas others might traditionally be eaten on Good Friday or Easter Saturday.
The UK of course has simnel cake; whereas the hot cross bun is a popular choice in the Britain but also in English-speaking countries in the southern hemisphere.
This year, we thought it might be interesting to compare the typical calorie and sugar content of these foods, and explore whether sweets from any country in particular are more (or less) healthy than their international counterparts.
Here’s what we found:
What did we include?
- From each country, we included sweet items such as biscuits and desserts, cakes, baked breads, and Easter confectionery favourites such as chocolate eggs and candy bars.
- We also included some breads and bakes with a savoury twist (stuffed with cheese or nuts for example), although we omitted any bakes which might be considered a main course (such as those containing meat or vegetables).
- Calorie and sugar totals for items were sourced from online supermarket listings, nutrition databases or recipe websites.
- To ensure consistency, we stuck to one ‘serving’ or ‘slice’ as indicated by the listing, recipe or product packaging, or 100 grams otherwise. For biscuits, we counted a portion as two single biscuits.
- To represent the Påskägg (Sweden) and ‘Mixed Candy’ (US and Canada), we used calorie and sugar totals from a typical 100 gram serving of pick n’ mix.
- While the chocolate egg is available in many countries, we chose the UK and Ireland (large chocolate egg markets), Belgium and Brazil (where chocolate eggs are considered traditional) to represent this item.
- Norway’s only entry, Kvikk Lunsj, while not strictly the ‘national Easter dessert’ for Norway, is considered a popular treat choice at this time of year.
- Similarly, Kit Kat Easter Bunny Ears are popular Easter treats in Japan.
Calories and sugar: how much should we be eating?
There’s nothing wrong with enjoying the odd treat, but it’s important to keep tabs on how much sugar and how many calories are in your diet.
The daily reference intake for an adult woman is 2,000 calories, and for an adult man is 2,500 calories. Obviously this includes all food consumed throughout the day, and not just pudding.
The total sugar reference intake for an adult is 90 grams. However, this is taking into account sugars contained in all foods and drinks consumed, including natural sugars.
Free or added sugars, which are the kind you find in sweets, cakes and desserts, fall into a different category. According to UK guidelines, foods with added sugars should make up no more than 5% of a person’s daily calorie intake. For adults, this is roughly 30 grams of sugar in a day.
So in actuality, a slice of the simnel cake we’ve featured in our study contains double the recommended daily amount of added sugars. And when you take into account the added sugar of other items we might enjoy at Easter, such as snacks, soft drinks or certain alcoholic drinks, then it is much less difficult than you might think to exceed healthy limits by quite a wide margin.
Staying healthy at Easter
We’ve said many times that the occasional treat is fine. Easter is a day to enjoy with family, friends and food; and the odd sweet treat is traditionally an integral part of that.
However, the key to keeping dietary habits healthy is to prevent overindulgence from becoming a regular occurrence. Frequently exceeding calorie and sugar intake can lead to weight gain, and eventually weight-related health conditions such as diabetes, or high blood pressure.
So if you’re planning on spoiling yourself with a treat or two over the Easter period, try to keep the following in mind:
- keep track of what you’ve eaten. The more you do, the less inclined you’ll be to exceed your reference intake.
- exercise moderation. The more sugary items you eat, the more your body will become used to them, and the less likely you’ll be to appreciate them. Keeping your sweet consumption within sensible limits will mean that the odd treat you do have you’ll be able to appreciate much more.
- if someone has gifted you an Easter egg, take your time with it. You don’t have to finish it in one weekend. Whatever you don’t eat on Easter Sunday itself, you can wrap up and save for another time.
- maintain dietary balance. Healthy items such as fruit and veg shouldn’t be jettisoned from your routine just because it’s Easter. The same nutritional rules apply. The more balanced your diet is, the less likely you are to crave sugary foods, and subsequently cave in to making poor food choices.