Nurses: Discover the Healing Powers of Chocolate

Nursing Book Club

Nurses: Discover the Healing Powers of Chocolate

The trick is eating just one square

By Cal Orey (Kensington Books, 2010)
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Reviewed By Elizabeth Hanink, RN, BSN, PHN

Okay. You now have permission to indulge in one of your favorite foods — chocolate. It’s safe and, guess what? It’s good for you, too. Yes, chocolate is full of polyphenols, also known as antioxidants, which can work wonders on your cardiovascular system. It contains anandamide, known as the bliss chemical, not to mention caffeine, cannabinoids, tryptophan and theobromine, all mood improvers. Chocolate also enhances the release of endomorphins and serotonin.

The Healing Powers of Chocolate, Carol OreySound too good to be true? Well, there are a few caveats. One is that the type of chocolate you eat really matters. In her book, The Healing Powers of Chocolate, Cal Orey is not talking about your favorite vending machine bar; that’s probably milk chocolate with a caramel covering and some nuts thrown in for good measure. It is delicious, but it’s not what she has in mind.

It turns out that the amount of cocoa, which ranges from as low as 33 percent to a full 100 percent, is critical. At higher percentages there is less sugar and less fat. Plus, the flavor becomes harsher — more of an acquired taste. Still, it is possible to find chocolate that is rich in healthy ingredients and tastes scrumptious. For the best combination, look at the various forms of dark chocolate.

The origin and processing of this wonder food are keys to its quality. There is actually something called “single-source chocolate,” and, of course, you can get organic. Additives also count. Some manufacturers include vegetable oil instead of cocoa butter, but better chocolatiers infuse their sweets with herbs and spices, giving it a singular deliciousness.

A second proviso for healthful chocolate eating is amount. Orey is clear that you cannot eat as much as you want. One small square a day is all you need for the benefits. Any more and you risk the downside: unnecessary calories from sugar and fat. Still, says Orey, it is possible to maximize your enjoyment from that one piece so that you are content to stop.

Her recommendation: Buy the best chocolate you can afford with the highest cocoa percent you find acceptable. Then allow it to melt on your tongue and slowly dribble down your throat. You have to train yourself to do this if you are to overcome the urge to chew, suck and swallow in great haste.

Orey also suggests ways to get chocolate into your diet that don’t involve quite so much technique. Chocolate ice cream, brownies and various breads could be a start. She includes some recipes along with chapters on chocolate pairings (think wine and coffee).

This is not a scientific treatise on chocolate, and many claims made by the author and others invite verification. Much of the information is anecdotal, with the occasional study thrown in. Still, there is much to be said for looking at the health benefits of traditional foods like chocolate. Like olive oil and vinegar, ingredients in Orey’s other Healing Power books, chocolate may be a new old contributor to wellness.

Her book is funny, readable and full of interesting trivia for the chocoholic nurse. You know who you are. 

Elizabeth Hanink, RN, BSN, PHN is a freelance writer with extensive hospital and community-based nursing experience.

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