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Karen Harris is a clinical nurse educator at Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center (RHLCCC), Northwestern Medicine in Chicago. Karen transitioned to nurse educator after many years of working as an infusion nurse. Her strong desire to teach led her to her current role, educating and mentoring new nurses entering the oncology field. Karen was instrumental in the development of the first preceptorship program at RHLCCC to develop high-level oncology nurses. Karen also chairs RHLCCC’s Best Practice committee, ensuring evidence-based practice across the cancer center.

Chocolate: To Eat or Not to Eat?

Powerful antioxidants in dark chocolate may slow and prevent cell damage caused by free radicals.
The month of February brings hugs, kisses, flowers, and lots of chocolate. It is difficult to ignore all the advertising this month to convince us to buy chocolate for ourselves or someone else. But aren’t we told to avoid sweets such as chocolate to decrease our risks for heart disease and cancer? You might be surprised that chocolate is not as bad as you think.

Research have shown that some types of chocolates may actually be beneficial to your health. Chocolate contains a phytochemical compound called flavonoids found in cocoa beans. A flavonoids is an antioxidant that can prevent or slow damage to cells caused by free radicals thereby potentially assisting in the prevention of cancer1. A study for potential preventive effects of cocoa in cancer found that, “Cocoa and its main polyphenols have been reported to interfere at the initiation, promotion and progression of cancer.”2 More specifically, another study showed that cocoa could reduce inflammation in the colon due to the anti-inflammatory bioactive compound in cocoa. Further, much evidence exists that connects intestinal inflammation and colorectal cancer.3 

Who would have thought chocolate could prevent cancer? That sounds amazing! But before you run to buy loads of chocolate, it is important to know that all chocolate is not created equal. To reap the most benefits from flavonoids you will have to eat dark chocolate, which has a higher percentage of cocoa. Dark chocolate is defined as having at least 60% cocoa with little to no add sugar. The American Cancer Society recommends a high-quality dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa.4 The most advantageous way to eat dark chocolate without any added ingredients such as caramel, peanut butter, marshmallow, etc.

Not only does dark chocolate help fight cancer, but it is also believed to helps reduce the risks of heart attacks and stroke, improve blood flow to the brain and improve mood and symptoms of depression.5

Debate no more if you should eat chocolate or not. Go ahead and enjoy a dark chocolate bar (in moderation) while decreasing inflammation and preventing cell damage. Check out this recipe for dark chocolate-covered strawberries and pair it with a glass of red wine, which also have the powerful antioxidant flavonoids.

Being able to add a chocolate component to your healthy lifestyle of fruits, vegetables, and exercise is like icing on the cake! Enjoy the Valentine season with no regrets.

  1. Health benefits of dark chocolate and its effects on cancer. Accessed February 1, 2019.
  2. Martin MA, Gova L, Ramos S. Potential for preventive effects of cocoa and cocoa polyphenols in cancer. NCBI. 2013 Jun;56:336-51. doi: 10.1016
  3. Rodriguez-Ramiro I, Lopez-Oliva E, Ramos S. et al: Cocoa polyphenols prevent inflammation in the colon of azoxymethane-treated rats and in TNF-α-stimulated Caco-2 cells. NCBI. 2013 Jul 28;110(2):206-15. doi: 10.1017
  4. American Cancer Society. Can chocolate be good for you? Accessed February 1, 2019.
  5. Healthline. 11 health and nutrition benefits of cocoa powder. August 9, 2018. Accessed February 1, 2019

Talk about this article with nurses and others in the oncology community in the General Discussions Oncology Nursing News discussion group.
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