Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Book Review: Chocolate: A Healthy Passion

As you know, your Chocolate Priestess tries to bring you information and products that are not just foods or drinks including chocolate.  When I can, when I am able to read a study on chocolate and ask questions about the health claims of chocolate, I try to do so in a rational and analytical manner.  Beyond chocolate, I review books in general and after I did one for Prometheus Books they asked if I'd ever read "Chocolate: A Healthy Passion" by Shara Aaron and Monica Bearden.  I hadn't and so they sent me a copy.  Thus today they are our second Winter Holidays 2012 featured review.  Now let's see if Aaron and Bearden also apply a rational and analytical eye to health claims about our Sacred Substance.

Aaron and Bearden are nutritionists and co-owners of Nutcom Nutrition Communications; both have written about health and chocolate before this 2008 book. To the left you can see a photo I took of the back cover where their credentials are listed.  Given that four years have passed and several new studies about chocolate have been published, this book obviously needs updating.  By and large, the studies that Aaron and Bearden discuss in chapters four and five, are not identified in the format I except for scientific or sociological studies.  They name some journals and their years but not the names of the authors or more information that would enable us to check the studies ourselves.  While they break down basic data and words I think the rigor with which they question the studies is lacking.  Rarely do they discuss the specifics of the studies even at the level of who was studied, the controls, or the details about the chocolate used in the research.

They do better with the first, third, and sixth chapters where they discuss the basics about what chocolate is, how it is created, and some psychologically and sociologically reasons why we might "crave" chocolate.  That they tackle this idea that we even crave something was a pleasantly surprising though I don't there is firm evidence in this book for an answer.  If you want to learn about chocolate these are the chapters to read. If you'd like to try out some recipes, there are 31 drink and food recipes and 13 recipes for body care items you make with chocolate in one form or another.  If this were a cookbook I would have held off on a review until I'd tried three or more recipes but I wanted to get this out to you before the winter holidays, Sisters and Brothers, in case you are looking for a non-calorie chocolate related gift.

The second chapter is all about the history of chocolate and here they a tough audience with this historian.  Even though chocolate and the cultures which recognized the cocoa bean and developed ways to use it is not my field of expertise, I've read a fair amount and can apply the rigors of historical research to almost any subject.  What I really wanted more was a lot of citation. Yes, there is an annotated bibliography at the end of the book but I need citations of all the events, names, and beliefs that this book discusses.  The historical section is not nearly as good as in other books but then this is a book more about health claims than anything else.  I would advise removing the history parts of the book and putting more time into evaluating health claims and analyzing scientific studies that are used by candy companies to products goods that simply cannot meet the health benefits because of everything else added to their chocolate.

All issues I may have with the rigor of this book's look into various studies about chocolate, it proves a great introduction to chocolate for the average reader.  The large print makes this easy to read for all ages and eyesights and the included recipes appear to be solid and fun to make.  If the scientific studies were questioned more and the historical chapters better documented, I'd have no problem giving this a full Sacrament status. As it is, I think it is a good gift for the chocolate lover beginning to learn about the cocoa bean, it's history, and health claims.  If you do decide to buy it, please use our links below.

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