Is Dark Chocolate Good For Diabetes
The flavonols in dark chocolate may help lower blood sugar and reduce the risk for heart disease — two pluses for people managing type 2 diabetes.
One of the most widely believed myths about living with type 2 diabetes is that all sweets are off-limits, and upon receiving a diabetes diagnosis, you may feel forced to say goodbye to all the after-dinner treats and 3 p.m. pick-me-ups you once loved. Fortunately, it’s actually true that some sweets are safe for people with type 2 diabetes — and in the case of dark chocolate, a moderate amount may even lead to some significant health benefits, including lower blood sugar.
Among the possible perks of noshing on a square of the dark stuff are improved brain function, blood pressure, cholesterol, and heart health, according to the American Diabetes Association.
Those benefits may seem like enough reason to race for the candy aisle, but not so fast. As with eating any food when you’re managing diabetes, details are key. Follow this guide to enjoy dark chocolate safely without throwing your blood sugar out of whack.
Why Dark Chocolate and Diabetes Make a Sweet Combination
A plain square of high-cocoa dark chocolate is packed with good-for-you components that put that designer cupcake or gourmet chocolate-chip cookie to shame. “The antioxidants in chocolate help the body use its insulin more efficiently to help control blood sugar,” says Anna Simos, CDE, the diabetes education and prevention program manager at Stanford Health Care in Palo Alto, California. “This in turn helps lower blood sugar levels naturally and actually helps your body use your insulin. As a result, it helps decrease insulin resistance, which we see in type 2 diabetes.”
According to an animal study published in the November 2017 issue of the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, it’s the compounds found in cocoa called cocoa flavanols that appear to enhance certain cells’ ability to secrete insulin, the hormone that manages blood glucose. While the study’s results are still preliminary, and the authors note you’d need to consume a lot of cocoa and not much sugar to reap these benefits, other studies also suggest dark chocolate can help people with diabetes.
For example, in a randomized controlled trial published in January 2015 in ARYA Atherosclerosis, researchers found that participants with type 2 diabetes who ate dark chocolate for eight weeks saw improvements in health markers like fasting blood sugar and A1C levels, while those participants with type 2 diabetes who ate white chocolate did not.
Furthermore, the flavonols in dark chocolate may help your ticker — another win for people with diabetes, as these individuals are at a twofold risk for heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A study published in August 2015 in Vascular Pharmacology found that people who ate high-flavanol dark chocolate saw modest improvements in cardiovascular function.
How to Pick a Good Dark Chocolate for Your Blood Sugar
When it comes to picking the best dark chocolate for your health, some varieties are healthier for people with diabetes than others. Follow these tips to get the biggest nutritional bang for your buck.
Look at the percentage of cocoa. Just because a chocolate bar is labeled “dark” doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Indeed, some types of “dark chocolate” could be as low as 30 percent cocoa, making them more on par with regular milk chocolate nutrition-wise, warns Anna Taylor, RD, CDE, at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. To reap the most health benefits from chocolate, choose a bar that contains 70 percent cocoa or more. Often, Simos says, the cocoa content will appear in plain sight on the front of the packaging.
Eye the sugar content to keep carb intake in check. All chocolate — including unsweetened baking chocolate — has carbs, Simos says. Try to keep the carbs for one chocolate snack to 15 to 30 grams (g) max, she recommends. For reference, a small Hershey’s Kiss, or about 10 to 15 unsweetened dark chocolate chips both contain 15 g of carbohydrates, Simos says. Even when you’re indulging, counting carbs is crucial for managing diabetes.
Beware of any sugary extra ingredients. “Limit dark chocolate that has caramel, toffee, or other sugary add-ins,” Taylor says. Dark chocolate, she notes, shouldn’t have more than around 8 g of sugar per 1 ounce (oz), or 28 g of chocolate. On the other hand, opting for a bar with nuts, like almonds, is a safer bet, because of their satiating effect and their ability to slow the rise in blood sugar levels.
Consider opting for sugar-free cocoa powder or cacao nibs for a treat. These easy options are naturally sugar-free and will give you that chocolate taste without the same hit of carbs, Simos notes.
Another benefit? Cacao nibs contain iron and minerals like magnesium — a plus for people with diabetes, she says. Magnesium deficiency is associated with type 2 diabetes, likely because of the increased urination common in people with diabetes, according to a review published in August 2015 in the World Journal of Diabetes.
Diabetes-Friendly Ideas for Enjoying Dark Chocolate
If you’re craving chocolate, here are some of the best ways to get your fix.
Have a rich serving of dark chocolate — but limit the serving to about ¾ to 1 oz. That way, Taylor says, you’ll get some of the benefits of dark chocolate and satisfy your craving for something sweet, but you won’t break the bank on your calories, saturated fat, carb, or sugar intake.
Sprinkle cacao nibs on your yogurt. This is a smaller, more compact way of getting the benefits of dark chocolate, Simos says. Cacao nibs have about 13 g of carbs in a 1 oz serving, but also contain blood-sugar-regulating fiber and protein that will slow down your digestion and help you feel fuller for longer, she explains.
Add some cocoa powder to your morning shake. Just 1 to 2 tablespoons of natural cocoa per day may help boost your heart health, Simos says. Similarly, unsweetened cocoa powder contains virtually no sugar.
Choose artificially sweetened chocolate with care. If you want to enjoy chocolate but don’t want to risk spiking your blood sugar, consider reaching for a no-sugar-added hot-cocoa mix, Simos says. Just check the ingredients label to make sure the carbs per serving stay beneath that 15 to 30 g range.
You could also opt for artificially sweetened chocolate, but you have to be careful about what kind of sugar substitute is used, Simos says, because sugar alcohols, like sorbitol, can have a laxative effect, and convert into blood-sugar-spiking carbohydrates.
Not to mention, some researchsuggests these types of sweeteners may lead to increased sugar cravings and unwanted weight gain. Good diabetes management depends on healthy weight, as weight gain can increase insulin resistance — the hallmark of type 2 diabetes.
Ultimately, Simos advises, opting for dark chocolate with regular sugar, and indulging mindfully and in moderation, is your best bet for reaping the heart and hypoglycemic benefits that the treat can offer.
5 Best Chocolates for Diabetes
Whether your sweet tooth is calling the shots or not, we all enjoy a little indulgence now and then. Dessert has been the downfall of many diets, but that doesn’t mean you have to shut them out of your life completely.
While the candy aisle can be incredibly overwhelming, there are options that fit into any healthy meal plan. So we teamed up with Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN, registered dietitian and founder of Isabel Smith Nutritionto give us the scoop on the best dark chocolate bars you should indulge in.
When possible, try to avoid milk solids, corn syrup, soy solids (except lecithin, which will likely be included), artificial sweeteners and colorings, Smith advises. Doing so won’t always be possible, but they’re good guidelines.
And if you’re in a hurry, look for two things: non-alkalized cocoa and a low sugar count on the nutrition label. That ensures you’re getting the most health benefits with the least amount of sugar.
Or simply grab one of these better-for-you bars if you want to live the sweet life and get a flat stomach doing it.
Nibmor Extreme Dark Chocolate with Cacao Nibs, 1 1/10 oz (½ bar)
|SATURATED FAT||7 G|
The secret to chocolate’s superpowers lies in the cocoa bean. In its purest form, without any added sugar or other ingredients, cocoa contains flavanols that have anti-inflammatory properties.
Getting more of these healthy nutrients can help cut your risk for heart disease, cancer and diabetes, and also help keep your metabolism going strong. Although chocolate contains some good stuff, more often than not it’s stuffed with some bad to cut the bitterness.
Nibmor Extreme has only five ingredients, the first of which is organic cacao. The nibs in this bar offer a fun crunch and are bursting with flavanols. If you have trouble sticking to a serving, this flavor also comes in prepackaged serving squares for only 50 calories a pop.
Theo Salted Almond 70% Dark Chocolate, ½ bar
|SATURATED FAT||9 G|
If you’ve never had healthy dark chocolate, your taste buds might be a little shocked the first time you bite into one of these bars. The darker the bar, the more bitter it will taste — but the better it will be for your health and waistline.
If you need to work up to the black coffee-colored bars, that’s ok. “The higher the percentage of cacao the better, but you’ll get some health benefits at 55% cacao,” says Smith.
The Theo Salted Almond bar is a good entry-level dark chocolate bar because the bitterness doesn’t hit you the way that it does with 80% or higher cacao bars. The almonds also offer an added health boost thanks to their combination of plant-based protein, fiber and healthy fats, which work together to keep hunger and cravings at bay.
Endangered Species Dark Chocolate Squares with Forest Mint, 4 pieces
|SATURATED FAT||10 G|
Just because you’re choosing dark, doesn’t mean you can suddenly consume chocolate with reckless abandon. “Chocolate is not a low-calorie food,” Smith warns. “Aim for a 1-ounce serving, which is about 200 calories,” she suggests. The best way to include chocolate in your diet is to plan ahead.
If you know you’re going to want a chocolatey indulgence later in the day, be mindful of your earlier meals to make room for it.
Testing your willpower against an entire bar of chocolate can be difficult, so reach for pre-portioned sizes if you’re prone to overdoing it. The little squares also make it easy to grab on the go or stash in your desk at work for a mid-afternoon pick-me-up. With 72% cocoa and some added mint for flavor, these squares can help squash pesky sweet cravings with just a few nibbles.
Green & Black’s Organic 85% Cacao Bar, 12 pieces
|SATURATED FAT||12 G|
Green & Black puts a premium on their ingredients, and their chocolate reflects that. They buy their beans directly from cocoa farmers who use organic farming techniques, ensuring that you get the cleanest product possible.
Though 85% may be intimidating, this bar is particularly smooth for the high cacao content. The organic vanilla and small amount of organic cane sugar they add to the bar soften the bitter bite. What’s more, research has found that eating a small dose of chocolate each day can help you unwind — which can boost your weight loss.
Dark chocolate can increase serotonin and endorphin levels in the brain, reducing stress and elevating mood. Banishing stress will also diminish your levels of cortisol, a hormone that promotes belly fat storage. Rather than gorging on high-fat, high-sugar comfort foods — that science suggest don’t actually work — break off a few squares of this bar.
Alter Eco Dark Blackout Chocolate Bar, 5 sections
|SATURATED FAT||13 G|
A main diet concern with chocolate is the sugar content — even when you’re shopping for dark. Sugar can wreak havoc on your body, causing weight gain, shifts in mood and plummeting energy levels.
Consuming too much can also increase your risk of more serious health problems like diabetes and cancer.
And, unfortunately, grabbing any dark chocolate bar won’t help you avoid these issues, so always read the label. “Aim for 10 to 15 grams of sugar or less per serving,” suggests Smith.
Get it right, and you’ll enjoy a seriously satisfying low-sugar treat: “Extremely dark chocolates (88% cacao for example) will generally have around 5 grams of sugar per serving.” This Alter Eco bar has only 6 grams, making it a solid choice if your taste buds can handle it. In fact, it’s one of the best options for weight loss out there — as long as you stick to one serving!