Is Chocolate Good for Diabetes?

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For many people, chocolate ranges from being a pleasant-tasting treat to being necessary for survival. Can chocolate be part of life if you have diabetes? Read on for questions and answers to your burning chocolate questions and to learn how you can make chocolate a healthy part of your routine.

 

What are the different types of chocolate?


What exactly is chocolate? Chocolate comes from the seed of the cocoa tree. Cocoa liquor includes cocoa solids and cocoa butter, and it is the “percent cacao” that you may see on a food label. Cocoa powder includes cocoa liquor minus some of cocoa butter, leaving solids.

Chocolate has cocoa liquor, cocoa butter, and often sugar. 

  • Dark or semisweet chocolate has at least 35% cocoa liquor.

  • Milk chocolate has condensed or powdered milk in the chocolate mixture has usually contains 10%–12% cocoa liquor.

  • White chocolate has cocoa butter, milk, and sugar.

Then, of course, there are chocolate-flavored products or products made with a little bit of chocolate and a lot of other ingredients. Brownies and chocolate cake and cookies have flour, sugar, and eggs. Chocolate ice cream has sugar and cream. Chocolate syrup has water and sugar. 

 

How does chocolate affect blood sugar?


As you wonder whether cocoa is good for diabetes, the first question may be how chocolate affects blood sugar. Happily, chocolate has a low glycemic index (GI), which means it does not lead to sharp spikes in blood sugar when you eat it. This is likely because of its high amount of fat and fiber, both of which slow digestion. Milk chocolate and sugar-sweetened dark chocolate have a higher GI than unsweetened chocolate, but are still lower-GI than high-sugar, high-starch, low-fiber treats such as cake and syrup.

There is more good news about chocolate and your blood sugar. It may improve the very problems that lead to type 2 diabetes. Eating chocolate may increase insulin sensitivity. It may also stimulate the beta cells in your pancreas to release insulin. Both of these actions can lead to lower blood sugar. In fact, eating chocolate with a meal may lead to a lower blood sugar spike.

 

How else does chocolate affect your health?


A lot of research has looked at chocolate consumption and health, especially heart health. Most of the findings are positive. That is especially good news if you have diabetes, since diabetes is a risk factor for heart disease and related conditions. Various studies have linked chocolate consumption to lower blood pressure, triglycerides, and total cholesterol levels, and lower levels of unhealthy inflammation. Many studies have included people with diabetes.

It is however of note that women who are pregnant should avoid chocolate, particularly if you have gestational diabetes.

 

What about weight gain?


Chocolate is high-fat and delicious. It is also high-calorie, with about 140 calories per ounce. In comparison, an ounce of bread has 60 calories and an ounce of cheese has 110 calories. To get 140 calories, you would have to eat 2 large apples, ¾ cup of pasta, or 1 pound of cauliflower.

Don’t high-fat, great-tasting, and high-calorie add up to a formula for weight gain? Actually…no! At least, not among people who eat it in moderation. This may be because: 

  • Chocolate has insoluble fiber, which is linked to lower weight.

  • Eating chocolate can improve mood.

  • Eating chocolate may reduce levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin.

 

What gives chocolate those healthy properties?


The “magic” in chocolate is largely due to its content of phytochemicals, or plant nutrients. Cocoa has phytochemicals known as flavanols. These have antioxidant properties and may also have other functions that can help you out – but be warned: while pure chocolate is antioxidant-rich, chocolate products with a lower percent of chocolate liqueur are far lower in phytochemicals.

Chocolate Product Flavanol Content, milligrams Sugar Content, grams
100% unsweetened chocolate (baking chocolate), 1 oz.
550
0
Cocoa powder (baking cocoa), 2 tablespoons
227
0
70% dark chocolate, 1 oz.
110
9
Milk chocolate, 1 oz.
17
16
Chocolate syrup, 2 tablespoons
25
21
Chocolate cake, 1 slice
25
26
Hot cocoa, 1 packet
56
36
Large chocolate cookie, 3 oz.
33
40
0
17
 

What other nutrients are in chocolate?


Chocolate is a natural source of dietary fiber and many essential nutrients, including potassium, iron, and manganese. It is nearly sugar-free and sodium-free. Although chocolate is high in saturated fat, the specific type of saturated fat that is dominant (stearic acid) does not appear to contribute to heart disease. 

Nutrient Amount (% Daily Value)
Fiber
4.5 g (19%)
Sugar
0 g (0%)
Sodium
0 (0%)
Total fat
14.6 g (23%)
Saturated fat
9.1 g (45%)
Potassium
232 mg (7%)
Zinc
2.7 mg (18%)
Copper
0.9 mg (45%
Iron
4.9 mg (27%)
Manganese
1.2 mg (58%)
Magnesium
92 mg (23%)
 

What is the difference between unsweetened and sugar-free chocolate?


When looking for chocolate that is good for diabetes, your best options are baking (unsweetened) cocoa powder and unsweetened chocolate, also called unsweetened baking chocolate. Cocoa is power is lower in fat and calories, but unsweetened chocolate can be more satisfying because of its richness. 

There is no specific “diabetic chocolate,” but “sugar-free chocolate” usually refers to chocolate that has been sweetened with calorie-free or low-calorie sugar substitutes. These substitutes are usually safe for diabetes, since they have no effect on blood sugar. Sugar-free chocolate can be a good alternative to sugary dark or milk chocolate. Still, you should be aware of a few things before making your choice.

  • Sugar alcohols are common sugar substitutes, and some can cause an upset stomach.

  • Some sugar substitutes are artificial sweeteners that may have adverse health effects.

  • Sugar-free chocolate can be as high in calories and fat as regular chocolate.

So, Lark does not recommend eating a whole basket of sugar-free Easter eggs or other products from diabetic chocolate brands! What you could try is melting some unsweetened chocolate and letting it solidify in chocolate molds shaped like eggs, carrots, and bunnies.

 

Is chocolate good for diabetes?


If you are ready to take advantage of the potential benefits of chocolate, you might be wondering about diabetic chocolate brands.  These are our recommendations for what to choose.

  • Baking cocoa (not sugary hot cocoa mix). Without getting any added sugars, you can add it to oatmeal or smoothies, sprinkle it on sliced bananas or a peanut butter sandwich, or blend it into pureed frozen bananas as an ice cream substitute.

  • Unsweetened chocolate. Also known as baking chocolate, nibble ½-ounce to an ounce 2 to 6 times a week for health benefits.

  • Sugar-free chocolate. Select varieties with all-natural sweeteners and keep consumption moderate.

The overwhelming evidence says that yes! Chocolate is good for diabetes! Just keep it in moderation and make good choices with lots of chocolate, and not too much sugar. Lark Diabetes Care can give you more good news and guidance in your diabetes management. 

 

Reference

  1.  Katz DL, Doughty K, Ali A. Cocoa and chocolate in human health and disease. Antioxid Redox Signal. 2011;15(10):2779–2811. doi:10.1089/ars.2010.3697

  2.  Katz DL, Doughty K, Ali A. Cocoa and chocolate in human health and disease. Antioxid Redox Signal. 2011;15(10):2779–2811. doi:10.1089/ars.2010.3697

  3.  Rostami A, Khalili M, Haghighat N, et al. High-cocoa polyphenol-rich chocolate improves blood pressure in patients with diabetes and hypertension. ARYA Atheroscler. 2015;11(1):21–29.

  4.  Katz DL, Doughty K, Ali A. Cocoa and chocolate in human health and disease. Antioxid Redox Signal. 2011;15(10):2779–2811. doi:10.1089/ars.2010.3697

  5.  Miller KB et al. Survey of Commercially available chocolate- and cocoa-containing products in the United States. 2. comparison of flavan-3-ol content with nonfat cocoa solids, total polyphenols, and percent cacao. J. Agric. Food Chem., 2009, 57 (19), pp 9169–9180. DOI: 10.1021/jf901821x

  6.  http://www.worldcocoafoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/files_mf/stahl2009.pdf

  7.  Katz DL, Doughty K, Ali A. Cocoa and chocolate in human health and disease. Antioxid Redox Signal. 2011;15(10):2779–2811. doi:10.1089/ars.2010.3697

Natalie Stein

Exercise, Fitness & Nutrition Expert | Assistant Professor of Public Health