It is widely believed that people living with type 2 diabetes cannot indulge in any sweets. However, receiving a diabetes diagnosis does not mean saying goodbye to all your favourite treats. Some chocolates are safe for people that have type 2 diabetes — specifically dark chocolate, where a moderate quantity can even bring benefits to overall health, including lower blood sugar.
Other potential advantages of eating dark chocolate are improving high blood pressure, insulin resistance, and lowering the risks of heart disease.4
Dark chocolate and diabetes
Types of dark chocolate
Dark chocolate is chocolate with no added milk solids, and its essential ingredients are flavourings such as vanilla; sugar; emulsifiers such as soy lecithin for the preservation of texture; and of course, cacao beans. The less sugar and more cocoa the dark chocolate contains, the more bitter it will taste.
The various classifications of dark chocolate are characterised by their percentage of cocoa solids - these include sweet, semi-sweet, and bittersweet. The cocoa content of many dark chocolate bars will vary from 80 percent for bitter and extremely dark bars, to around 30 percent for sweeter dark chocolate bars. It should be noted that recipes for bittersweet and semi-sweet dark chocolates are sometimes interchangeable. They range from 50 to 60 percent cocoa - the greater amount indicates more bitterness.1
Nutritional value of dark chocolate
Dark chocolate is not only a rich source of magnesium but also iron, fibre, copper, zinc and many other minerals. Optimum quantities of flavanols can be gained from chocolate that is 70% or darker, thus for this reason dark chocolate is the healthiest of all chocolates.
Around 1 oz of 70 to 85 percent dark chocolate contains around 170 calories, 12 g of fat and 2 g of protein. It also contains around 7 g of sugar and 3 g of fibre.2
Benefits of dark chocolate for diabetics
The way dark chocolate works to benefit people with diabetes lies within its makeup. Polyphenols, a compound with natural antioxidant properties, is present in dark chocolate. This molecule is responsible for protecting the body from harm caused by damaging molecules. Not only can this compound improve insulin sensitivity, but it can also support the control of blood sugar. This improved insulin sensitivity might prevent or delay the onset of diabetes.3 Many studies on dark chocolate have concluded it can decrease the prevalence of diabetes when eaten once a week. Research has shown that people diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes who consumed 25 grams of dark chocolate for eight weeks had decreased blood pressure. Furthermore, it also led to reduced fasting blood sugar.3
Which dark chocolate is best for diabetics?
Some types of dark chocolate are a healthier option for people with diabetes, which is why it is important to select carefully when looking at different varieties. The most important factor is the percentage of cocoa. The label “dark” is not enough to prove it is healthy as some “dark chocolate” can only contain around 30 percent cocoa - this means nutrition-wise they are on par with regular milk chocolate. It should be noted it is polyphenol-rich dark chocolate that encompasses the beneficial antioxidants, and the greater percentage of cocoa that allows the health advantages. Reading the nutrition index is the first step in selecting the best dark chocolate, and it is recommended to favour dark chocolate that has not been processed and with at least as much fibre as sugar.
Risk and considerations
Remember that eating too much of a good thing can be bad - many chocolates contain sugar, fat and calories compared to other sweets. It is important to be aware of extra sugary ingredients such as toffee and caramel. An upper limit of 8 g of sugar per 28 g of chocolate is recommended as well as selecting bars with nuts, due to their satiating ability and their effect on slowing the rise in blood sugar levels.4 Medical professionals advise people with diabetes not to use dark chocolate as a blood glucose boost as the fat present in chocolate causes the prevention of glucose rising fast.
How much dark chocolate can a diabetic have?
Moderation is key with dark chocolate, thus around 20-30 grams of dark chocolate is acceptable. Many brands sell chocolate specifically made for diabetics, thus checking the nutritional label for sugar and cocoa content helps avoid risks. Excessive intake of dark chocolate may cause spikes in blood glucose levels. Caffeine is also present in cocoa, and this can cause sleeplessness, nervousness, faster heartbeat and urination.5
Can diabetics eat dark chocolate daily?
Clinical dieticians advise that people with diabetes who keep a well-balanced diet can have 20-30 grams (one ounce) of dark chocolate per day, but if keeping an unhealthy diet, dark chocolate should be avoided altogether.6
What are the side effects of dark chocolate?
Consumption of excessive amounts of dark chocolate will boost caffeine levels in the blood, which can cause increased nausea, heart rate, insomnia and dehydration.7
Some people need to be cautious when eating dark chocolate:
Cocoa can spike blood pressure and increase pulse rate if taken in a large quantity.
Breastfeeding mothers must be cautious as the caffeine in dark chocolate can transfer to the nursing baby which can lead to restlessness, rashes and even insomnia.
Dark chocolate carries a risk of slowing down the process of blood clotting, which is dangerous for people who have haemophilia or bleeding disorders.
Which is the healthiest dark chocolate?
Dark chocolate can be nutritious and healthy, however not all brands are created equal. Based on processing methods and ingredients, some are better than others. For example, dark chocolate that contains trans-fat should be avoided - this is because trans-fat consumption is a major risk factor for heart disease. Sugar is often added to balance the bitter taste of dark chocolate but is another ingredient to look out for. Favour chocolate with higher cocoa percentages and lower sugar content.8
Though it is often believed that people living with type 2 diabetes cannot indulge in any chocolates, dark chocolate can be healthy and nutritious. Not all brands are created equally, therefore, ingredients and processing methods should be noted when selecting a bar. What defines dark chocolate is that it has no added milk solids, and is rich in minerals such as magnesium, fibre, copper, iron and zinc. Dark chocolate contains polyphenols, a natural antioxidant, which is also beneficial. Clinical dieticians recommend people with diabetes have no more than 20-30 grams of dark chocolate per day, as eating too much of a good thing can have negative effects, and many chocolates contain fat, sugar and calories compared to sweets.
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