Most diabetics can eat chocolate with their condition safely, so long as they only have very small amounts at once, of the likes of 1-2 cubes. Dark chocolate is preferable to milk and white chocolate or other similar varieties that are low in cocoa. The type of dark chocolate to look for is the one with at least 70% cocoa content. More cocoa means more beneficial antioxidants that could help improve insulin resistance, reduce inflammation and contribute to cardiovascular health and less carbohydrates to peak blood glucose (sugar) levels suddenly, only to bring them down in an unhealthy yo-yo-effect kind of way.
If you are considering eating chocolate with diabetes, it’s important to understand that not all chocolate is the same and effects on blood glucose metabolism will differ depending on the type of product you choose to eat. The lower the cocoa content, the more sugar the chocolate typically has (unless it’s diabetics chocolate), in which case fluctuations in blood glucose levels are more likely even with a limited intake. A higher cocoa content brings about changes in ingredients and nutritional status that favor reduced effects on blood glucose metabolism and even benefits specifically for diabetes.
Dark chocolate (70% cocoa or more) is generally well tolerated in a diabetic diet because its effects on blood glucose are minimal. Still, intake is best limited to very small amounts of the likes of 1-2 cubes at once/per serving. It helps to look at the nutritional values of the product and determine the carbohydrate content in a serving so you can better plan your meals and not exceed the amount of carbohydrates you’re advised to eat per meal and per day. This may mean you can have one or more servings of chocolate a day, but again, each serving is best limited to 1-2 cubes.
Milk chocolate, caramel, toffee or chocolate with fruit or other types of fillings tend to compensate for the lower cocoa content by incorporating more sugar or other sweeteners, cocoa butter and other fats. White chocolate doesn’t even have cocoa solids, but has plenty of cocoa butter and sugar. The higher the content of sugar in the chocolate, the greater the effects on blood glucose levels and the higher the energetic value, which would also predispose to weight gain. The higher the fats content, whatever the source, the less healthy it is for the cardiovascular system.
Now, both dark and other types of chocolate have quite similar nutritional values, with the exception of total carbohydrates, sugar, fat content and energetic value. Assuming a diabetic only has very small amounts with their condition (as is recommended), whatever the choice of product, it isn’t likely they will experience major side effects from such a small part of their diet. But they might lose all the benefits that stem from cocoa consumption, including benefits for insulin resistance and conditions associated with diabetes.
Does chocolate raise blood glucose levels? Yes, it does. But all foods that contain carbohydrates (sugar being one of them) raise blood glucose levels to various extents. The thing to look out for is how fast a carbohydrate-containing food makes your blood glucose levels go up. Such effects are measured with the help of the glycemic index scale.
The glycemic index (GI) essentially measures how fast the carbohydrates in a food raise blood glucose. Below 55 is a low GI. Between 55-69 is a moderate GI. Between 70-100 is a high GI. All diabetics are advised to look for foods with as low a GI as possible in order to limit impact on blood glucose metabolism and enjoy said foods without side effects.
The glycemic index of chocolate varies depending on its ingredients, with values ranging from 23 to 40 to 50 or more. The lower the sugar content and the higher the cocoa content (such as in dark chocolate), the lesser the effects on blood glucose levels. The lower the cocoa content and the higher the content of other sweet ingredients, the more significant the effects on blood glucose metabolism.
Fortunately, most chocolate varieties have enough cocoa butter and other fats that the glycemic index is, at most, moderate. Fats, cocoa butter included, help lower the glycemic effects of chocolate as a whole. This is because fat in general has a longer digestion time and will slow down the digestion of the carbohydrates in the chocolate too (sugar included), resulting in a slower rate of absorption of sugar into the bloodstream.
But cocoa butter can only do so much. If you eat too much chocolate with diabetes, whatever the type, sugars ultimately accumulate and cause unhealthy fluctuations in blood glucose levels. As long as you keep to amounts small enough so you don’t exceed your carbohydrate recommendations per meal and per day, then you can enjoy the sweet treat without major effects on your condition.
According to studies, the primary benefits of eating dark chocolate for diabetes include:
1) Improved glucose control after a meal.
2) Better insulin response: improved insulin sensitivity, reduced insulin resistance.
3) Better blood pressure numbers (both systolic and diastolic blood pressure).
4) Reduced oxidative stress and reduced inflammation levels, with general benefits for diabetes.
5) Reduced cravings, contributing to better weight management, a key aspect of diabetic health.
6) Energizing effect from carbohydrates and high iron content of cocoa, plus satiation from fats – supports an active lifestyle.
7) Reduced oxidation of lipids such as LDL cholesterol and improved blood circulation due to high amounts of antioxidants flavonoids and magnesium – support for cardiovascular health.
Research has also found that chocolate consumption is associated with a significant reduction in type 2 diabetes risks.
But while dark chocolate has a superior nutritional profile that is favorable to diabetic health and cardiovascular health in particular, it does come with side effects. If you eat too much of it, have an existing acid reflux condition or gastritis, irritable bowel syndrome condition or eat chocolate at night, before sleep, then you might experience the following side effects:
1) Acid reflux, heartburn and gastritis and general stomach upset.
2) Insomnia, agitation, restlessness.
3) Extrasystoles (skipped heartbeat or extra heartbeat), palpitations, arrhythmia.
4) Worse acne.
5) Allergy symptoms (see Chocolate Allergy).
Conclusion: It’s important to understand that, while it does offer benefits specifically for diabetes, chocolate does not treat or reverse the condition. At most, it is well tolerated in diabetes, but only in small amounts. Intake is best determined according to each diabetic patient’s individual nutritional requirements and the restrictions of their condition, but kept low. Lastly, dark chocolate is seen as a far better option for diabetes because of its minimal effects on blood glucose levels and additional benefits for the condition.