"Go Loco for Cocoa": Chocolate for Better Diabetes Management
Last updated: May 2023
While it may sound too good to be true, dark chocolate may help improve diabetes management. Dark chocolate contains potent nutrients that may influence insulin levels, cardiovascular health, or other disease-related complications. So, this year, create enjoyable (and delicious) resolutions to include your go-to indulgence to improve your health potential.
What are the benefits of dark chocolate?
Going to the "dark side" may help satisfy your sweet cravings while improving your blood glucose control. Cocoa beans are abundant in antioxidants, especially flavonoids and polyphenols. These powerful flavonoids and polyphenols mitigate chronic inflammation, a common contributor to insulin resistance.1
Research findings on flavanoids
Flavanols, a type of flavonoid, may provide anti-diabetic benefits by improving insulin secretion and sensitivity while protecting the insulin-producing beta cells from death. A study found that obese adults following a flavanol-rich diet (902mg/day) for 12 weeks experienced significant improvements in endothelial function, blood pressure, and insulin sensitivity compared to those consuming a low flavanol diet.1
What are the benefits of cocoa powder?
1¾ tablespoons of cocoa powder contain 200 milligrams of flavanols and only 20 calories! But, while cocoa powder may seem like a tasty solution to better diabetes management, it's best to limit it to a single serving per day to minimize the risk of lead or cadmium intake.2
Cocoa powder may also improve cardiovascular health, a common concern for people with diabetes. Specifically, its rich antioxidant content may help improve HDL cholesterol and blood flow.2
One study found that people with glucose intolerance experienced improved blood pressure and insulin sensitivity after only fifteen days of consuming high polyphenol-containing dark chocolate. So, consuming dark chocolate not only may warm the heart but also helps improve its health!2
Does the source of chocolate matter?
Keep in mind that not all dark chocolate is made the same. For example, many dark chocolates undergo the process of alkalization to help reduce their natural bitterness, ultimately enhancing the flavor to make it more palatable. But all good things come at a cost.
Unfortunately, the process of alkalization may reduce the dark chocolate's flavanol content by up to 90 percent. In other words, processed dark chocolate does not have many health benefits.
Luckily, alkali-treated chocolate must get labeled as such in the ingredients, according to FDA regulations. So, while it may take a little extra digging, opt for a non-alkali-treated option to reap the health benefits of dark chocolate.
If not, your flavanol-free chocolate treat is working against your efforts towards better diabetes management by contributing additional sugar and calories that may further impair glucose regulation. It's a small but critical detail to consider!
Ways to enjoy dark chocolate
It sounds like a dream come true, doesn't it? For a decadent treat that you feel good about eating, make the simple (and antioxidant-boosting) swap from milk chocolate to dark chocolate.2
Work your way up
If you enjoy the simple things in life, break off one square of dark chocolate. But, if you are transitioning from white chocolate or milk chocolate, the taste of dark chocolate may be bitter. Experiment with 72 percent dark chocolate and work your way up.
My personal favorite is 85 percent chocolate bars or 100 percent cocoa nibs which I add to my yogurt or oatmeal. The darker the chocolate, the fewer calories, yet the greater the nutrients!
Chocolate avocado pudding
Try making chocolate avocado pudding. Yup, you read that right! While it may feel like avocados may not belong in dessert, adding avocadoes adds a silky-smooth finish that can satisfy any sweet craving. This delicious, low-carbohydrate, nutrient-dense, and health-promoting dessert is the perfect way to end the day!
Dark chocolate covered strawberries
Although these dark chocolate strawberry treats may be a Valentine's Day classic, who's to say you can't enjoy them all year round. Get a double dose of antioxidant-rich ingredients with dark chocolate and berry content!
It's all about balance
While dark chocolate may provide more positive health outcomes when compared to most decadent desserts, you should still enjoy it in moderation. The antioxidant-rich content shouldn't feel like a go-ahead to eat dark chocolate out of the wazoo.
Don't forget, if chocolate doesn't suit your fancy, there are plenty of other nutrient-rich options to help better diabetes management and improve overall health.
For an individualized approach to better diabetes control, consult with a registered dietitian to find a nutrition strategy that works for your tastebuds and lifestyle.
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