Everyone knows that chocolate is one of the world’s most popular foods with 50% of Americans admitting to having chocolate cravings and a staggering 7.3 million tonnes of it consumed each year. But what about if you are diabetic – can you still enjoy chocolate?

Many people would assume that you can’t. After all, chocolate is associated with sugar highs, and diabetes is defined by difficulties with regulating blood sugar levels.

However, as this article reveals, diabetic chocolate lovers need not despair, there are ways that chocolate can still be integrated into a healthy diabetic diet. However, there are some very important facts you should be aware of before you reach for that chocolatey treat.

In this article, we not only explain why chocolate can be problematic for diabetics but also look into how to incorporate chocolate into your diet in healthy ways. But first, let’s take a closer look at chocolate itself since it is only by understanding chocolate that we can come to appreciate how diabetics can still enjoy it by eating the right type of chocolate in moderation.

What is chocolate?

Chocolate is a product derived from the fruit of cacao trees, which are native to South and Central America. In its raw form, cacao is not sweet at all it has a bitter taste. However. following processing, the sort of chocolate that you can buy in the store comes in three main forms, each of which normally contains sugar:

  • White chocolate: The least healthy version of chocolate since it contains no cocoa solids, being made up simply of cocoa butter, milk solids, sugar, and (often) vanilla.
  • Milk chocolate: This is the most popular form of chocolate, and consists of 10–50% cocoa solids, mixed with milk, cocoa butter, and plenty of sugar.
  • Dark chocolate: The choice for many chocolate aficionados and those looking for a treat that is less sweet and/or dairy-free. Dark chocolate contains 50–100% cocoa solids, with the rest of the bar typically made up of cocoa butter, sugar, and (sometimes) milk solids.

Why is chocolate problematic for people with diabetes?

The ingredients of processed chocolates, especially the sugar and milk solids can cause blood sugar levels to spike much more rapidly than other foods that contain higher levels of protein and fibre and less sugar. With its typically very high sugar content, it is easy to overindulge in chocolate, which contributes to weight gain and increased blood glucose levels, both of which are particularly dangerous for diabetic people.

Diabetic people’s bodies struggle to absorb sugar, which means that they are particularly susceptible to increases in blood sugar levels and the negative consequences that such increases can bring. In the case of people with type 1 diabetes, the issue is that their pancreas is not producing the insulin required to regulate blood sugar levels.

For people with type 2 diabetes, the problem is that their cells do not respond correctly to the insulin their body produces. Either way, increased sugar levels can lead to serious, and sometimes fatal, complications such as kidney disease, blindness, and heart disease.

How can you fit chocolate into your diet if you have diabetes?

Many people assume that being diabetic means having to cut out all chocolate. Fortunately, this is a myth. However, there are several key considerations that diabetics need to take into account before they start enjoying chocolate.

Diabetics can include chocolate in their diet provided that they focus on dark chocolate which is higher in fat and fibre. Also, it is crucial that they only enjoy it in moderation. So, if you are diabetic and you would like to indulge in a little chocolate, here are some simple guidelines that could help:

  • Make sure that you review the nutritional information on the packaging, pick a dark chocolate that is low in sugar, and ensure that you follow the portion size guidelines for a single serving. Checking the labels to see how much carbohydrates it contains helps adjust your insulin levels
  • Take something else from your meal to make sure that you don’t exceed your carb limit. For example, you could cut another food that is high in carbohydrates or starch and replace it with a piece of dark chocolate.
  • Moderation is key: don’t overindulge and make sure that any decisions made about chocolate consumption are integrated into your overall eating plan enabling you to keep control of your blood sugar levels.
  • Finally, always make sure that you consult with your doctor or a member of your medical team before deciding to incorporate chocolate, or any other sweet treats into your diet. Your doctor may recommend a referral to a dietician specializing in helping those with diabetes create eating plans that work in the long-term interests of their health.

Including a little bit of sweetness in your eating plan can make it easier to stick to it in the long term. But please make sure that you are careful about what you are eating and making sure you don’t overindulge as the potential consequences could be serious.

If you’re looking for some inspiration for healthy recipes that can be used to incorporate chocolate into a diabetic diet, check out the Diabetes Food Hub created by the American Diabetic Association. Their website contains a whole host of ideas for recipes for sweet but healthy treats tailored to diabetic needs, including gluten-free chocolate cake, gluten-free, high-fiber brownies, and no-bake chocolate and peanut butter bites.

Which chocolate is best for diabetics?

As previously mentioned, dark chocolate is the best option for diabetics and, indeed, anyone concerned with their health. That’s because it is higher in cocoa solids which means that it has more flavonols. Flavonols are a form of plant chemicals and consuming them prompts the body to produce more nitric oxide which, in turn, makes blood vessels relax and improves the circulation of blood through the body.

The resulting decrease in blood pressure means that dark chocolate can help reduce the risk of blood clots, protect against heart disease, and decrease the chance of suffering a stroke. That is especially important when you consider that diabetic people are twice as likely to have a stroke or suffer from heart disease compared to people who don’t have the condition.

But that’s not all that flavonols can do for you. Recent research evidence suggests that they could improve insulin sensitivity and reduce insulin resistance, both of which are beneficial for diabetic people. They also contain antioxidants that combat the cell damage associated with aging.

Finally, dark chocolate also packs a punch when it comes to mineral content, containing high levels of essential minerals including iron, zinc, copper, and magnesium.

Don’t assume all things labeled dark chocolate are automatically good for you. The percentage of cocoa solids in different dark chocolate bars varies. You should aim to select one that contains at least 70% cocoa solids. Some dark chocolates still contain high levels of sugar and other unhealthy ingredients. So, be careful to check labels and research the best dark chocolates for your health.

Conclusion

Although most people would assume that chocolate, with its typically very high sugar content, is off-limits for people with diabetes, the reality is much more complex. In fact, we can say that the idea that those with diabetes can never have chocolate is a myth.

However, it is very important to remember that there are key considerations to bear in mind when adding a sweet treat to a diabetic diet. First and foremost, diabetic people should focus on dark chocolate that is high in healthy cocoa solids and low in sugar. Secondly, moderation is key, make sure you control your portion sizes appropriately, and if necessary, substitute something else out of your diet to fit chocolate in.

Following the above advice can help you to reap the benefits of dark chocolate consumption, which could include improved blood sugar control, lower blood pressure, and decreased risk of stroke and heart disease.

Finally, make sure to remember to consult a medical professional about all aspects of your diet to ensure you can enjoy treats like chocolate in a healthy way.