The short answer to this question is that it depends on the type of chocolate with darker lower sugar types being better.
While many people enjoy the pleasant, smooth taste of chocolate, consuming it as a diabetic can be tricky and watched carefully.
A lot of it depends on what’s in the chocolate ingredients. So, to understand if you should or shouldn’t eat chocolate, it is essential to be aware of ingredients.
The American Diabetes Association, states that people with diabetes are not strictly forbidden from having sweets and chocolate or any other sugary foods. However, diabetics need to consume these foods as part of a healthy diet and exercise plan.
A healthy meal plan will be:
- Low in saturated fat
- Have very little sugar and salt
- Include lots of lean protein, whole grains, healthy fats, and non-starchy vegetables
Doctors generally recommend that their patients save the sugary foods for special occasions, and even then, consume them in limited portions.
As a diabetic, you need to choose the food you consume carefully. Understand how a particular ingredient, for instance, chocolate, will affect your blood glucose levels. That boils down to understanding nutrition labels on foods like chocolate bars that are made from more than just chocolate.
It is worth noting that while many foods are labeled as “sugar-free” or they may read “no added sugar,” they still have calories and carbohydrates which impact your blood glucose. In other words, you need to drill down further into the ingredients to figure out if a particular item can be consumed.
What Is Chocolate? The Ingredients Matter.
Most people reading this know what chocolate is, but they are unaware of how it is made. As mentioned earlier, what’s in your chocolate can make it diabetic-friendly or unfriendly.
Generally, chocolate comes from the seed of the fruit growing on the cocoa tree. The pure ingredient called Cocoa Liquor that comes from the cocoa tree seed includes the natural cocoa butter and cocoa solids. The food label of chocolate will sometimes mention the percentage of cacao.
Cocoa powder contains cocoa liquor but has lower cocoa butter due to pressing, so it is a concentrated version of cocoa solids.
Chocolate has cocoa butter, cocoa liquor, and sugar or an alternative sweetener. Here is how each type of chocolate varies as a rule of thumb:
- Semisweet or dark chocolate has around 35% cocoa liquor minimum
- White chocolate has milk, sugar, and cocoa butter
- Milk chocolate has powdered milk or dried condensed milk mixed with the chocolate liquor.
As you may have already guessed, most of the above mentioned chocolate isn’t for diabetics not watching their blood sugar carefully, but there are modified versions that help prevent triggering high blood glucose levels. Sugar free chocolate is one example. Santa Barbara Chocolate, the company I work for, has a true sugar free chocolate: Stevia Chocolate.
The Effect of Chocolate on Blood Sugar Levels
What does chocolate do to your blood sugar? Does it raise or lower it? High cocoa solids chocolate (100% types) is often thought of as a low glycemic food, meaning it does not cause a sharp spike in blood sugar. The fat and fiber in chocolate make it slow-digesting, so you don't get an instant spike. While sugar-sweetened dark chocolate is higher on the glycemic index than unsweetened chocolate, it's still generally lower than high-starch, low-fiber foods (i.e. sugar cookies).
Commercial chocolate bars from the grocery store may be high in sugar and fat, making it a significant source of calories. Eating these regularly can increase the risk of other diabetic complications due to the sugar content. Just so you know, chronic diabetes leads to oxidative stress, and diabetics are less able to fight free radicals that cause inflammation and cell damage (gout can be an issue as an example). While it is still possible to eat chocolate for diabetics, it's important to choose dark chocolate over the higher sugar or very processed types with low cocoa fiber / cocoa solids.
Is Sugar-Free Chocolate Good For Diabetics?
Sugar-free chocolates are a way to get the fix without adding extra sugar to your diet. Sugar-free chocolates or diabetes-friendly chocolate are generally sweetened with calorie-free sugar options (i.e. stevia is our favorite).
Most sugar-free chocolates are thought of as not too bad for diabetics because they likely have no impact on blood sugar levels. But some types of sugar-free chocolate contain artificial sweeteners that can possibly have adverse health effects (some have speculated that sucralose could be an issue but the research is not conclusive).
Mostly, chocolate with cocoa solids above 95% do not cause too much issue with blood glucose levels (this is individual dependent and diet related - so test and ask your doctor), meaning diabetics could enjoy the occasional piece of dark chocolate without any problem but this still requires monitoring of blood glucose and proper medical consultation.
The key is striking the right balance of carbs in a diabetics diet. People with diabetes should limit their sugar intake to their doctor’s recommendation.
Here are a few more things to consider when consuming chocolate:
- Sugar alcohols are some of the most common sugar substitutes used in sugar-free chocolate. While they are harmless, they can trigger an upset stomach in some people.
- Sugar substitutes include artificial sweeteners, which can have possibly adverse health effects.
- Sugar-free chocolate isn’t necessarily low in calories; it can be as high as regular chocolate.
So what chocolates can people with diabetes eat: Darker the better it appears.
Dark Chocolate has Lower Sugar
The research on dark chocolate and diabetes is mixed. While chocolate may have some health benefits, studies have mixed results showing the direct relationship between chocolate's cocoa content and the reduction of blood glucose.
However, the compounds present in dark chocolate may boost the immune system benefitting the eyes and the brain. One study conducted by British researchers showed that eating dark chocolate reduced symptoms of chronic fatigue. The key to reaping the benefits of dark chocolate for diabetics is moderation and monitoring. Diabetics need to be very careful about their diet and constantly monitor their blood sugar levels to ensure they remain stable.
For this reason, a low-sugar, nutrient-dense type of dark chocolate may be the perfect solution.
Does Chocolate Consumption Offer Diabetics Any Health Benefits?
Dark chocolates have dietary fiber with some essential nutrients. Although it is high in fat, chocolate may not necessarily contribute to cardiovascular disease. Its sugar-free low fat form, baking cocoa powder, is low in fat and calories when compared to unsweetened chocolate liquor. Unsweetened chocolate is higher in fat and calories but is comparatively more satisfying and flavorful to eat plain.
A good quality extra dark chocolate is a good choice for diabetics, as it has antioxidants and also a possible mood-boosting effect. Dark chocolate can be gluten and soy-free which is often considered important.
Dark chocolate contains less sugar and has fewer calories than milk chocolate, so diabetics can more easily indulge in a small amount. Finally, Chocolate with high cocoa solids can be higher in fiber, which has been said to aid in weight loss, and can possibly reduce your blood sugar. This, in turn, could help fight off Type 2 diabetes as some research shows but again there are several factors to consider.
Diabetic Friendly Chocolates from Santa Barbara Chocolate
Santa Barbara Chocolate's 100% Cacao Organic Unsweetened Chocolate Chips and Sugar-Free Stevia Chocolate Chips are perfect for those looking for a sugar-free, diabetic-friendly treat made from extra fine quality cacao beans.
Our sugar-free chocolate chips use stevia, a natural sweetener, to provide a premium tasting experience without the negative health effects of sugar.
Final Word - Enjoy Chocolate But Be Smart
Ask any doctor, and they will be against depriving yourself entirely of fun like chocolate, especially since there are likely some health benefits associated with its consumption. The key for diabetics is to consume it in moderation. Plus, understand that not all chocolate is the same; dark chocolate is considered healthier and better in most cases but some are misleading so read the label.
You will also want to consider your lifestyle choices like exercise and diet before indulging in chocolate. Make sure to consult with your doctor before incorporating chocolate into your regular diet.
What Chocolates Can Diabetics Eat?
Diabetics can likely eat unsweetened dark chocolate. Dark chocolate offers all the benefits of the chocolate diet without the possible negative health effects of lots of sugar. While dark chocolate still has some carbohydrates and fats, the lower glycemic index means it is less likely to cause insulin spikes.
Most sugar sensitive individuals can generally eat around 20 grams to 30 grams of dark chocolate a day after a meal. However, when in doubt, it is best to consult with your doctor.
What Is Diabetes-Friendly Chocolate?
The answer is, that it depends. The best sugar substitute is stevia over maltitol. Stevia has no calories and zero sugar impact. Maltitol has a glycemic index of 52, compared to 60 for sugar. Maltitol contains half the amount of calories as sugar and has a lower glycemic index than sugar. However, beware of products containing high amounts of sugar substitutes, as they may still contain carbohydrates and saturated fats that could cause issues - again read the label.
Dark chocolate is likely best for diabetics because it contains the least sugar and generally no milk. Dark chocolate could have the lowest glycemic index (some 100% types as low as 23), which means it maynot cause a spike in blood glucose. It's best to choose chocolate with the lowest glycemic index to help manage your blood sugar levels. You should be aware that some types of chocolate can cause a spike in blood sugar, and so it is down to reading the label and monitoring your blood glucose (some of our customers tell us the coconut sugar chocolate is great for them even though they have diabetes).
Sugar-free chocolate sweetened with sorbitol or fructose inplace of sugar is often found in Europe. Artificial sweeteners could have adverse effects on diabetics, which is why you may want to opt for the unsweetened type. It may take time to adjust to the bitter taste of sugar-free chocolate, but it's worth the effort.
When To Consult Your Doctor?
If you are struggling to eat chocolates or other sweets in moderation or need help with controlling weight or blood sugar, it's time to consult with a professional. You might want to ask your doctor to refer you to a registered dietitian if possible, or a DCES (diabetes care and education specialist), who will help create a healthier diet plan.
Most people with diabetes will find that diet and exercise are key to maintaining good health allowing for chocolate consumption in moderation.
Can I Gain Weight Eating Dark Chocolate?
Chocolate is high in calories, with around 140 calories per ounce, which is twice the calories compared to an ounce of bread (60 calories). Cheese has 110 calories per ounce, and 2 large apples around 140 calories. So, as you can see, chocolate might not help you lose weight. However, eating it in moderation might be helpful in maintaining a healthy weight. There are a few reasons for this which include:
- Chocolate has insoluble fiber which in some research is directly linked with lowering weight.
- Chocolate consumption could have a positive effect on mood resulting in eating less like stress eating.
- Chocolate may help to reduce ghrelin (a hunger hormone), which means you feel less hungry and consequently consume less food.