An ounce of dark chocolate has approximately 130 calories, 10 grams of fat, 6 grams of saturated fat and 15 grams of carbohydrate, and, if you have watched any TV commercials lately, the mystic key to eternal joy and serenity. But is it a food people with diabetes should avoid?
As it turns out, despite the hyperbole, the right kind of chocolate in appropriate amounts might not be such a bad indulgence after all, even if you have diabetes.
Of course, nobody is saying that raspberries or peaches are going to lose a nutrition contest to chocolate anytime soon, but the ancient Aztecs may have been on the right track with their “divine drink.”
Epidemiologically, populations that consume large amounts of cocoa (not chocolate bars) have a lower incidence of hypertension and cardiovascular disease. Scientists have postulated that the health benefits seen in these cocoa consuming populations came from the flavanols found in the cocoa.
High concentrations of flavanols are found in berries, apples, grape juice and wine as well as cocoa. Flavanols may be cardioprotective through a number of mechanisms. They can serve as antioxidants that help reduce the damage to cells caused by free radicals produced during normal metabolic processes such as energy metabolism or respiration.
Flavinoids may also have anti-inflammatory and antiplatelet effects which can improve lipid levels, blood pressure and insulin resistance.
Flavanols also exert a positive effect on insulin resistance by increasing the bioavailability of nitric oxide. There is evidence that insulin-mediated nitric oxide release plays a role in insulin sensitivity.
But all those flavanols come at the price of all that fat and calories, right?
As we all know, chocolate contains fat, which is what gives it that delicious mouth-feel. The three types of fat in cocoa butter are oleic, stearic and palmitric acids.
Oleic acid is a monounsaturated fat–that kind of fat that can lower LDL (the bad cholesterol) and raise HDL (the good cholesterol).
Both stearic and palmitric acids are saturated fats, the kind usually associated with increased LDL levels and heart disease. However, as it turns out, stearic acid doesn’t seem to have as detrimental an effect on LDL cholesterol as other saturated fats. It doesn’t appear to lower HDL levels either.
Wouldn’t it be better to eat apples or raspberries?
Yes, of course, but fruit isn’t an indulgence—it should be part of your everyday diet.
So, back to our discussion of chocolate.
The less processing the cocoa is subject to, the higher the levels of flavanols. The highest levels of flavanols are found in cocoa. Cocoa is the dried chocolate liquor of roasted defatted cocoa beans.
So cocoa (non Dutch processed) is your best choice because it is the least processed chocolate with the lowest levels of fat, sugar and calories and the highest levels of flavanols. Dark chocolate is next.
Milk chocolate has the lowest levels and additional fat and sugar. And for those of you who love white chocolate, my apologies. The name is an oxymoron; there isn’t any chocolate in white chocolate.
So if you would like a treat once in a while, an ounce of dark chocolate isn’t all that bad.
For more information about diabetes and nutrition, check out our library of articles on the Joslin Diabetes Center web site (www.joslin.org).