Few people can resist chocolate. Eating chocolate can seem like a guilty pleasure, especially for people with diabetes. What’s surprising, though, is that chocolate can actually be good for you!
Chocolate is full of substances called flavonoids, which are antioxidants found in plants. These flavonoids are thought to have a number of health benefits. Take a look:
- Heart health. Studies show that eating a few squares of chocolate every day might lower your risk of having a heart attack by up to 50 percent. One way that chocolate may prevent heart attacks is by stopping blood clots from forming.
- Blood pressure. Dark chocolate may lower blood pressure. In turn, this can lower your chances of having a heart attack or a stroke.
- Insulin resistance. People with insulin resistance (when the body makes insulin but isn’t able to use it effectively) are more likely to get type 2 diabetes. And many people with diabetes have insulin resistance, as well. In one study, people who ate dark chocolate for 7 days lowered their insulin resistance.
- Blood flow. The flavonoids in chocolate and cocoa improve blood flow through in the arteries and brain. This boosts heart and brain health.
- Mood. Who wouldn’t feel better after eating chocolate? Now there’s research to back this up: Eating chocolate helps to release endorphins, otherwise known as the “feel good” chemicals to give your mood a boost.
It’s important to note that not all chocolate is the same. Much of the research with chocolate involves either cocoa powder or dark chocolate. That’s because cocoa powder has the most flavonoids, followed by dark chocolate. When choosing dark chocolate, go for the chocolate with the highest percentage of cocoa (at least 70 percent). The more cocoa solids in your chocolate, the more flavonoids and, usually, the less sugar. For all you milk chocolate lovers, the news isn’t so good. Milk chocolate has less of the healthy flavonoids and more sugar than dark chocolate. White chocolate has no cocoa, and, therefore, no flavonoids.
Fitting chocolate into your meal plan
The old saying “everything in moderation” definitely applies when it comes to chocolate. Chocolate may have some health benefits, but it’s still high in calories, fat and carbs. This means that you need to carefully control how much you eat and make sure that it fits into your eating plan. Chocolate isn’t a free food! Too much can lead to weight gain and high blood glucose levels.
- Limit your daily intake of chocolate to between 1 and 3 ounces. One ounce of dark chocolate contains 170 calories, 13 grams of carb and 12 grams of fat. If you are trying to lose or maintain your weight, substitute chocolate for another food in your meal plan to keep your calorie intake under control.
- For fewer calories, carbs and fat, try natural cocoa powder (not the Dutch process kind). Make sure it’s unsweetened, as well. One tablespoon of cocoa powder has just 12 calories, 3 grams of carb and 1 gram of fat. Sprinkle it onto fruit, or try mixing it into almond or rice milk.
It’s also a good idea to talk with your dietitian or other healthcare provider about how to safely fit chocolate into your meal plan.