Good News for Chocolate Fans

"It seems like anything that tastes good isn’t good for you." This was a lament I heard more times than I can remember from patients who were bemoaning what they thought was the loss of their favorite foods. While this isn’t 100% true, it can certainly seem that way, especially for people who are newly diagnosed with diabetes or who find out they have high cholesterol or high blood pressure, for example. However, there’s good news for chocolate lovers: Chocolate can actually be good for you!

But don’t rush out and load up on Hershey Kisses just yet—read on to learn how and why chocolate may actually be more friend than foe.

Chocolate is made from cacao beans that are roasted and then cracked. The insides of the beans, or the “nibs,” are crushed into a paste called chocolate liquor (which contains no alcohol). Chocolate liquor can be made into cocoa powder if the fat (cocoa butter) is removed. But to make chocolate, sugar, chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, vanilla, and milk (in the case of milk chocolate) are combined. The chocolate then goes through various refining processes to give it a smooth, silky texture. Dark chocolate contains more cocoa than milk chocolate, contains no milk, and also is lower in sugar.

Why is chocolate considered healthy, then? Well, it’s really the dark chocolate that carries the health benefits (sorry, all you milk chocolate lovers). You may recall from previous posts and other reading you’ve done that some foods contain phytonutrients called flavonoids, which are a type of antioxidant. Cocoa, or cacao, beans are rich in flavonoids. Researchers have been learning more and more about flavonoids in foods such as fruits, vegetables, and tea. Now they’ve added chocolate to their list. So, then, what health benefits does dark chocolate have to offer? To date, a handful of studies have shown some surprising, but positive, effects from eating chocolate.

In one study, 21 healthy adults were split into two groups—one group got to eat a Dove chocolate bar every day for two weeks (yes, this was a tough study to be part of!). The Dove bar was rich in flavonoids, which are thought to help lower cholesterol and lower the risk of blood clots. But the second group wasn’t totally deprived—they, too, ate a chocolate bar every day for two weeks, but their chocolate had the flavonoids removed. After the two weeks, all subjects had a test to evaluate how well their blood vessels dilated and relaxed, an indication of how healthy their blood vessels were. The Dove bar group scored significantly better than the regular chocolate bar group.

Dark chocolate may also help lower blood pressure in people who have hypertension. In this particular study, published in the July 4 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association, half of a group of 44 adults with either high blood pressure or prehypertension was told to eat 30 calories of dark chocolate every day for 18 weeks. The other half ate 30 calories of white chocolate (which contains no flavonoids) every day. After 18 weeks, the dark chocolate group had a 2.9 mm Hg drop in systolic blood pressure (the top number), and a 1.9 mm Hg drop in diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number). The white chocolate group had no change in blood pressure.

Researchers speculate that dark chocolate increases levels of nitric oxide in the body, which helps blood vessels relax and open up. And other studies have shown that eating dark chocolate can improve insulin sensitivity, or how well insulin works in the body, which, in turn, may help with blood glucose control.

Here’s the catch: Chocolate is certainly no substitute for taking your blood pressure, cholesterol, or diabetes medicine. And chocolate is definitely not a low-calorie, low-fat treat. A 1.3-ounce Dove Dark Chocolate singles bar contains 190 calories, 12 grams of fat (7 of them saturated), and 22 grams of carbohydrate.

While there is no set recommendation for how much chocolate you need to eat to reap its health benefits, it’s OK to fit in a small amount (1 ounce, for example) of chocolate every day as long as you account for the calories, fat, and carbs in your meal plan. Also, try to choose dark chocolate with a cocoa content higher then 50% and main ingredients of cocoa butter and cocoa solids. And when the cold wind blows, settle down with a cup of cocoa, which can do wonders for your heart.

  • mitchell

    How can a recipe for a dessert be posted on a diabetic website that has 3/4 of a cup of SUGAR in it as was done by Nancy Cooper????? I am a Type II diabebic and if I ate a dessert with that much sugar my blood glucose count would go out of sight. She could at least suggest Splenda. NOT GOOD. Maybe it was not intented for diabetics but one would think so since its put in diabetic publication.

  • Tara Dairman, Web Editor


    You may want to check out Amy Campbell’s previous blog entry, “Having Your Cake and Eating It Too: Fitting Sugar Into Your Meal Plan.” It is a myth that people with diabetes cannot eat sugar–rather, it’s important to know how much carbohydrate (whether from sugar or starch, as they affect blood glucose levels in the same way) is present in a serving of food and how that food fits into your meal plan. This week’s recipe contains 2 carbohydrate choices.

  • me

    sugar is not good for diabetics. i had a roommate who died from blood sugar so sorry Mitchell your wrong.

  • acampbell

    Hi me,
    Just a gentle reminder that eating sugar or foods that contain sugar does not cause diabetes. The sugar in food is different than the sugar in your blood. And what’s more important, in terms of blood glucose levels, is how much carbohydrate one eats, rather than how much sugar. Too much carbohydrate, even from healthy foods such as bread, pasta or fruit, for example, can cause glucose levels to rise too much unless portions are controlled and/or medication is on board.

  • sonic

    can anyone tell me if eating a large 10pice bar of choclate in september will affect my 3month diabettes reading imn worried thank u

  • acampbell

    Hi sonic,

    It’s unlikely that one eating event (in this case, a chocolate bar) will have an impact on your A1C level. Everyone eats a little more now and then. However, you do need to think about how you’ve been eating the rest of the days. In other words, what’s more important is what you eat on a day to day basis. Ask yourself if you’ve been following your meal plan pretty closely, or counting carbohydrate grams accurately. Are you getting in some physical activity on a regular basis? Finally, look at your blood glucose results. Are most of them within your target range? Your meter should be able to tell you what your average glucose readings are over 7, 14 and 30 days.

  • marcphil2

    1 hour after a meal of 45g of all bran I registered a glucose level of 8.9. 1 hour later I consumed 50g of dark chocolate which gave me a reading of 4.9 a further hour later. Since both of these food intakes had similar glycemic loads, this observation might support the assertion that insulin resistance might be remedied by dark chocolate. I have observed this apparent anonaly in the past, but now recognise that there must be some beneficial effect from dark chocolate.

  • acampbell

    Hi marcphil2,
    Thanks for sharing your observations. However, it might be too soon to conclude that dark chocolate reduces insulin resistance. Chocolate has a fairly low glycemic effect due to its fat content. In fact, adding fat to a food or a meal reduces the glycemic impact of that meal. The catch, though, with fat is that it delays carbohydrate digestion so that hours later, after one’s insulin has already peaked, blood glucose levels can jump up. Also, you should consider that you ate the chocolate an hour after you ate your cereal. If you take insulin or diabetes pills, your medication could have been “peaking” by the time you ate the chocolate. But, dark chocolate may have some health benefits, as I mentioned in my blog, above, so eating about 1 ounce per day may actually do some good!

  • Andrei

    Sugar is the biggest carbohydrate in most of todays foods, I’d say…
    Different carbohydrates have different absorption levels. For example, white bread is many times more leather in terms of raising blood sugar levels than brown bread is…

  • Andrei

    Lethal, not leather.

  • acampbell

    Hi Andrei,

    Sugar in its various forms is abundant in many of the processed foods that we eat. And you’re correct that different types of carbohydrate foods affect blood glucose in different ways. However, you might be surprised that white bread has almost the same glycemic index as whole wheat bread, and both are high. Glycemic index is a rating of how quickly a carbohydrate-containing food raises blood glucose. Also, dark rye bread has a high glycemic index. Sourdough bread, on the other hand, which is essentially a white bread, has a low glycemic index. Many other factors affect the glycemic index of a food, too, such as in what form it’s eaten, how it’s cooked, how much fat is eaten with it, etc.

  • vicki

    I found that the really dark chocolate (80% cocoa or more)… high in fiber, lower in sugar and carbs is really good. It seems to cause no spikes (i’m unmedicated, controlling my levels with exercise and diet) and may in fact lower levels a little. This is all personal evidence…. but it’s been holding true for about 6 months now. Like everything else of course…. moderation is the key.

  • Kenny

    The Center for Flavonoid Research has an excellent White Paper study on the benefits of Dark Chocolate:

  • k.santhanam

    pls mail me as iam a pure vegetarian, the names of vegetables,fruits,cereals,chocklates and other eatables that i can take as iam a newly diagonised diabetic.

  • acampbell

    Hi k. santhanam,

    Unfortunately, I really can’t e-mail you a list of foods. The fact is that, with diabetes, you can eat all fruits and vegetables, grains, and protein foods (obviously, you’d avoid animal foods). The key is knowing how much to eat of healthy foods to manage your blood glucose. Your eating plan works with any diabetes medicine that you may be taking, as well as with your physical activity. My advice is to ask your doctor for a referral to a dietitian who specializes in diabetes. He or she can develop an eating plan with you that fits your dietary needs, food preferences, and lifestyle. You can also find a dietitian in your area by going to the Web site

  • Nancy

    How does chocolate milk affect blood sugar levels if the person drinks 1 litre a day

  • acampbell

    Hi Nancy,

    One cup of low-fat chocolate milk has about 26 grams of carbohydrate, or twice the amount of carbohydrate as one cup of plain low-fat milk. So, chocolate milk can have a significant impact on blood glucose. You can account for it, but it might mean that you have to eat less of other carbohydrate foods, or else, if you take premeal insulin, adjust your insulin to cover the chocolate milk.

  • Ron

    I’ve been on that carbs addicts diet where you have two low or non carbs meals, then one rewards meal where you eat whatever you want in an hour and only once a day cause it won’t spike your blood sugar levels. I’m diabetic, so I tried chocolate and tested my blood and was 119. Tried pizza and shot up to 240. You have to be careful, but for me I’m finding that chocolate is less dangerous than Pizza or processed foods. JFYI!

  • Ertha J.

    I experienced the suppression of my appetite on yesterday evening after eating about seven Hershey’s dark chocolate kisses, with almonds. I was hungry, so therefore I didn’t have dinner. I was O’mazed! I am a recently diagnosed diabetic, and I haven’t experienced a problem. It works!!

  • Jim

    The problem is the amount of chocolate you eat. Someone mentioned a standard figure of one ounce. Once people find out a tasty thing is “OK,” they tend to go overboard. This reminds me of the guy who was told “wine was good for his heart,” so he drank an extra cup and was busted for drunk driving.

  • terry

    Hi I am tee I just found out that I have type2 diabetes and I am really scared .

  • acampbell

    Hi terry,

    It’s certainly understandable that you’re feeling scared about having diabetes. One of the best ways to overcome your fear is to learn as much as you can about how to best manage it. This Web site will definitely help you. But also talk with your doctor and ask him to refer you to a diabetes education program or a diabetes educator. You can also check with your local hospital to find a program in your area, or visit the American Diabetes Association’s Web site at to find a branch in your state. You’ll feel less fearful and more comfortable about having diabetes if you learn how to manage it. And you’ll likely meet other people who have diabetes, as well. Good luck!