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Low-Carb Diet and Chocolate

By Sylvie Tremblay, MSc

Katniss had it easy -- that 3 p.m. sugar craving and the chocolate bar-filled vending machine calling your name are the real Hunger Games. But if you're on a low-carb diet, you should eat sweetened chocolate sparingly, or not at all. Darker chocolates -- and homemade low-carb chocolate -- can likely work as occasional indulgences, especially if your low-carb diet isn't too strict.

Say No to Sugary Chocolate

While you might not need to cut out chocolate completely on a low-carb diet, you'll definitely want to nix the sweetest versions. Most milk chocolate and white chocolate come loaded with added sugar, which means they're also laden with carbs.

For example, a 1.5-ounce bar of sweet chocolate has 25 grams of total carbohydrates. While 2 of those grams come from fiber -- which won't get broken down and increase your blood sugar -- that still leaves 23 grams of digestible carbohydrates, otherwise known as "net carbs." The same size serving of white chocolate has about 25 grams of net carbs, making it even less low-carb-friendly. And if you're going for chocolate-based candy, you'll be taking in lots of carbs, too. Just one piece of a chocolate-covered caramel and nut candy has 8 grams of net carbs -- grab a handful, and you could easily eat 40 or more grams in just a few bites.

Not only will these candies likely take up most or all of your carb allowance for the day, but their added sugar content contributes to obesity and has also been linked to cardiovascular disease.

Go for Lower-Carb Chocolate Instead

Bypass sweetened chocolates and instead go for dark chocolate, which tends to have less added sweetener. Darker chocolate also contains more dietary fiber -- the indigestible carbs that don't contribute to your net carb intake. Fiber helps stabilize your blood sugar and prevents constipation. And since low-carb diets tend to lack in fiber, including dark chocolate in your meal plan can help you boost your fiber intake.

An ounce of moderately dark chocolate -- one that contains 60 to 69 percent cocoa solids -- offers 13 grams of net carbs. Darker chocolate -- 70 to 85 percent cocoa -- fares even better with 10 grams of net carbs.

When you're shopping for chocolate, look for the darkest variety available. And because most bars contain more than 1 ounce, portion the bar into 1-ounce servings as soon as you come home. Keep the single-serve portions in the freezer, so you can easily satisfy your chocolate craving without accidentally eating too much.

Can Chocolate Fit in Your Low-Carb Diet?

How well chocolate fits into your low-carb diet depends on the type of plan you follow. Very-low-carb diets -- ones that limit your carb intake to 20 grams of net carbs daily -- make it difficult or impossible to eat chocolate. These diets may involve creating your meal plan using a strict list of allowed foods, requiring that you avoid any food not on the list -- and, spoiler alert, chocolate probably isn't on the list. If you need your chocolate fix, you're better off including cocoa powder in your cooking; it has just 1 gram of net carbs per tablespoon.

Follow a more permissive low-carb diet, though, and chocolate's back on the table. If you're allowed 50 or more grams of carbs, you can afford to indulge in an ounce of dark chocolate and still have enough left in your carb "budget" to eat healthy veggies and other carb sources throughout the day. If you're eating more than an ounce of dark chocolate, though -- or eating white chocolate or sweetened chocolate -- you'll likely find it hard to stay within your carb allowance.

Low-Carb Chocolate Serving Tips

If you can't fit a full ounce of dark chocolate into your meal plan, don't worry -- you can still get your chocolate fix without taking in as many carbs. Try making a low-carb smoothie by blending unsweetened coconut milk with a tablespoon of cocoa powder and a cup or two of ice, then add a no-carb sweetener, like stevia, to counteract any bitterness from the cocoa.

You can also use cocoa powder to make your own low-carb "chocolate." Simply mix cocoa powder and a splash of coconut milk in unrefined coconut oil. Pour the mixture into a baking sheet and freeze to allow the oil to solidify. Break the resulting "chocolate" bark into bite-size pieces and store in the freezer to prevent melting. If you're feeling creative, sprinkle the bark with chopped almonds, cinnamon or cayenne powder before freezing for flavored chocolate bark.

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