When the weather cools with that frosty nip in the air, curling up with a good book and steamy cup of hot chocolate can be just the thing to make you feel cozy and warm. If you have diabetes, however, you might wonder if that tempting mug of chocolaty goodness is the best thing for your blood sugar or your overall health. Rest assured, you can enjoy your hot chocolate. You might even be surprised by its health benefits. Ask your dietitian or health care provider how to include hot cocoa in your meal plan.
The Insulin Effect
Researcher Lee Hooper and associates analyzed 42 different studies on the effect of cocoa and chocolate on insulin. Their findings were published in the March 2012 edition of “The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.” The studies found that chocolate and cocoa reduced serum insulin, thus improving insulin resistance. Improving insulin resistance helps you have better blood sugar control, which is critical for people with diabetes.
Blood Sugar Levels
Not all hot chocolate beverages are created equal. Some can be very high in sugar and carbohydrates, leading to spikes in your blood sugar, so use caution when choosing your cocoa. The beneficial part of chocolate comes from the cocoa bean. The more processed, including the addition of fat and sugar, the less beneficial your cup of hot cocoa and the more risk of raising your blood sugar. To avoid this, choose sugar-free types. If you use milk to make your hot chocolate, remember to include the carbohydrates as part of your meal plan. Try making your hot cocoa with unsweetened cocoa powder mixed with your favorite artificial sweetener. If you’ve consumed your carbs for the day, use hot water. If you need a little creaminess, add a couple of tablespoons of fat-free half-and-half.
The Heart Effect
According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, people with diabetes are at higher risk for heart disease. A study in the April 2011 journal “Clinical Nutrition” states that chocolate contains potassium, magnesium and flavonoids that lower your risk for coronary heart disease. The participants in this study who consumed chocolate at least five times a week had 57 percent less prevalence of coronary heart disease. So drinking hot cocoa may be good for your heart.
Many diabetics struggle with weight. Drinking large amounts of hot chocolate may sabotage your weight-management goals. To keep your calories in check, avoid the cup of hot chocolate with the mound of whipped cream on top from the little coffee shop on the corner. A 16-ounce cup may contain close to 400 calories compared to just over 100 in the cup you made using sugar-free hot cocoa mix and water. If you’re a hot chocolate connoisseur and you want to add flavorings, most won’t change the calorie content. Flavored extracts such as orange or raspberry are calorie-free, as are spices such as cinnamon or nutmeg.