Can something so decadently delicious really fit into a healthy eating plan? Indeed it can, and, as I’m one of the world’s greatest lovers of chocolate, that’s sweet music to my ears. Here are the tips I share with my patients and clients. (Be sure to check with your diabetes care team before making changes to your meal plan.)
Choose dark, dark chocolate
Cocoa beans, from which chocolate is made, contain flavanols. These compounds – also present in fruits, vegetables and teas – are thought to exert health-boosting effects. Unfortunately, manufacturers sometimes remove flavanols during processing, but you are most likely to find them in dark chocolate. A square of chocolate with 85% cocoa solids will likely have more flavanols than a square with only 72% cocoa solids. White chocolate has none.
An ounce of plain dark chocolate contains about 170 calories and 13 grams of carbohydrate. Adding this to your diet several times a week will likely boost both your blood sugar and your pants size. I recommend to my clients that if they want to indulge in small amounts of chocolate, then they may want to think about using it as a replacement for other types of high-calorie food they occasionally enjoy, such as fried onion rings or snack cakes. Personally, my favorite indulgence is to treat myself to the small individually wrapped pieces. I can choose one or two small squares to top off a special meal, or once in a while to brighten my afternoon without breaking my calorie budget.
(A note about managing blood sugar level: Because of chocolate’s high-fat content, it is not considered an ideal food for treating hypoglycemia. Your care team can help you create a list of sugary carbohydrate foods and drinks that are more suitable for treating low blood sugar.)
Skip the ooey-gooey add-ins
Raspberry cream, nougat, caramel and similar fillings add calories, carbs and unhealthful fats without adding the healthful flavanols. Nuts are little treasure troves of nutrition, so chocolate with almonds, peanuts or other nuts make better choices. Divvy four to six dark chocolate-covered almonds into a dozen snack-sized baggies. Now you have 12 nutritious, delicious mini desserts!
Savor every bite
What’s the point of eating something so delicious if you don’t get every lick of pleasure! Try this experiment that nearly always makes an impression on my clients. When you put a piece of chocolate in your mouth, swirl it around a bit. Notice the flavor, texture and warmth of the chocolate and how they change as you continue to move it in your mouth. Bite into it, and notice the changes again. You will learn that giving your dessert (and all of your food) your full attention treats your taste buds and may satisfy cravings much more than eating quickly while multi-tasking. Always, always, always sit down, eat from a dish, and give your food the proper attention – you may find small diabetes- and waist- friendly portions more satisfying.
“Healthify” your desserts
If plain dark chocolate or chocolate with nuts doesn’t satisfy, boost the nutrition and minimize the unhealthful components by cooking with wholesome ingredients.
- Bake brownies with pureed black beans instead of flour. Trust me, it’s delicious and gives you a terrific fiber boost!
- Substitute white flour with whole-wheat pastry flour or white whole-wheat flour.
- Bake with cocoa that has not undergone Dutch processing, also written as processed with alkali. This type of processing reduces the disease-fighting compounds in the cocoa beans.
- Make fruit the focus. Dip strawberries or dried apricots into melted dark chocolate, or grate dark chocolate over a bowl of fresh berries.
- Warm up with hot chocolate made with cocoa powder, nonfat or 1% milk, and the sweetener of your choice. Cool off with chocolate milk made with the same ingredients.
- Skip the coffeehouse mochas in favor of a nonfat latte with shaved chocolate.
- Portion size matters. Fortunately, small desserts are in these days. Serve yourself or your guests something chic like ice cream in miniature chocolate cups, chocolate mouse in shot glasses, or chocolate soufflé in tiny ramekins.
Exercise caution when dining out
Restaurant desserts can be shockingly high in added sugars, carbs, unhealthful fats and calories. In my research, I’ve found that just one slice of chocolate cake at a restaurant could contain as many as 1500 calories and over 180 grams of blood sugar boosting carbohydrate! This is not something that you share with just one other person. If you have a craving for this, please share it with the entire gang at your next family reunion. Most chain restaurants and coffee shops post nutrition information on their websites. Check these out before temptation overrules your good sense. If your chocolate dessert isn’t a bowl of fruit with chocolate shavings, your best bet is to follow a three-bite rule. Three bites and you’re done.
Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDE*, FAND is the author of Diabetes Weight Loss Week by Week, and the upcoming The Overworked Person’s Guide to Better Nutrition, as well as contributing editor at Environmental Nutrition. She has written for many publications including EatingWell, Diabetic Living, Her Sports + Fitness, and LifeScript. Weisenberger is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.
*“Certified Diabetes Educator” and “CDE” are certification marks owned and registered by the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators (NCBDE). NCBDE is not affiliated in any way with Sanofi US. NCBDE does not sponsor or endorse any diabetes-related products or services.
© 2014 The DX: The Diabetes Experience