The Best Cocoa for Managing Diabetes

Patient Expert

Did you know that chocolate can reduce insulin resistance and improve memory? The good nutrients in chocolate are flavanols, as I wrote at "Cocoa Cuts Diabetes Insulin Resistance."

Last week, I reviewed new research, the full text of which is free online at "Cocoa flavanol consumption." This was a randomized double-blind study of 90 people who for eight weeks consumed either 48 mg, 520 mg, or 993 mg of flavanols in a drink. Those people in the intermediate and high intake groups showed clear improvements in insulin resistance, memory, and other variables, including their blood pressure and lipid profiles.

But we can't eat just any chocolate bar or drink just any cocoa to get a decent level of flavanols. How much good nutrition we get when we eat different chocolates varies tremendously.

Avoid the Dutch process

Dutch-processed chocolate is much lower in flavanols than natural-processed chocolate. And even among the brands of natural cocoa, great differences in the amount of flavanols exist, and few of the products show how many milligrams of flavanol they contain.

Two brands of cocoa, however, do show the amount of flavanols they have, and they each have a lot. CocoaVia, produced by Mars Botanical, the scientific division of the giant candy company Mars Inc., comes in several forms. CocoaWell, produced by Reserveage Nutrition, also comes in several forms. The difference between these brands is that some of the cocoa-like flavanols in CocoaWell are contributed by other flavanol-containing ingredients while CocoaVia is made from a cocoa extract.

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I have been using only the CocoaVia products, because the flavanols in cocoa are a proven source. After reading the studies showing that cocoa will help my insulin resistance and my memory, I started to consume two CocoaVia products, vegetarian capsules and unsweetened dark chocolate. I haven't tried their other current products, sweetened dark chocolate, cran-raspberry, and variety packs of unsweetened, sweetened, and cran-raspberry. Each of these have 375 mg per serving, meaning that we need only two servings per day to get the more than the intermediate amount of flavanols that provided clear improvement to the people in the new research.

Avoid the old versions

CocoaVia is now also selling a discontinued product, summer citrus. But this product has only 250 mg per serving. Late last year Mars changed the formula to provide the higher flavanol content and to eliminate salt, carrageenan, and soy, replacing them with maltodextrin and sunflower lecithin. Other vendors are also still selling those less potent products.

The ingredient maltodextrin in the reformulated CocoaVia product particularly captured my attention. It is a carbohydrate, which I closely limit in my diet because carbs raise our blood sugar.

The tough choice between taste and carbs

Each serving of CocoaVia's unsweetened dark chocolate provides 4 grams of total carbohydrate. That's actually not much, but I do limit myself to no more than 50 grams of carbs per day.

The vegetarian capsules, on the other hand, have only 1 gram of total carbohydrates. But the unsweetened dark chocolate tastes wonderful, at least after I add some no-calorie stevia, and the capsules don't have any taste.

So I compromise. When I want the great taste of chocolate as well as its health effects, I will drink the unsweetened dark chocolate that day. When my health is all that I care about, the capsules will certainly do the trick.

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