Diabetes is a metabolic disorder.
Glucose is required by the body for energy and cell growth – it is the body’s fuel source.
When we eat, our food gets broken down to form glucose.
For this process, we require insulin produced by the pancreas.
The pancreas of diabetic patients may produce little or no insulin or body cells may not utilize the insulin that is available in the appropriate manner.
In the latter case, glucose levels in the blood increase and pass out through urine.
The body loses is main fuel source. There are 3 broad categories of diabetes – type 1, type 2 and gestational diabetes.
The first is an autoimmune disease where the immune system malfunctions and destroys beta-cells that produce insulin in the pancreas.
Type 2 diabetes is the most common type and affects those who suffered from gestational diabetes, obese people, older people or it can be hereditary.
In this type, the body produces insulin but the cells are unable to use this effectively – called insulin resistance.
Gestational diabetes affects pregnant women during the later stages.
While this can disappear after birth, affected women are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes later in life unless they are careful.
A fasting blood sugar test is done to diagnose diabetes in non-pregnant adults and children.
Most of us do not know that the chocolates we see flooding every store is got from the Theobroma cacao tree.
This tree grows in various tropical regions of Central and South America, Asia and Africa like the Amazon and Orinoco River basins, Venezuela, Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador, Indonesia, Philippines, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Togo and Papua New Guinea.
The tree grows to 3-9m in height and produces fruits called cacao pods.
These pods turn bright orange or yellow when ripe and weigh around a pound. Inside each cacao pod, we find nestling several cacao beans.
These can be extracted and a type of pale-yellow vegetable fat called cacao butter is made.
This is used to make many beauty products, pharmaceuticals, and ointments.
Each cacao bean has a cacao nib at the center and this is the main ingredient in chocolate.
The cacao beans are harvested, fermented for 3-7 days to develop the flavor, roasted and then processed with other ingredients to make the various end products of cocoa. There are three types of cacao beans – Forastero, Criollo and Trinitario.
Raw cacao contains many important vitamins and minerals.
It contains flavonoid antioxidants like polyphenols; minerals like magnesium, sulfur, calcium, iron, copper, zinc, manganese and potassium; vitamins such as vitamin E, B1, B2, C, A, B3, B5, and B9, proteins; dietary fiber and essential fatty acids like oleic acid which is a monounsaturated healthy fat.
Cacao Beans and Diabetes
Cacao beans made into raw cacao products or dark unsweetened chocolate may actually help diabetes patients.
Based on research, diabetic mice which were obese were given cacao liquor (0.5 – 1%) extracts that contained 72% polyphenols and their blood sugar levels significantly reduced, demonstrating a direct correlation between the dosage and reduction.
This dosage is equivalent to 5g of polyphenols for humans, which can be got by eating 100g of chocolate rich in flavonoids or 2.5kg of sweetened chocolate.
However, consuming large quantities of sweetened chocolate can have negative effects especially for diabetic patients.
Antioxidant-rich cacao beans and raw cacao products that do not contain added sugars contain proanthocyanidins that contain chemicals which have a positive effect in lowering blood sugar levels.
Carbohydrate-rich foods also raise blood sugar levels. Keeping a watch on your carbohydrate intake can help diabetes patients keep control of their blood sugar levels. 45-60g of carbohydrates consumed during each meal is said to be sufficient.
This depends on the type of food and the portion. Limiting the intake is something diabetic patients must figure out with their doctors.
According to the American Diabetes Association, small amounts of cacao with limited sugar can be added to a diabetic diet.
Unsweetened cacao powder (50 calories) gives us just 0.1g sugar, 3.2g carbohydrates and 1.6g fiber. 1 tbsp of unsweetened cacao has 1.6g total carbohydrates.
Cardiovascular diseases are the main cause for mortality in diabetes patients.
Studies conducted suggest that blood vessel functioning improved dramatically in diabetic patients who drank specially formulated cacao drinks with high flavanol content.
Significant improvements were found in those consuming high-flavanol cacao and not low-flavanol.
Along with diabetic medication and exercise, incorporating lifestyle changes are also essential to reduce the risk of heart problems in patients with diabetes.
Dietary flavanols are what hold promise and not cacao products high in sugar, starch and other additives.
The recommended daily allowance is about 40g raw cacao or 50g sugar-free dark, organic chocolate. Anything more can cause side effects.
Raw cacao beans seem to raise blood sugar levels and could interfere with controlling sugar levels in diabetes patients if an excess is consumed, especially due to the presence of caffeine.
Those who are allergic to chocolate products must avoid all forms of cacao since they could develop side effects like sleeplessness, increased urination, increased heartbeat, nervousness, anxiety etc. cacao must be avoided 2 weeks before and after surgery since it could interfere with blood sugar control.