Does Unsweetened Cocoa Spike Blood Sugar?

Diabetics have different blood sugar targets for the period before and after a meal. The American Diabetes Association recommends that blood sugar levels don't rise above 180 mg/dL 2 hours after a meal. Some foods can make your blood sugar spike within 1 to 2 hours after eating, while other foods help you keep your blood sugar levels more stable. Blood sugar spikes can cause damage to your fragile blood vessels in your heart, brain, kidneys, eyes and feet. Unsweetened cocoa powder, a brown and bitter powder used to make hot cocoa, will not make your blood sugar spike if eaten on its own.

Close-up of a cup of unsweetened cocoa in a woman's hands who's wearing a sweater. (Image: Tulian/iStock/Getty Images)

Nutrition Facts

Unsweetened cocoa powder contains 12 calories, 1 g of protein, 0.7 g of fat, 3.2 g of carbohydrates, 0.1 g of sugar and 1.6 g of fiber per tablespoon. If you use a larger amount, in a recipe for example, 1 cup provides 189 calories, 15.6 g of protein, 11.3 g of fat, 50.1 g of carbohydrates, 1.5 g of sugar and 25.6 g of fiber. If you prepare hot cocoa by mixing 1 to 2 tbsp. of unsweetened cocoa powder with warm water without adding any sugar, the nutritional value of your hot beverage will be the same as that of the amount of unsweetened cocoa powder you used.

Total Carbs Vs. Net Carbs

Unsweetened cocoa powder is very low in sugar and about half of the total carbohydrates it contains are in the form of fiber. Only the non-fibrous part of the carbohydrates -- also called net carbs -- has the potential to raise your blood sugar levels. Calculate net carbs by deducting the fiber from the total carbs. For example, hot cocoa prepared with 1 tbsp. of unsweetened cocoa powder without any added milk or sugar contains 3.2 g of total carbs and 1.6 g of fiber, or the equivalent of 1.6 g of net carbs.

Blood Sugar Spikes

The amount of net carbs from unsweetened cocoa or other carb-containing foods that can cause your blood sugar to spike depends on your personal tolerance to carbohydrates. Healthy people can eat huge amounts of carbohydrates without inducing blood sugar spikes. On the other hand, people with an impaired insulin secretion or a defect in the way their insulin works -- a condition called insulin resistance -- can see their blood sugar spike with relatively small amounts of carbohydrates. If you suspect that you do not tolerate carbs very well, whether you have prediabetes, diabetes or the metabolic syndrome, use a blood glucose meter to check your blood sugar levels 1 to 2 hours after eating and determine the amount of carbs that make your blood sugar spikes. Control your carb intake until you find the right amount that keeps your blood sugar more stable after a meal.

Blood Sugar-Friendly Treats

If you enjoy the taste of chocolate but don't want to indulge if it compromises your blood sugar levels, unsweetened cocoa powder is a good option. With only 1.6 g of net carbs per tablespoon, it can satisfy chocolate cravings without making your blood sugar spike, unless you eat it with other high carbohydrate foods, such as milk, sugar or grains. For a blood sugar-friendly treat, prepare a hot cocoa by mixing unsweetened hot cocoa powder with warm water. Sweeten with artificial sweetener if desired. You can also mix unsweetened cocoa powder with cottage or ricotta cheese for a high-protein chocolaty snack. If you add unsweetened cocoa powder to a smoothie or to your oatmeal, consider the amount of carbs attributed to these additional ingredients.

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