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Cocoa Can Help Prevent Type 3 Diabetes

When we eat chocolate, those of us who have diabetes may be able to reduce our insulin resistance and prevent the memory loss that leads to Alzheimer’s Disease, which some scholars are beginning to call type 3 diabetes.


Cocoa Beans

Chocolate comes from cocoa beans, which for a good reason has the scientific name meaning “food of the gods.” That’s because the Aztecs, who domesticated it, saw it as a sacred plant, and reserved it for their royalty.

Nowadays, all of us peasants consume chocolate with abandon as one of our favorite foods. But while chocolate candy may taste awfully good, it isn’t good for us. It is usually high in sugar and low in the healthy part of cocoa, which is the flavanols. Cocoa’s usual processing method, generally called the Dutch process, strips the flavanols from cocoa.

Recently, quite a few studies have shown that the flavanols in cocoa beans helps people prevent memory loss and have better insulin sensitivity. Flavanols are a form of flavonoids, the beneficial plant-based nutrients that are found naturally in cocoa as well as in red wine and black and green tea. Cocoa is one of the richest sources of flavanols. Researchers have found that largely by improving insulin sensitivity these flavanols reduce our loss of memory.

Flavanols cut our memory loss

Memory loss, which the researchers call “cognitive dysfunction,” can lead to dementia, including Alzheimer’s Disease. This is the dreaded disease of aging that is so common among people with diabetes that some doctors now call it type 3 diabetes.

A 2011 study of more than 1,000 adults in a suburb of the Japanese city of Fukuoka found that the people with diabetes had slightly more than twice the chance of getting Alzheimer’s Disease as those who passed the glucose tolerance test.

It was 10 years ago that Dr. Suzanne M de la Monte, a neuropathologist and professor of pathology at Brown Medical School, who initially made the connection between diabetes and Alzheimer’s Disease. Writing in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, she proposed the term type 3 diabetes. Dr. de la Monte has followed up with five more studies in professional journals.

Flavanols improve our insulin sensitivity

Now, Italian researchers have found that the flavanols in cocoa can improve insulin sensitivity. One of these studies appeared in a 2005 issue of Hypertension, another in a 2008 issue of The Journal of Nutrition, and a third in an 2012 issue of Hypertension.

But a new study by these Italian researchers that appeared in the March 2015 issue of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition makes the most persuasive case for us to eat chocolate. The authors randomly assigned 90 volunteers into three groups that drank either low, intermediate, or high amounts of cocoa flavanols. Eight weeks later those people who drank intermediate or high levels showed clear improvements in their memory and had improved insulin sensitivity. In fact, the biggest contribution to their improved memory was because of their changes in insulin sensitivity.

“The evidence of an influential role of the improvement of insulin resistance on the amelioration of cognitive performance that we have observed is quite interesting,” the corresponding author of the study, Giovambattista Desideri, a professor at Italy’s University of L’Aquila, wrote me. “It fits with a growing body of evidence suggesting a pathophysiological role for insulin resistance in cognitive dysfunction. Although only few patients in our study had type 2 diabetes, our data provide some encouraging evidence that the improvement of glucose metabolism could represent a therapeutic target also for nutritional intervention to counteract/prevent age-related cognitive decline.”

Because I have type 2 diabetes, this research inspired me to discover the best way to get the flavanols I need from chocolate. The results of that quest follows in my next article.

This article is based on an earlier version of my article published by HealthCentral.

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  • Edward Byrne at

    Great article. Good to see something on the insulin/diabetes aspect of benefits offered by CF. Have shared to FB and Twitter (@cocoallegro).

    I am importing a flavanol concentrate into South Africa. Started off as an attempt to improve my 94 year old fathers memory.

    Look forward to more of the same good info.

  • Susan at

    I wonder what you think of cacao nibs, the cacao bean broken into pieces with minimal processing. I’ve been enjoying them mixed into yogurt, which softens them up (they’re *very* hard and crunchy by themselves).

    • David Mendosa at

      One brand of cacao nibs, Navitas Naturals, has a really good concentration of the flavanols, Susan. But it, unfortunately, slightly exceeds the 0.3 mcg per gram limit for cadmium, having 0.32 mcg per gram. The World Health Organization suggests that limit for dried foods that we eat. If you limit how much you eat to half a tablespoon, you would get less than 0.2 mcg of cadmium and more than 200 mcg of flavanols, which is good. The U.S. Department of Labor says that “Cadmium and its compounds are highly toxic and exposure to this metal is known to cause cancer and targets the body’s cardiovascular, renal, gastrointestinal, neurological, reproductive, and respiratory systems.”

  • CJ at

    Just today I read about Cadmium in cocoa…very disturbing…..just google cadmium in chocolate powder and you will be amazed at what you see. It appears that you are better off eating it in bar form than in cocoa powder form, however, only in specific brands. Please research this if you are consuming cocoa/chocolate every day.

    • David Mendosa at

      You are absolutely right about high levels of cadmium in many chocolate powders. And I have researched it. Both CocoaVia and CocoaWell are very low in cadmium, well within the European, Canadian, and California standards (strangely we don’t have any federal U.S. standards). Many other chocolate powders are high in cadmium, including these:
      Navitas Naturals
      Trader Joe’s

  • Velenda at

    I have a question, I read that eating dark chocolate just 1 an a half oz. per day can aid in weight loss. That is where my diabetic problem is , that my triglisterates get to high. When they are down I am fine, and I need to lose 30 lbs, So is it true that dark chocalate can aid in this?

  • Lynne Langmaid at

    Ok I see your answer here. No info from company. HERSEYS grrrr will find coca va. Hopefully vitamin cottage. Didnot notice thus link before with responses thanx

  • stan at

    i have been using unprocessed 100% percent organic cocoa powder in my smoothies for years why would i pay the prices for those items. i check my heavy metals in a blood test and i am clear

    • David Mendosa at

      Yes, these cocoas are indeed expensive, Stan. But the high level of flavanols that they have might be the difference in keeping our memory system intact. I think they are worth it and invest in them myself.

  • Meredydd at

    Is the cocoa source you write about undutched cocoa powder? (Mexican style hot cocoa makes a nice alternative to coffee.) Any suggestions for other chocolate products which are low/no sugar? I would conduct my own informal experiment just because chocolate is such a biochemical powerhouse on general terms. The indication that it helps with cognition and insulin sensitivity is a wonderful and tasty piece of news.

    Thank you!

    • David Mendosa at

      I don’t think that whether cocoa is dutched or not is important, Meredydd. Some studies say that it reduces the anti-oxidants and some say that it doesn’t. They key that that CocoaVia and CocoaWell have a lot. I can’t recommend any other cocoa products.

  • Lynne langmaid at

    So what is wrong with DAJOBA cacoa powder????

    • David Mendosa at

      Thanks for asking, Lynne. Dagoba Chocolate started out as a great little company making organic chocolate bars. But in 2006 the giant Hershey company bought the company. Hershey doesn’t promote their chocolate as being healthy and as far as I know puts out no information about the flavanols that it might contain. Unlike for CocoaWell and CocoaVia, I have been unable to find any tests of Dagoba chocolate.

  • Rebecca at

    Thanks for sharing; interesting article; love chocolate!!