Diabetes is a chronic disease that affects how the body processes blood glucose, also known as blood sugar. There are two main types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2. In both types, having consistently high blood sugar levels can lead to serious health complications if left untreated. As a result, people with diabetes need to carefully monitor their blood sugar and make adjustments to their diet and lifestyle to help maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
One dietary change many people with diabetes make is reducing their sugar intake, including switching to foods labeled as “zero sugar” or “sugar-free.” Popular zero sugar foods include diet sodas, flavored waters, and sugar-free candies and chocolates, like those made by Hershey’s. But are these zero sugar or sugar-free foods actually healthy choices for people with diabetes?
What is Hershey’s Zero Sugar Chocolate?
Hershey’s offers several different types of chocolate and other candy products labeled as zero sugar or no sugar added. Some of their more popular zero sugar options include:
– Hershey’s Zero Sugar Milk Chocolate – This contains zero net carbs and is sweetened with polyols like erythritol and maltitol instead of sugar. It has 60% less fat compared to regular Hershey’s milk chocolate.
– Hershey’s Zero Sugar Dark Chocolate – Sweetened with stevia plant extract rather than sugar. Has 45% cacao and again, zero net carbs.
– Hershey’s Zero Sugar Almond Bars – Made with almond flour instead of some cocoa butter, erythritol sweetener, and contains almonds, cocoa, and milk.
– Hershey’s Zero Sugar Syrup – Flavored chocolate syrup sweetened with sucralose and acesulfame potassium (Ace-K). Can be drizzled over desserts, ice cream, etc.
So in summary, Hershey’s zero sugar chocolate options replace the sugar typically found in chocolate with non-nutritive sweeteners like stevia, erythritol, and sucralose. They contain zero grams of sugar and zero net carbs per serving. Let’s now look at whether these products are truly safe and healthy choices for people with diabetes.
Are Artificial Sweeteners Safe for Diabetics?
The most common sweeteners used in Hershey’s zero sugar chocolate products are:
– Stevia – Extracted from the leaves of the stevia plant. Considered natural but much sweeter than sugar. Approved for people with diabetes.
– Erythritol – Found naturally in some fruits. About 70% as sweet as sugar with few side effects. Does not spike blood sugar.
– Sucralose – Artificial sweetener made from sugar. Up to 1,000 times sweeter than sugar but with no calories.
– Acesulfame potassium (Ace-K) – Artificial sweetener up to 200 times sweeter than sugar. Often used with sucralose.
According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), these sweeteners are generally safe for people with diabetes as they do not impact blood sugar levels like regular sugar does. The ADA approves both stevia and erythritol as safe natural sugar substitutes for diabetics. Sucralose and Ace-K can be used in moderation by people with diabetes, though there are some ongoing health concerns over their use.
Potential Concerns with Artificial Sweeteners:
– May negatively impact gut microbiome and glucose tolerance
– Conflicting evidence over increased cancer risk
– Possibility of unintended overconsumption and weight gain
So in moderation, the artificial sweeteners in Hershey’s chocolate appear safe for diabetics. But natural sweeteners like stevia and erythritol are likely the best choice when looking for sugar-free chocolate and candy.
Carbs, Fiber, and Net Carbs Explained
When choosing foods and snacks, people with diabetes pay special attention to the carbohydrate content. Carbs directly impact blood sugar levels. But when looking at carb content, it’s important to consider:
– Total carbohydrates – The total grams of carbs per serving, includes sugars, starches, and fiber.
– Dietary fiber – A type of carb that isn’t digested and absorbed as sugar. Lowers blood sugar impact.
– Net carbs – Total carbs minus fiber content. The carbs that actually raise blood sugar.
Many of Hershey’s zero sugar products emphasize they contain zero net carbs. This means while they may have some grams of dietary fiber, the amount of digestible carbs is virtually zero and will not spike blood sugar levels.
Example Nutrition Facts for Hershey’s Zero Sugar Chocolate
|Serving Size||1 bar (43g)|
As shown, a zero net carb chocolate bar may contain some carbs and fiber, but the net digestible carb content is zero. This makes it a smart snack option for managing diabetes.
Glycemic Index for Zero Sugar Foods
The glycemic index (GI) measures how much specific foods impact blood sugar levels. It’s a scale of 1-100 based on how the carbohydrate content of a food compares to pure glucose. The higher the GI, the greater the effect on blood sugar.
Foods are considered:
– Low GI if 55 or less
– Moderate GI 56-69
– High GI if 70 or more
Sugar free foods made with non-nutritive sweeteners have minimal effect on blood sugar and hence, a low glycemic index. Studies show stevia extracts, erythritol, sucralose and Ace-K all have a GI of zero when consumed in place of sugar.
This suggests Hershey’s chocolate sweetened with these zero calorie sweeteners would have a lower GI than regular sugar-sweetened chocolate. This makes it a better choice for diabetics looking for sweet snacks.
Nutrition Pros of Zero Sugar Chocolate for Diabetics
There are some potential benefits for people with diabetes when choosing zero sugar chocolate like Hershey’s over regular chocolate:
Blood Sugar Management
With no carbs or sugar, zero sugar chocolate won’t spike blood glucose levels. This helps diabetics maintain healthy blood sugar management.
Lower in Calories
Sugar-free chocolate has fewer calories than regular chocolate, supporting a healthy weight for better diabetes control.
Allows Chocolate in Moderation
The sweet taste can satisfy occasional chocolate cravings without blood sugar effects.
May Protect Teeth
Some sugar-free sweeteners like xylitol and erythritol inhibit bacteria that harm teeth.
Supports Diabetes-Friendly Diet
Having sweet, low-carb snacks makes sticking to a diabetes nutrition plan easier.
Potential Cons of Zero Sugar Chocolate
However, there are some drawbacks of zero sugar chocolate to consider:
Sugar alcohols like erythritol can cause bloating, gas or laxative effects if over-consumed.
May Trigger Sugar Cravings
The sweet taste of artificial sweeteners may increase appetite for more sweets.
Nutritionally Inferior to Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate has antioxidants and minerals not found in zero sugar chocolate.
The flavor and texture may not satisfy chocolate cravings as well as regular chocolate.
Contains Controversial Sweeteners
Sucralose and Ace-K are potentially linked to health risks with high intake.
Healthier Sugar-Free Chocolate Options
If you do choose to eat zero sugar chocolate, experts recommend going for options made with mainly diabetes-friendly sweeteners like:
– Stevia – Natural sweetener from the stevia plant. Zero calories and zero glycemic impact.
– Erythritol – Sugar alcohol found naturally in fruits like pears. Smooth texture.
– Xylitol – Sugar alcohol with 40% fewer calories than sugar. Protects dental health.
– Cocoa powder – For dark chocolate, choose options with high cocoa and low sugar.
– High fiber – Look for bars with added chicory root fiber or similar.
It’s wise to still aim for high quality chocolate and watch portion sizes even when sugar-free.
Healthy Serving Sizes of Sugar-Free Chocolate
To keep sugar-free chocolate as part of a healthy diabetes diet, experts recommend:
– 1 small square of chocolate (around 30 calories)
– 1-2 mini snack-size candy bars
– 2 tbsp chocolate chips for baking/cooking
– 2 tbsp chocolate syrup topping
Even though the chocolate itself won’t spike blood sugar levels, anything eaten in excessive amounts can hinder diabetes management. Practice portion control and savor just small servings.
How Hershey’s Zero Sugar Compares to Other Sugar-Free Chocolates
Here’s how some of the most popular zero sugar and sugar-free chocolate brands compare:
|Brand||Sweeteners Used||Calories||Net Carbs|
|Hershey’s Zero Sugar||Erythritol, stevia||160 per 40g bar||0g|
|Lily’s Sweets||Stevia, erythritol||170 per 41g bar||1g|
|ChocZero||Monk fruit||130 per 43g bar||3g|
|CocoaVia||Stevia||100 per 28g bar||5g|
As you can see, Hershey’s performs well nutritionally compared to other popular sugar-free chocolates. Key things to compare are sweeteners used, calories, and net carb content.
Tips for Incorporating Sugar-Free Chocolate into a Diabetes Diet
Here are some tips registered dietitians recommend when picking zero sugar chocolate as part of a healthy diabetes diet:
Read nutrition labels carefully
Check ingredient lists and nutrition facts. Look for those using mainly stevia and no controversial sweeteners.
Choose quality brands
Select established brands that specialize in sugar-free foods. They tend to offer better taste and nutrition.
Don’t overdo portion sizes
Stick to a 1-2 ounce serving of chocolate. Measure portions carefully.
Watch out for other carbs
Pair with carb-free snacks like nuts or cheese and avoid sugary dessert toppings.
Time it wisely
Enjoy sugar-free chocolate with a meal or carb-controlled snack for best blood sugar effect.
Drink water with chocolate to avoid constipation from sugar alcohols.
Don’t go overboard
Zero sugar chocolate is not healthy in unlimited amounts. Practice self-control.
Recipes with Sugar-Free Chocolate for Diabetics
Here are some delicious recipes using zero sugar chocolate that are suitable for a diabetes-friendly diet:
Sugar-Free Chocolate Avocado Pudding
– 2 tbsp cocoa powder
– 1 mashed avocado
– 1/4 cup almond milk
– 60g (2oz) zero sugar chocolate, melted
– 1 tsp vanilla
Whisk all ingredients until smooth and creamy. Chill 1 hour before serving. Top with chopped nuts.
Keto Chocolate Smoothie
– 1 cup almond milk
– 1/4 frozen avocado
– 30g (1oz) zero sugar chocolate
– 1/2 tsp cinnamon
– Pinch of salt
Blend all ingredients until frosty smooth. For added protein, use chocolate protein powder.
Sugar-Free Chocolate Peanut Butter Fat Bombs
– 1/2 cup natural peanut butter
– 55g (2oz) zero sugar chocolate
– 2 tbsp coconut oil
– 1 tsp vanilla
Melt chocolate and coconut oil. Mix in peanut butter and vanilla. Pour into muffin tin and freeze until solid. Keep frozen.
The Bottom Line – Is Zero Sugar Chocolate Good for Diabetics?
Hershey’s zero sugar chocolate can be a good occasional treat option for people with diabetes when enjoyed carefully and in moderation. The key pros are:
– Won’t spike blood sugar levels like regular chocolate
– Lower in calories and carbs
– Allows small amounts of chocolate in the diet
– Made with safe sugar substitutes for diabetics
Potential cons are gastrointestinal effects, nutritional inferiority to dark chocolate, and controversial artificial sweeteners used in some products.
When picked wisely and portion controlled, sugar-free chocolate like Hershey’s makes an easy diabetes-friendly swap to satisfy sweet cravings. For the best nutrition, look for options sweetened primarily with stevia and erythritol. Combine with carb-controlled snacks and avoid excessive intake.
Overall, zero sugar chocolate can be incorporated into a healthy diabetes diet as an occasional treat in small amounts. Moderation and making sure to keep an eye on overall carb intake for the day are key for reaping the benefits while minimizing any downsides.