Jessica Bernstein is a longtime type 1 with a PhD in psychology, who's directing a documentary about diabetes called “Blood & Honey.” She's also become quite the nutrition expert over the years, and has some awesome secrets about "safe" desserts to share with us today...
Raw Desserts for Diabetes, by Jessica Bernstein
Imagine eating a piece of chocolate without needing any insulin. Think it’s not possible? Think again.
Years ago I was wandering through my local health food store and eyed a section labeled, “Raw Foods.” I noticed they had some healthy-looking desserts and read the ingredients: coconut, almonds, cashews, coconut nectar, raw chocolate… “Hmm,” I thought, “That can’t have many carbs.” Sure enough, many raw desserts are so low on the Glycemic Index they require little to no insulin.
The key to the low carb count is that these desserts are often sweetened with coconut nectar, date sugar, or stevia and are grain-free (a bonus for gluten intolerance). Unsweetened chocolate in and of itself is low in carbs – 1 net carb per square, according to the MyFitnessPal database. So when sweetened with sugar low on the Glycemic Index it won’t significantly raise blood sugar levels if eaten in small amounts.
Although date sugar has a higher Glycemic Index (GI) value than coconut sugar or stevia, it is still classified as having a low GI. On a scale from 0 to 110, dates have a GI of 43 to 53 (low range is below 55). Coconut sugar has a GI of 35 and stevia of zero, according to experts.
Some raw desserts are also sweetened with agave. Although low on the glycemic index (GI of 15), many health gurus like Dr. Oz came out against agave in recent years explaining it contains more fructose than any other sweetener including high-fructose corn syrup. Consequently, it can cause weight gain and increase insulin resistance and heart disease when eaten in large amounts.
Other raw desserts are made with honey or maple syrup so it’s essential to always read labels and check carb count. And obviously if you binge on any food, it’s going to raise blood sugar levels so it’s all about portion size.
But it’s not just the low carb count that makes these desserts a dream come true for people with diabetes. They are made with healthy ingredients like coconut, dark chocolate, and almonds – powerful antioxidants.
Coconut has wide-ranging benefits from preventing and treating cancer to curing kidney infections to reducing inflammation. Of particular benefit to people with diabetes, coconut has also been found to help with weight loss, improve T2 diabetes, fight candida and yeast infections, and prevent heart disease and high blood pressure.
Almonds are chocked full of nutrients like Vitamin E, Maganese, and Magnesium. They are one of the best sources of Vitamin E, which has been found to lower rates of heart disease, improve the function of insulin, and lower blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
In stark contrast to the many health benefits of raw desserts, most “sugar-free” alternatives are made with processed ingredients and artificial sweeteners.
Saying No to NutraSweet
Although NutraSweet (i.e. Equal or aspartame) has been marketed as a boon for people with diabetes, many studies have found that it increases the risk of a whole host of conditions like cancer, heart disease, strokes, weight gain, and ironically, even T2 diabetes!
Many may be surprised to learn that diet soda is also associated with higher rates of T2 diabetes and kidney failure. The American Diabetes Association cites one large-scale study of over 6,800 people in which the risk of developing diabetes was 67% higher for those consuming diet soda daily.
Despite the myriad studies showing adverse effects and the controversial circumstances surrounding the approval of NutraSweet, the FDA continues to condone its use. As the Joslin Diabetes Center explains, “To the best of our knowledge, none of the symptoms… attributed to aspartame have been proven in any clinical scientific studies. We would like… to assure people with diabetes, who use products with aspartame, that we are unaware of any credible scientific evidence that aspartame is associated with any of the adverse effects.”
While it’s true that 100% of industry-funded research has found NutraSweet to be safe, 92% of independently funded studies have found adverse effects.
In addition, as far back as 1988, NutraSweet accounted for 80% of all complaints made to the FDA by consumers about food additives. There have been more reports to the FDA for aspartame reactions than for all other food additives combined.
As a result of consumer complaints and declining sales, PepsiCo Inc. announced in 2015 that they were removing NutraSweet from Caffeine Free Diet Pepsi and Wild Cherry Diet Pepsi sold in the United States and replacing it with sucralose (Splenda) and ace-K. According to Senior Vice President Seth Kaufman, removing aspartame was the No. 1 concern of consumers.
However, Splenda and ace-K have their own set of issues. An in-depth review of Splenda in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health documents an extensive list of safety concerns such as toxicity, DNA damage, and heightened carcinogenic potential when used in cooking. The Center for Science in the Public Interest has said ace-K should be avoided due to the mediocre quality of studies and concerns about cancer.
Which brings us back to the many wonderful benefits of raw food desserts. Diabetes diets often focus exclusively on carb count and blood sugar levels. However, eating healthy foods that help maintain a strong immune system is also of critical importance with any chronic illness.
Favorite Raw Treats to Order
Before I delve into sharing some of my favorite raw desserts, note that 20% of the US population has acid reflux. Many raw desserts contain chocolate which is known to trigger heartburn. There are plenty made without chocolate so check your local health food store for foods like raw cheesecake.
For the chocolate-lovers without acid reflux, here are a few that can be ordered online:
1. Rawkin Raw
This company sells organic raw truffles, macaroons, and cookies. Sweetened with coconut nectar, their white chocolate truffles only have 2.5 grams of carbs and 1 gram of sugar per truffle. I personally can eat one or two of these truffles and do not need any extra insulin. Everyone is different so always check blood sugar levels to determine your own insulin needs.
Their spirulina mint macaroons only have 8 grams of carbs and 2 grams of sugar per cookie while their white chocolate latte truffles only have 7 grams of carbs and 1/2 a gram of sugar per truffles. Some of their other products have slightly higher carb counts so check nutritional information and serving size here.
Veggos makes a variety of foods such as almond chocolate macaroons, brownies, and their famous gluten-free onion bread. Their macaroons are sweetened with dates and have 4 grams of carbs. I personally need just .6 units of insulin for one of their cookies, which are quite filling.
Their onion bread is made with onions, flax seeds, sunflower seeds, olive oil, and sea salt and only has 1 gram of carbs per 1/2 oz.
Veggos is a raw food restaurant located in Lake Forrest, CA, that sells some of its products in health food stores like Follow Your Heart in Canoga Park, CA. Customers will soon be able to order online through Amazon so check their website for updates.
3. Lily’s Chocolate
Although the chocolate used by Lily is not raw, I include this brand because they use non-GMO ingredients that are certified gluten-free and sweetened with stevia.
Lily’s makes chocolate bars, chips, and baking bars. Their chocolate bars range from 18 to 21 grams of carbs for half a bar. The dark chocolate salted almond bar is lowest in carbs with only 1 gram per square. I personally can eat 5 squares (1/6 of a bar) and do not require any extra insulin. As always, check your blood to determine your own insulin needs.
Their products can be ordered on Amazon or Vitacost, here.
There are many other raw food desserts out there to explore, or of course you can try making your own. Happy eating!