We have recently shown that cocoa flavanols may have anti-diabetic potential by promoting survival and function of pancreatic beta-cells in vitro. In this work, we investigated if a cocoa-rich diet is able to preserve beta-cell mass and function in an animal model of type 2 diabetes and the mechanisms involved. Our results showed that cocoa feeding during the prediabetic state attenuates hyperglycaemia, reduces insulin resistant, and increases beta cell mass and function in obese Zucker diabetic rats. At the molecular level, cocoa-rich diet prevented beta-cell apoptosis by increasing the levels of Bcl-xL and decreasing Bax levels and caspase-3 activity. Cocoa diet enhanced the activity of endogenous antioxidant defenses, mainly glutathione peroxidase, preventing thus oxidative injury induced by the pre-diabetic condition and leading to apoptosis prevention. These findings provide the first in vivo evidence that a cocoa-rich diet may delay the loss of functional beta-cell mass and delay the progression of diabetes by preventing oxidative stress and beta-cell apoptosis.