As if the idea of savoring a square (or an entire bar) of dark chocolate weren’t enticing enough, the health claims of dark chocolate are also very appealing. We’ve heard it all: it lowers blood pressure, relieves stress, improves cognitive function, protects your skin, and more. But before you eat all the way to the bottom of a heart-shaped box, find out what the experts have to say about the health of this treat.
The health benefits of dark chocolate
There have been a lot of research on dark chocolate, but the hype has overtaken the science. Translation: It will not instantly or directly accomplish all of the above. What is certain is that cocoa is rich in three types of flavonoids, phytochemicals found in almost all plant-based foods that have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant powers. This is important because chronic inflammation is linked to conditions such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, metabolic syndrome, asthma, heart disease, and cancer.
“These compounds are also beneficial for cardiovascular health by improving blood circulation, reducing the risk of clotting and improving blood pressure levels,” said Whitney Linsenmeyer, Ph.D., RD, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Cocoa is also rich in iron, zinc, copper, and magnesium, all of the essential minerals needed for healthy blood, immunity, and cell growth.
How to choose the healthiest chocolate
To get more punch in your bar, opt for dark chocolate with a cocoa percentage of 70% or more. (More cocoa equals more flavonoids.) Chocolate, cocoa, or cocoa should appear first on the ingredient list, which means there is more by weight. If sugar is first on the list or you see words you can’t pronounce, stay away, or you’ll likely fill yourself up with empty calories and fillers, which negates all the good stuff, says Lisa. R. Young, Ph. D., RDN, Assistant Professor of Nutrition at New York University and author of Finally full, finally thin.
And pay attention to the label: Cocoa processed in the Netherlands tends to have a reduced flavonoid content due to the way chocolate is processed, while a recent study found that cocoa beans from Colombia had the highest flavonoid content, possibly due to factors such as plant variety and geography.
Is milk chocolate good for you?
If dark chocolate tastes too bitter for you, dark milk chocolate is a pretty sweet compromise: it contains less sugar and more cocoa than traditional milk chocolate, which can only contain 10%. If it says “milk chocolate” but has a cocoa percentage of 38% or more, you will know that it is dark milk.
What about the serving size?
There is no magic amount of dark chocolate that you have to eat to get these flavonoids; the dosage used in the studies varies. But experts agree that you should treat it like any other candy and eat it in moderation.
“It’s better to save it as a treat,” Young says. “Yes, it does contain antioxidants, flavonoids, vitamins and minerals, but let’s not call it a healthy food, it still has a lot of sugar and fat. In other words, aim for 1/4 of a full-size bar. With all of that in mind, here are the best healthy chocolate bar options to consider:
Taza Sea Salt and Almond Dark Chocolate 80% Organic
This delicious dark chocolate bar is made with roasted almonds and 80% cocoa. “If you can get 70% or more cocoa and get discarded almonds, I can’t argue with that “, says Keri Gans, MS, RD, New York-based nutrition consultant and author of The small change regime. Taza chocolate is stone ground, so it will have a slightly grainy texture, which some people prefer, instead of a milky texture.
Per serving: 210 calories, 16 g of fat, 14 g of carbohydrates (3 g of fiber), 4 g of protein, 7 g of sugar
Best value chocolate bar
Lindt 70% dark chocolate bar
Scott Keatley, RD, of Keatley Medical Nutritional Therapy, recommends trying Lindt 70% Cocoa, which is a full-bodied chocolate bar with a balanced taste, so not too bitter. Bonus: this dark chocolate comes in a case, so you can enjoy it now and have plenty for later (or to share!). Best of all, they’re under $ 3 a piece!
Per serving: 190 calories, 14 g fat, 13 g carbohydrates (2 g fiber), 2 g protein, 9 g sugar
Lily’s Sweets Extra Dark Chocolate Bar
Are you looking for a chocolate bar that completely avoids sugar? This Lily’s option uses stevia to sweeten its 70% cocoa formula, which means there is no added sugar. And did we mention that this bar is keto-friendly?
Per serving: 130 calories, 12 g fat, 14 g carbohydrates (8 g fiber), 3 g protein, 0 g sugar
Hu Salty 70% dark chocolate bar
If you’re new to healthy eating but secretly worried about running out of treats like chocolate, don’t worry. This 70% cocoa the vegan chocolate bar with French sea salt is a savory twist on the classic, less unhealthy additives. Let the ingredient list speak for itself: organic cocoa, organic unrefined coconut sugar, organic fair trade cocoa butter, and sea salt.
Per serving: 170 calories, 13 g of fat, 13 g of carbohydrates (0 g of fiber), 2 g of protein, 9 g of sugar
Dark chocolate bar 88% Endangered species
Giving back to your body and the environment when you eat one of these healthy candy bars. The Endangered Species brand, donates 10% of its annual net profits to endangered wildlife conservation efforts. And at 88% cocoa, you can be sure you’re getting a healthy dose of antioxidants.
Per serving: 180 calories, 13 g of fat, 11 g of carbohydrates (4 g of fiber), 3 g of protein, 3 g of sugar
Pascha 85% dark chocolate bar, pack of 10
If you have food allergies, Pascha organic dark chocolate will bring you peace of mind: it is completely free from nuts, dairy, wheat, gluten and the most common allergens. Made with just four ingredients and 85% cocoa, these sustainably sourced chocolate bars give you rich flavor without all those unhealthy additives, earning them the Keatley Seal of Approval.
Per serving: 160 calories, 12 g of fat, 10 g of carbohydrates (3 g of fiber), 3 g of protein, 4 g of sugar
Matcha Green Tea Haut-Chocolat des Vosges & Spirulina bar
Matcha (Japanese green tea powder) is packed with antioxidants and other healthy nutrients, and when combined with 72% Ghanaian cacao nibs (made from crushed cocoa beans) and spirulina (a superfood seaweed), you get a tasty treat that’s pretty nutritious too.
Per serving: 140 calories, 12 g of fat, 13 g of carbohydrates (3 g of fiber), 2 g of protein, 8 g of sugar
Raaka Pink Sea Salt Dark Chocolate Bar, 3 pack
As if the packaging weren’t tempting enough, this Brooklyn artisanal chocolate bar is 71% cocoa, so you can enjoy its delicious sea salt flavor while enjoying healthy antioxidants. (These also come in other fun flavors, like ginger, crunchy green tea, and bananas nourish.)
Per serving: 133 calories, 9 g fat, 12 g carbohydrates (3 g fiber), 2 g protein, 9 g sugar
70% Organic K’ul Dark Chocolate Bar, Wild Ginger & Cayenne
These organic, handcrafted chocolate bars have a rich, velvety texture with a unique flavor profile. Plus, you will feel great knowing that you contribute to the livelihood of women’s cooperatives and cocoa farmers in the Dominican Republic and Peru, which produce the company’s organic chocolate.
Per serving: 190 calories, 14 g fat, 21 g carbohydrates (8 g fiber), 3 g protein, 12 g sugar
Tony’s Chocolonely 70% Dark Chocolate Bar
With six servings per bar, this extra large candy from Dutch chocolate maker Tony’s Chocolonely should satisfy your cravings for weeks (or days) to come. And unlike other brands, Tony’s works directly with farmers in Ghana and Ivory Coast, producing certified slave-free chocolate.
Per serving: 170 calories, 13 g of fat, 12 g of carbohydrates (4 g of fiber), 2 g of protein, 8 g of sugar
Chocolate Lavender and Red Salt
It’s called Antidote for a reason. Instead of stocking up on energy drinks, try this healthy, sustainably sourced chocolate. Containing 84% cocoa, the chocolate bar is low in sugar and provides an energizing boost to propel you through the workday. It’s seasoned with alaea salt (a Hawaiian red salt) for a smooth, earthy flavor and lavender blossoms for a floral touch.
Per serving: 200 calories, 15 g fat, 12 g carbohydrates (4 g fiber), 4 g protein, 5 g sugar
Chocolove Almonds & Sea Salt in Strong Dark Chocolate
For a dark chocolate bar with more crunch, look for the option sprinkled with almonds and sea salt from Chocolove. it’s both from ethical sources and certified GMO-free, so you don’t have to feel guilty about making yourself happy.
Per serving: 120 calories, 13 g fat, 12 g carbohydrates (3 g fiber), 3 g protein, 7 g sugar
Theo 70% Cacao Dark Chocolate Orange bar
The bitter dark chocolate pairs perfectly with the sweetness of the fruit, especially with the crisp citrus flavor of the orange. Theo sources fair trade beans from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Peru. More, this bar is completely vegan.
Per serving: 170 calories, 11 g of fat, 14 g of carbohydrates (3 g of fiber), 2 g of protein, 9 g of sugar
Green & Black’s 85% Dark Chocolate Bar, 10 pack
Green and Black dark chocolate bars contain 85% cocoa and have a bold and savory flavor with a hint of organic vanilla. Plus, all of their chocolate comes from Cocoa Life, a third-party cocoa sustainability company that empowers local cocoa farmers around the world.
Per serving: 190 calories, 15g fat, 11g carbs (4g fiber), 3g protein, 4g sugar
Beyond Good 80% Dark Chocolate Bars, Pack of 3
Just like coffee beans, cocoa beans can also be of single origin. Beyond Good’s Heritage Chocolate comes directly from Madagascar, by supporting local farmers. On top of that, each bar is also vegan, organic, and non-GMO.
Per serving: 150 calories, 11 g fat, 10 g carbohydrates (3 g fiber), 3 g protein, 5 g sugar
Additional reports from Alexis Jones, Korin Miller and Jake Smith
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