Not all chocolate comes with the same health benefits.
If you’ve heard that chocolate is an superfood and therefore feel free to make it your afternoon snack … and nightly dessert … and weekend treat, well, you may want to rethink your cocoa habits.
Most news reports on the health benefits of chocolate refer to the actual cacao bean, but that bean undergoes major changes before it becomes a Twix bar. Most commercially processed chocolate is full of added sugar and extra calories, which isn’t exactly what you need if you’re trying to eat cleaner and cut back on calories.
To pick a healthier chocolate bar at the grocery store, follow these four guidelines.
1. Pick a cacao content of 70 percent or higher. Darker chocolate offers higher values of fiber, magnesium, and iron; an 85 percent chocolate actually gives you 20 percent of your daily value of iron. Not bad for dessert, right? Plus, dark chocolate typically has half (or less) the sugar as milk or white chocolate. Learn more about how sugar affects your health here.
2. Skip milk and white chocolate. All the benefits of chocolate that studies cite don’t apply here (sorry about that). In addition to having more sugar and fewer nutrients, milk and white chocolate don’t have the same antioxidant qualities. Dark chocolate has about five times more flavonoids (read: antioxidants) than milk chocolate. Eating flavonol-rich chocolate may decrease the risk of dementia, strengthen blood flow, and improve insulin sensitivity, according to the American Heart Association.
3. The fewer ingredients, the better. If your chocolate bar includes much more than cocoa, cocoa butter, sugar, and vanilla, it probably means it has been overly processed and its natural benefits may be compromised.
4. Treat yourself—in reasonable portions. It might be easy to throw back several Snickers in one sitting, but dark chocolate is significantly richer. You’ll likely be satisfied with just a few squares. Keeping portion sizes on the small side will help you manage calorie and fat intake for the day.
For more sweet smarts, here are the worst candies for your teeth.
Katz DL, Doughty K, Ali A. Cocoa and chocolate in human health and disease. Antioxid Redox Signal. 2011 Nov;15(10):2779-811.
Good news about chocolate. Dallas, TX: American Heart Association. (Accessed on December 19, 2017 at https://www.goredforwomen.org/about-heart-disease/heart_disease_research-subcategory/good-news-about-chocolate/.)
Green & Black’s, organic dark 70% chocolate. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture. (Accessed on December 19, 2017 at https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/85125.)
Green & Black’s, organic milk chocolate bar with 34% cacao. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture. (Accessed on December 19, 2017 at https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/85351.)
Green & Black’s, organic white chocolate. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture. (Accessed on December 19, 2017 at https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/85402.)
Virtue or vice? Arlington, VA: American Diabetes Association, 2009. (Accessed on December 19, 2017 at http://www.diabetesforecast.org/2009/mar/virtue-or-vice.html.)