News flash: chocolate is good for you! Well, as long as you choose to indulge in small amounts of the right kind. Think raw, organic, fairtrade and GMO-free treats that are beneficial to both body and mind without compromising on taste. Raw cacao is considered the epitome of healthy chocolate. Why? The cacao beans, once carefully harvested from their pods, are fermented and dried for one to two weeks – but not roasted (to form cocoa) or combined with sugar and fats. This means the cacao retains its antioxidant benefits and nutrients.
Minerals such as magnesium, iron and potassium help to produce energy, strengthen muscles, bones and teeth and aid good blood circulation. Raw chocolate also contains flavonoids (natural chemical compounds) known to lower blood pressure and increase the good form of cholesterol (HDL) in blood, and phenylethylamine – an organic compound thought to elevate mood.
Made from the seeds of the cocoa tree, chocolate has been shown to stimulate the release of feel-good chemicals in the brain, including endorphins and serotonin
Good news for all the chocoholics out there — your favorite sweet treat can be part of a healthy diet. Dark chocolate contains flavonoids, or plant-based compounds that have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, as well as important minerals like zinc, copper, and magnesium. Translation: Dark chocolate may do everything from support healthy blood pressure and blood flow to boost immunity, tame stress, and promote healthy blood and cell growth, according to research.
Look for bars with at least 70% cocoa to reap the most benefits, and look at the nutrition label to be sure sugar isn’t the first ingredient. If milk chocolate is more your taste, look for bars with a percentage of 38% or higher — that’s a form of “dark milk,” which contains some of those flavonoids and far less sugar than a traditional candy bar.
Dark chocolate’s cacao packs disease-fighting antioxidants, while its flavonoids (a compound found in fruit and veggies, too) may help boost heart health by lowering blood pressure, Kennedy explains. There may be benefits for the heart beyond blood pressure. A randomized controlled trial published in the Journal of the American Heart Association in December 2017 suggests that eating the classic pairing of dark chocolate and almonds may play a role in lowering unhealthy lipid levels in people who are overweight or obese.
When it comes to eating healthfully, most people wonder where sweets fit in. Whether your family prefers dessert after dinner or an afternoon treat, or for special occasions, sweets can be part of a balanced diet as long as you pay attention to portion sizes and choose healthier treats the majority of the time. These healthy chocolate desserts are just the ticket to satisfy that sweet tooth while providing nutrition and healthy whole food ingredients.
The Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate
There’s been lots of research on dark chocolate, but the hype has outpaced the science. Translation: It won’t instantly or directly accomplish any of the above. What is certain is that cocoa is rich in three types of flavonoids—phytochemicals in nearly 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 also benefit cardiovascular health by improving blood flow, reducing the risk of clotting, and improving blood pressure levels,” says Whitney Linsenmeyer, Ph.D., R.D., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Cocoa is also rich in iron, zinc, copper, and magnesium, all critical minerals needed for healthy blood, immunity, and cell growth.
The polyphenol content (specifically flavonoids) in dark chocolate provides a high concentration of antioxidants that may help to control blood sugar levels, prevent oxidative damage, enhance immunity and help prevent the risk of heart disease.1 Cacao is also a good source of fiber, iron, calcium, magnesium, and zinc.
Dark chocolate is a healthier choice than white or milk chocolate. To make dark chocolate, cacao (the seed or bean of a cacao fruit) is mixed with cocoa butter (the cold-pressed oil from the cacao bean) as well as sugar and other flavorings. Dark chocolate does not contain milk solids and is made from 50-90% cacao. The higher the cacao percentage in chocolate, the higher the antioxidant content, so look for products with at least 60% cacao. Most dark chocolate contains saturated fat from the cacao butter and added sugar, so it is best consumed in moderation.
Best Healthy Chocolates
JOJO’s Original Guilt-Free Chocolate Bars
OJO’s Original Guilt-Free Chocolate Bars are the best overall healthy chocolate snack option, as they’re chocolatey and crunchy while being high in protein and fiber to help keep you satisfied for longer.
They’re also made with just five high quality ingredients, including dark chocolate, almonds, pistachios, dried cranberries, and hemp protein.
Made from hemp seeds, hemp protein is one of the few plant-based protein sources that contains all nine essential amino acids, making it a source of complete protein (2Trusted Source, 3Trusted Source).
In addition to a short ingredient list, JOJO’s bars are vegan, gluten-free, certified non-GMO, soy-free, and paleo-friendly.
One bar (34 grams) provides 180 calories, 13 grams of fat, 6 grams of saturated fat, 11 grams of carbs, 4 grams of fiber, 8 grams of sugar (including 8 grams of added sugars), and 5 grams of protein (4).
These bars come in three additional flavors — peanut butter, Hawaiian, and raspberry. All of these contain 5 grams of plant-based protein and fewer than 200 calories.
Sweetened with erythritol, the raspberry flavor is also sugar-free and keto-friendly.
Alter Eco Dark Chocolate Bars
These bars are organic and fair trade, meaning the beans are responsibly sourced from around the world. You can find a wide range of dark and dark milk bars (up to 90% cocoa!) in flavors like Crisp Mint and Salted Almonds. They’re also low in sugar and free of artificial flavors or preservatives.
Lindt Excellence Dark Chocolate 85% and 90% Cocoa
Lindt dark chocolate is the OG of healthy supermarket desserts – high in heart-friendly flavonoids and low in sugar. The higher the percentage of cocoa the less sweet stuff you’ll find in the fine print, with the 85% cocoa option only containing 2.2 grams of sugar per serve. Its intense flavour also ensures that you won’t be smashing a family block in one sitting.
Best Budget-Friendly: Green & Black’s Organic Dark Chocolate Bar
Dark chocolate can be expensive, so we like Green & Black for a more affordable option. With a smooth finish and complex flavor, this chocolate will satisfy any sweet tooth. They offer over ten flavors, including Raspberry Hazelnut, Sea Salt, Mint, and Ginger.
The 70% Dark Chocolate Bar contains all organic ingredients, including bittersweet chocolate, cane sugar, vanilla extract, and cocoa butter. One serving (30 grams) has 170 calories, 13 grams of fat, and 9 grams of sugar.
Endorfin Foods Turkish Coffee 60 Percent Cacao Chocolate Bar
This bar is for coffee lovers and chocolate lovers alike. Fresh cardamom and whole coffee beans (roasted from Ritual Coffee Roasters in San Francisco) are milled directly into the chocolate to capture the essence of both flavors. With its limited contents, you can bet you’re getting nothing but natural ingredients: cacao, coconut sugar, caramelized coconut, coffee butter, cardamom, and coffee. If you’re making the change from milk to dark chocolate, this is for you. “It would not be as bitter as something with a higher percentage of cocoa, and you get other flavors that complement the chocolate well, like coffee and cardamom,” says Maggie Michalczyk, RDN, at Once Upon a Pumpkin in Chicago.
Taza 85% Super Dark Chocolate Disks
Taza Chocolate is a Massachusetts-based company that produces high quality, stone-ground chocolate products.
In addition to being gluten-free, non-GMO Project verified, and certified organic by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Taza was the first U.S. chocolate maker to establish a third-party-certified direct trade program.
Taza’s direct trade certification ensures that cocoa products are sourced directly from cocoa farmers, as well as that those farmers are treated fairly and paid at or above market price.
Perfect for anyone who loves the deep, slightly bitter flavor of dark chocolate, these super dark chocolate disks are made with just two ingredients — stone-ground organic cocoa beans and organic cane sugar.
One serving is half a disk. Still, as it contains 85% cocoa, even just a small bite is likely enough to satisfy your chocolate craving.
One-half of a disk (1.35 ounces or 38 grams) provides 230 calories, 17 grams of fat, 10 grams of saturated fat, 14 grams of carb, 5 grams of fiber, 6 grams of sugar, and 5 grams of protein.
Hu Vegan Chocolate Bars
Calling all the vegans: If you’re looking for a creamy bite that’s dairy free, Hu Chocolate is the bar for you. Each bar is made from organic cacao and free from refined sugar, palm oil, and dairy. Even better: they come in indulgent flavors like hazelnut butter.
This cult-favourite brand is one of the best vegan chocolates on the market with the added bonus of being organic, fair trade, gluten free, soy free and refined sugar free. They come in drool-worthy flavours like strawberry and pistachio, sour cherry and vanilla, and coconut and goji (to name only a few), chock full of antioxidants, amino acids, vitamins and minerals.
Best Chocolate Chips: Enjoy Life Baking Dark Chocolate Morsels
Making chocolate chip cookies or banana bread? Swap in Enjoy Life Baking Chocolate chips in your recipe for an added antioxidant boost in your baked treats. Dark chocolate chips will yield a slightly more bitter taste than milk chocolate, so be sure to adjust the portions accordingly.
This chocolate is made with 69% cacao and contains just two ingredients: unsweetened chocolate and cane sugar. One tablespoon has 70 calories, 6 grams of fat, and 5 grams of sugar.
Chocolove Almonds and Sea Salt in Strong 70 Percent Dark Chocolate
This chocolate bar combines all your taste buds’ favorite flavors into one miraculous package of salty, nutty, and sweet goodness. Chocolove’s chocolate is made with the classic techniques of Europe’s finest chocolatiers in America’s own Boulder, Colorado. Made “with love” from natural ingredients, each Chocolove bar has a romantic poem inside its wrapper.
Don’t forget that almonds add more than just yummy nuttiness. “The small number of almonds would add just a touch of fiber and a bit of the healthy fats and protein that almonds are known for,” says Binder-McAsey. With 3 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber in one-third of the bar, this snack may satisfy you longer than other brands, she says.