Sweet from Heaven: How to Choose the Healthiest Chocolate

Chocolate, made from cocoa, has been around for 5000 years. Cacao beans grow in trees. They're harvested, fermented, dried, and roasted to make chocolate. Cacao is delicious in any form: cocoa powder, hot cocoa, cocoa butter, and chocolate. If you're a fan of chocolate and looking for the healthiest option, read this article to learn the key information you need to choose healthier chocolate.

Key takeaways:

Raw cacao is rich in antioxidants, and it's the main ingredient of chocolate. However, most chocolate contains many ingredients besides cocoa.

Cocoa mass and butter, sugar, and milk are the main ingredients of chocolate. Most packaged chocolate contains additional ingredients: vegetable oils, additives, artificial coloring, and flavors.

Reading the labels can help you to choose healthier chocolate. Ingredients and their amounts used in chocolate vary from brand to brand. Some contain too much sugar and additives; some are sugar-free and have no additives. In general, some tips for choosing healthier chocolate include:

  1. Choose a higher percentage of cocoa
  2. Avoid chocolate that contains high sugar or high fructose corn syrup
  3. Avoid chocolate that contains artificial additives
  4. Prioritize portion control

It's a high possibility that lower-quality chocolate contains higher amounts of vegetable oils, butter fat, additives, artificial coloring, and flavors to compensate for taste and expand shelf life.

Healthy eating behaviors are as important as a healthy diet. Restrictive behavior on food can provoke unhealthy eating patterns. Eating sweets from time to time is a normal part of the diet.

Can chocolate be healthy?

Yes, chocolate can be healthy. Nowadays, healthier chocolate options are on the market. You can find various forms of chocolate: extra dark (contains 90–100% cocoa solids), organic, sugar-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, no vegetable oils, artificial flavoring, and additives. Therefore, you can choose the healthier one suitable for your diet.

Also, cocoa is rich in flavanols which are antioxidant compounds with many health benefits, including improving blood flow and lowering blood pressure. For the highest flavonoid intake, you should look for higher cocoa percentage chocolates and dark chocolates.

Besides the cocoa percentage, the manufacturing methods affect flavonoids in dark chocolate. Flavanol's content is reduced with processing — cleaning, fermentation, roasting, alkalizing (some chocolate brands do), and the addition of other ingredients (such as sugar and additives).

Other flavanol-rich foods that are not high in sugar, saturated fat, or additives include but are not limited to:

  • Fruits, such as berries and citrus fruits
  • Vegetables, such as leafy greens, onions, and garlic
  • Black and green tea

Dark vs. milk chocolate

Cocoa mass and butter, sugar, and milk are the main ingredients of chocolate. Dark or milk chocolate? Both are delicious. Let’s look at their similarities and differences:

Dark chocolate:

  • Dark chocolate does not contain milk
  • Dark chocolate contains 50-90% of cocoa solids
  • Dark chocolates are higher in fat

Milk chocolate:

  • Milk chocolate contains milk in various forms
  • Milk chocolate contains 10-50% of cocoa solids
  • Milk chocolates are high in carbohydrates and sugar

Typical nutritional value of different chocolate kinds:

Dark chocolate, 7085% cocoa solids (1 oz or 28 g)Dark chocolate, 6069% cocoa solids (1 oz or 28 g)Milk chocolate (1 oz or 28 g)
Energy 170 kcal164 kcal150 kcal
Carbohydrates13 g14.9 g16.6 g
Protein2.21 g1.74 g2.14 g
Total fat12.1 g10.9 g8.32 g
Fiber3.09 g2.27 g0.95 g
Sugars6.8 g10.4 g14.4 g
Iron3.37 mg1.79 mg0.66 mg
Magnesium64.6 mg49.9 mg17.6 mg
22.7 mg24.4 mg5.6 mg

Is chocolate high in calories?

Yes, chocolate is high in calories, whether dark or milk chocolate. Chocolate gives 150 to 170 kcal per 1 ounce/28 g.

Besides, chocolate contains sugar in various amounts based on the percentage of cocoa solids. Milk chocolate has high sugar, almost double that of 70–85% dark chocolate.

Sugar can be hidden in other ingredients on the labels. Detect other forms of added sugars:

  • Syrups (corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, rice syrup, brown rice syrup, and agave syrup)
  • Artificial sweeteners (such as stevia)
  • Honey
  • Date palm
  • Sugar alcohols (such as maltitol, sorbitol, and erythritol)
  • Coconut sugar
  • Malt sugar
  • Glucose, fructose, sucrose, maltose, and dextrose

Can we eat dark chocolate on a strict calorie-deficit diet?

Yes, you can eat dark chocolate on a strict calorie-deficit diet. However, portion control is important if you're trying to target specific calories. If you're following a calorie-deficit diet, you can choose high percentage dark chocolate that contains less sugar than milk chocolate.

Healthy people can eat any food in moderation within a healthy and balanced diet. Restricting specific foods or food groups can evoke unhealthy eating patterns. However, monitoring sugar intake is important for weight management.

High-sugar foods, including chocolate, can increase blood sugar levels and add up daily calorie intake. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), consuming high amounts of added sugar can cause weight gain, obesity, and chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020–2025 recommends that adults limit their added sugar intake to 10% of their daily calories. If you consume 2000 calories (as an average person), you shouldn't exceed 50 grams of added sugar daily.

Is no added sugar chocolate better?

Yes and no. Added sugar is not the “evil” in chocolate. There can be many unhealthy ingredients used in chocolate.

You should focus on more than just how much sugar a chocolate contains; look at the overall quality of the chocolate. Still, choosing high-quality dark chocolate containing no or little added sugar can be a better option.

How much caffeine is in chocolate?

Cocoa contains caffeine. Thus, the higher percentage of cocoa a chocolate contains, the higher the caffeine content. One ounce (28 g) of 70–85% dark chocolate contains 22.7 mg of caffeine, while the same amount of milk chocolate contains 5.6 mg of caffeine.

Chocolates contain various percentages of cocoa solids, butter, sugar, and milk. Cacao has health benefits. For the healthier chocolate option, read the labels. Choose high-quality chocolate that contains a higher percentage of cocoa and no or lesser sugar, additives, and coloring. Chocolate has nothing to worry about if it's good quality and consumed in moderation.

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