January 20, 2019
Chocolate Bar

How to Find the Healthiest Chocolate

by Berkeley Wellness  

Chocolate makes a lot of people happy, at least temporarily, but is it healthy?

Studies suggest that compounds in chocolate, called flavonoids, have cardiovascular and other potential health benefits, due to their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-clotting effects. But unless manufacturers take steps to preserve the flavonoids, processing the cocoa beans into commercial candy greatly reduces their levels.

What's more, most chocolate bars are loaded with sugar and calories (about 150 calories an ounce). Better sources of flavonoids are fruits and vegetables, which have fewer calories and an abundance of vitamins and minerals, along with fiber and other healthful plant chemicals.

If you love chocolate, it’s okay to eat small amounts as a treat, not a health food, especially if you choose dark chocolate and have it instead of other snacks or desserts that are high in calories.

Here are six pointers to keep in mind when buying chocolate:

1. Look for dark chocolate that lists cocoa beans (or some variation such as cacao, chocolate liquor, or cocoa mass) as the first ingredient—not sugar. The higher the percent cocoa (60 to 75 percent is a reasonable content to aim for), the “darker” the chocolate and the less room there is for sugar.

2. Chocolate “serving sizes” vary from about 1 to 1.5 ounces, and a bar may have several servings. Eat a medium-size 3-ounce bar, and you’ll get about 450 calories and at least 30 grams of fat.

3. Watch out for other ingredients in chocolate. Some, like nuts and dried fruit, are healthful, but others, like caramel and bacon, are not.

4. Cocoa powder is highest in cocoa solids and has more flavonoids if it’s not Dutch- or alkali-processed. You can use cocoa powder in baking, or mix it with low-fat or nonfat milk (sweeten as needed). Most hot cocoa mixes come already sweetened. Sugar-free versions have fewer calories. But don’t go overboard on cocoa powder—this is especially important for children—because it may contain trace amounts of the heavy metal cadmium.

5. Be aware that white chocolate is not technically real chocolate. It has no cocoa or flavonoids—just cocoa butter, sugar, and flavorings.

6. If you're sensitive to caffeine, keep in mind that chocolate contains small amounts—about 20 milligrams in an ounce of dark chocolate and 6 milligrams in milk chocolate (compared to about 100 to 150 milligrams in a cup of coffee).

See also: Chocolate on the Brain