As if the thought of savoring a square (or a whole bar) of dark chocolate wasn’t enticing enough, dark chocolate’s health claims are pretty appealing too. We’ve heard everything: It lowers blood pressure, relieves stress, improves cognitive function, protects your skin, and more. Check out what experts had to say about how healthy this treat actually is.
The health benefits of dark chocolate
There’s been lots of research on dark chocolate, but the hype has outpaced the science. Translation: Eating dark chocolate 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.
How to choose the healthiest chocolate
- Dig dark chocolate. Grab a bar with 70% cocoa or higher (more cocoa equals more flavonoids). If dark chocolate tastes too bitter for you, dark milk chocolate is a pretty sweet compromise—it has less sugar and more cocoa than traditional milk chocolate, which may have as little as 10%. If it says “milk chocolate” but has a cocoa percentage of 38% or higher, you’ll know it’s dark milk.
- Read the ingredients. Chocolate, cocoa, or cacao should appear first in the ingredient list, meaning there’s more of it by weight. If sugar is firs on the list or you see unfamiliar ingredients, steer clear, says Lisa R. Young, Ph.D., R.D.N., an adjunct professor of nutrition at New York University and the author of Finally Full, Finally Slim.
- Know your source. Dutch-processed cocoa tends to have a reduced flavonoid content because of how the chocolate is processed, while one recent study found that cocoa beans from Colombia had the highest flavonoid content, likely because of things like plant variety and geography.
What about serving size?
There’s no magic quantity of dark chocolate you need to eat to get those flavonoids; the dosage used in studies varies. But experts agree that you should treat it like you would any other piece of candy and consume it in moderation.
“It’s best reserved as a treat,” says Young. “Yes, it does contain antioxidants, flavonoids, vitamins, and minerals, but let’s not call it a health food—it still contains plenty of sugar and fat.” In other words, aim for 1/4 of a full-size bar. With all of this in mind, here are the best healthy chocolate bar options to consider:
This indulgent dark chocolate bar is made with roasted almonds and 80% cacao. “If you can get 70% or more cocoa and get some almonds thrown in, I can’t argue with that,” says Keri Gans, M.S., R.D., a New York-based nutrition consultant and author of The Small Change Diet. Taza chocolate is stone-ground, so it will have a slightly grainy texture, which some people prefer, instead of milky smooth.
Nutrition per serving: 210 cal, 4 g pro, 14 g carb, 3 g fiber, 7 g sugars, 16 g fat (9 g sat fat), 0 mg chol, 154 mg sodium
Scott Keatley, R.D., of Keatley Medical Nutrition Therapy, recommends trying Lindt’s 70% cocoa, which is a full-bodied chocolate bar that tastes balanced so it’s not too bitter. Bonus: This dark chocolate comes in a case, so you enjoy some now and have plenty left over for later (or to share!). Even better, they’re under $3 a pop!
Nutrition per serving: 190 cal, 2 g pro, 13 g carb, 2 g fiber, 2 g sugars (9 g added sugars), 14 g fat (9 g sat fat), 0 mg chol, 5 mg sodium
If you have food allergies, Pascha’s organic dark chocolate will give you peace of mind: It’s completely free of nuts, dairy, wheat, gluten, and most common allergens. Made with only four ingredients and 85% cacao, these sustainably sourced chocolate bars give you rich flavor without all of those unhealthy additives, earning a stamp of approval from Keatley.
Nutrition per serving: 160 cal, 3 g pro, 10 g carb, 3 g fiber, 4 g sugars (4 g added sugars), 12 g fat (8 g sat fat), 0 mg chol, 0 mg sodium
Looking for a chocolate bar that steers completely clear of sugar? This option from Lily’s uses stevia to sweeten its 70% cocoa formula, meaning there’s no added sugar at all. And did we mention that this bar is keto-friendly?
Nutrition per serving: 130 cal, 3 g pro, 15 g carb, 8 g fiber, 0 g sugars (0 g added sugars), 12 g fat (7 g sat fat), 0 mg chol, 0 mg sodium
As if the packaging wasn’t enticing enough, this craft chocolate bar from Brooklyn is 71% cacao, so you can enjoy its delicious sea salt flavor while appreciating the healthy antioxidants. (These also come in other fun flavors, like ginger snap, green tea crunch, and bananas foster.)
Nutrition per serving: 133 cal, 2 g pro, 12 g carb, 3 g fiber, 9 g sugars (7 g added sugars), 9 g fat (5 g sat fat), 0 mg chol, 73 mg sodium
If you’re newly committed to a healthy diet but secretly worried about missing out on treats like chocolate, don’t fret. This 70% cacao vegan chocolate bar with French sea salt is a savory twist on the classic, minus unhealthy additives. Let the ingredients list speak for itself: organic cacao, unrefined organic coconut sugar, organic fair-trade cocoa butter, and sea salt.
Nutrition per serving: 180 cal, 2 g pro, 13 g carb, 3 g fiber, 9 g sugars (8 g added sugars), 13 g fat (8 g sat fat), 0 mg chol, 105 mg sodium
Give back to your body and the environment when you eat one of these healthy chocolate bars. The brand, Endangered Species, donates 10% of its annual net profits to conservation efforts for endangered wildlife. And at 88% cocoa, you can be sure that you’re receiving a hefty dose of antioxidants.
Nutrition per serving: 180 cal, 3 g pro, 11 g carb, 4 g fiber, 3 g sugars (3 g added sugars), 13 g fat (8 g sat fat), 0 mg chol, 0 mg sodium
Made with a blend of 70% dark chocolate, hemp plant-based protein, almonds, pistachios, and dried cranberries, this chocolate bar brings all the texture and flavor you love from a chocolate bar but slashes the sugar. It’s perfect for vegan, paleo, keto, and low-sugar diets.
Nutrition per serving: 180 cal, 5 g pro, 11 g carb, 4 g fiber, 8 g sugars (8 g added sugars), 13 g fat (6 g sat fat), 0 mg chol, 0 mg sodium
These organic, hand-crafted chocolate bars have a rich, velvety texture with a unique flavor profile. Plus, you’ll feel good knowing that you’re contributing to the livelihood of the women’s cooperatives and cacao farmers in the Dominican Republic and Peru, who produce this company’s organic chocolate.
Nutrition per serving: 190 cal, 3 g pro, 21 g carb, 8 g fiber, 12 g sugars (11 g added sugars), 14 g fat (8 g sat fat), 0 mg chol, 0 mg sodium
With six servings per bar, this seriously big sweet from Dutch chocolatier Tony’s Chocolonely should satisfy your cravings for weeks (or just days) to come. And unlike other brands, Tony’s works directly with farmers in Ghana and the Ivory Coast, producing chocolate that’s certified slave-free.
Nutrition per serving: 170 cal, 2 g pro, 12 g carb, 4 g fiber, 8 g sugars (8 g added sugars), 13 g fat (8 g sat fat), 0 mg chol, 0 mg sodium
It’s called Antidote for a reason. Instead of loading up on energy drinks, try this healthy, sustainably sourced chocolate. Containing 84% cacao, the chocolate bar is low-sugar and delivers an energizing boost to power you through the workday. It’s seasoned with alaea salt (a Hawaiian red salt) for a mellow, earthy flavor and lavender flowers for a hint of floral.
Nutrition per serving: 200 cal, 4 g pro, 12 g carb, 4 g fiber, 5 g sugars (5 g added sugars), 15 g fat (9 g sat fat), 0 mg chol, 0 mg sodium
For a dark chocolate bar with extra crunch, seek out Chocolove’s almonds and sea salt-studded option. It’s both ethically sourced and certified non-GMO, so you can feel good about indulging.
Nutrition per serving: 211 cal, 3 g pro, 19 g carb, 3 g fiber, 14 g sugars, 14 g fat (7 g sat fat), 0 mg chol, 97 mg sodium
Bitter dark chocolate pairs perfectly with the sweetness of fruit, especially with orange’s bright citrus flavor. Theo sources its fair-trade beans from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Peru. Plus, this bar is entirely vegan.
Nutrition per serving: 170 cal, 2 g pro, 14 g carb, 3 g fiber, 9 g sugars (9 g added sugars), 11 g fat (6 g sat fat), 0 mg chol, 0 mg sodium
Green and Black’s dark chocolate bars are 85% cacao and have a bold, savory flavor with a hint of organic vanilla. Plus, all of their chocolate is sourced through Cocoa Life, a third-party cocoa sustainability company that empowers local cocoa farmers around the world.
Nutrition per serving: 250 cal, 4 g pro, 15 g carb, 4 g fiber, 8 g sugars, 20 g fat (12 g sat fat), 0 mg chol, 10 mg sodium
Just like coffee beans, cocoa beans can be single-origin, too. Beyond Good’s heirloom chocolate comes directly from Madagascar, supporting local farmers. On top of that, each bar is also vegan, organic, and non-GMO.
Nutrition per serving: 150 cal, 3 g pro, 10 g carb, 3 g fiber, 5 g sugars (5 g added sugars), 11 g fat (7 g sat fat), 0 mg chol, 10 mg sodium
Additional reporting by Alexis Jones, Korin Miller, and Jake Smith