Health & Wellness

What's the healthiest chocolate? The No. 1 pick, according to dietitians

Chocolate is irresistible, but is it healthy? Nutrition experts weigh in.

Chocolate makes life sweeter. It’s prized for both its luscious taste, and health benefits for the mind and body. You can bite into it, melt it, drink it or bake with it for a rich delectable treat.

Choose the right type of chocolate and you also get a rare dessert that gets approval from dietitians.

June is National Candy Month, though chocolate really rules in October for Halloween, December for the holiday season, February for Valentine’s Day and spring for Easter.

But people love it year-round: the average American eats almost 10 pounds of chocolate per year, according to Forbes.

Many might not know chocolate comes from a fruit tree and is made from a seed — the cocoa bean, the National Confectioners Association notes.

What is the healthiest chocolate?

Of the three types of chocolate — dark, milk and white — dark chocolate is the healthiest, nutrition experts say.

“The health benefits of chocolate products are all thanks to the cocoa bean, which contains numerous phytochemicals shown to have anti-inflammatory, anticancer, and antihypertensive properties,” Whitney English, a registered dietitian at Whitney E. RD in Palo Alto, California, tells

“The more cocoa solids a product contains, the more nutritious it is. Dark chocolate contains the most cocoa bean solids and therefore is the most nutrient-dense.”

Dark chocolate also has a higher content of flavonoids than milk or white chocolate, says Elisabetta Politi, a registered dietitian at the Duke Lifestyle and Weight Management Center in Durham, North Carolina.

Flavonoids function as antioxidants to block the damaging effects of free radicals, which have been linked to increased risk of heart disease and cancer, she notes.

“Additionally, flavonols, a type of flavonoids in dark chocolate, may affect the function of the immune system by reducing inflammation,” Politi tells

Is 70% dark chocolate healthy?

Both experts recommend choosing chocolate with at least 70% cocoa content because it will have less added sugar and more phytochemicals than chocolate with less cocoa.

A 70% chocolate bar will list cocoa beans or one of its derivatives — cocoa solids or cocoa liquor — as the first ingredient, Politi says. If sugar is listed first, it means cocoa makes up less than 50% of the bar, she adds.

Dark chocolate benefits

Cocoa beans contain protein and are a great source of minerals like iron and magnesium, plus manganese, copper, zinc and phosphorus, previously reported. You get a bit of fiber, too — about 3 grams per 1 ounce of dark chocolate, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Chocolate is rich in polyphenols, beneficial compounds produced by plants.

Higher chocolate intake is associated with a lower risk of future heart problems, researchers reported in the journal Heart.

Reviews of studies have found chocolate consumption “significantly reduced” triglycerides — a type of fat in the blood — and can modestly lower blood pressure.

Cocoa flavanols protect against vascular disease and appear to improve blood flow to the brain, a study published in Scientific Reports noted.

Chocolate also has benefits for the mind.

Dark chocolate “contributes to producing the feel-good hormone serotonin and contains magnesium, which is linked to reducing anxiety” and relieving stress, Keri Glassman, a registered dietitian in New York, notes.

Eating 85% cocoa dark chocolate may also boost mood via the gut-brain connection, with dark chocolate having a prebiotic effect on healthy bacteria in the gut and possibly improving negative emotions that way, a study found.

Could it make you smarter? There’s a “surprisingly powerful” correlation between chocolate intake and the number of Nobel laureates in various countries — perhaps because chocolate “enhances cognitive function,” a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found.

For example, Switzerland was the top performer when it came to both the number of Nobel laureates and the amount of chocolate its residents eat, the authors noted. (Other experts were very skeptical of the correlation.)

Dark chocolate side effects

When Consumer Reports tested 28 dark chocolate bars from a variety of brands in 2022, it found cadmium and lead in all of them — two heavy metals harmful to health. The levels weren’t extremely high, but they were detectable, the organization said when it released its test results.

The National Confectioners Association countered that chocolate is safe to eat and all the products tested were “in compliance with strict quality and safety requirements.”

Any harms from heavy metals seem to be outweighed by other positive compounds in dark chocolate, English notes.

If heavy metals are a concern, Politi suggests choosing milk chocolate, or varying both milk and dark.

Dark chocolate contains caffeine — about 23 milligrams in a 1-ounce square, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. If you eat four squares, that’s about the same amount of caffeine as drinking a cup of coffee.

And it’s still candy — it has fat and sugar, with 170 calories per ounce, so eating too much can lead to weight gain.

How much chocolate per day is OK to eat?

Politi recommends sticking to 1 ounce per day, or the size of a dental floss case.

English says a few squares of chocolate a day is a reasonable amount for most people.

How do you eat dark chocolate if you don’t like it?

If it’s too bitter, try putting two small pieces in your mouth and let them melt over your tongue, which helps discover the complexity of the dark chocolate flavor, Politi advises.

A dark chocolate bar that contains sea salt or dried fruit may also taste less bitter than plain dark chocolate, even if they contain the same amount of cocoa, she adds. Politi personally loves chocolate with orange flavor added.

Yogurt with fresh berries and some dark chocolate chips sprinkled on top is another option, English notes.

Both dietitians are fans of dipping fruit in melted chocolate.

Is chocolate unhealthy or healthy?

Dark chocolate contains nutritious components and its benefits likely outweigh any potential drawbacks as long as it’s consumed in moderation, English says.

If a person enjoys a sweet treat at night, choosing a few squares of dark chocolate over a bowl of ice cream is more beneficial, but it’s likely less healthful than a bowl of blueberries, she explains.

“If someone loves a treat at the end of a meal, I think a small amount of dark chocolate is a guiltless choice, which has been shown to provide health benefits,” Politi adds.

“(But) I wouldn’t say chocolate is a health food.”

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