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The Healthiest Dark Chocolate: 55% to 100% Cacao

- Written by on July 18th 2015

I've heard people ask "Why does everything that tastes so good have to be so bad for you?" These people are usually just craving the deep-fried Oreo taunting them at the county fair, momentarily forgetting summer's delicious and healthy offerings like refreshing watermelon and grilled corn on the cob. Nonetheless, it's nice to treat yourself, and it's especially nice when your treats don't derail your efforts to eat healthier.

It's best of all when giving in to your sweet tooth might actually improve your health.

That brings us to the topic of this post: dark chocolate. Now, to be fair, dark chocolate might not satisfy your desire for something sweet right at the beginning. At least not the dark chocolate brands we're considering for the absolute healthiest dark chocolate. That's because dark chocolate has less sugar than milk chocolate, and if your taste buds haven't adjusted, it might take awhile before you enjoy the really dark stuff. Luckily, you can start with a dark chocolate with as little as 55% cacao (less cacao means more sugar and thus more sweetness). Maybe after a couple 55% bars, you can move up to 60%, 70%, and so on. You can even get bars with 100% cacao and absolutely no sugar. We can't stomach it, but some people love it!

Why is dark chocolate healthy?

Chocolate, and especially dark chocolate, may be good for you because cocoa beans contain flavanols, whose antioxidant properties seem to protect the body's cells from damage and prevent disease. Since dark chocolate contains more cocoa than milk chocolate, it is thought to contain more health-promoting flavanols too. This also explains why the healthiest dark chocolate is probably the one with the highest percentage of cacao and the least milk, sugar, and other added ingredients.1

What are chocolate's health benefits?

Though more research on the health benefits of chocolate is definitely needed, numerous studies over the years have found chocolate to have a variety of positive effects on the body. Particularly the heart seems to benefit from a daily dose of chocolate's flavanols, as research has shown regular consumption of dark chocolate or cocoa powder to reduce blood pressure2, increase blood flow3, and reduce the risk of stroke after being fermented by gut microbes into anti-inflammatory compounds.4 Dark chocolate may also be a delicious alternative to a midday cup of coffee, as its stimulant effects have been shown to increase alertness and improve attention.5 Flavanols may even help keep your memory sharp as you age (though one study with positive findings had people consuming a high-flavanol drink that would equate to about 7 bars of dark chocolate—neither realistic nor recommendable.)

So, again, if you want to reap these potential health benefits with some dark chocolate, aim for a bar with the highest percentage of cacao that still tastes good to you. We've selected some bars to help you work up to 90%, some of which with additional healthy ingredients to keep things interesting.

The Healthiest Dark Chocolate Bars

Note: flavanol content, unfortunately, isn't on the label of most chocolate bars, and depending on how the chocolate is processed, some of the flavanols may have been destroyed.1 This is just another reason it's best to eat the darkest chocolate you still enjoy, a sort of flavanol insurance policy (since you'll start off with more flavanols before processing.)

55% Cacao

Chocolove is a Colorado-based brand of chocolate that offers a wide variety of dark chocolate bars. Their 55% bar is plain dark chocolate with a simple ingredient list:

cocoa liquor, sugar, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, vanilla


Chocolove Dark Chocolate

  • simple, clean ingredient list
  • 13 grams of sugar per serving

Equal Exchange is a Fair Trade company selling organic coffee, tea, bananas, and of course, chocolate. Their chocolate bars range from 55-80% and include flavors like hazelnut, lemon ginger, orange, and caramel. This particularly bar contains almonds, which are known to be good for your heart.6 Double whammy.

Equal Exchange Organic Dark Chocolate With Almonds

  • uses organic and Fair Trade ingredients
  • contains heart-healthy almonds
  • 16 grams of sugar per serving

Lily's line of dark chocolate is sweetened with stevia and the sugar alcohol erythritol and thus contains no added sugar. Their dark chocolate bars are available in 55% or 70% versions, all of which are non-GMO and gluten free.

Lily's Dark Chocolate

  • no added sugar (less than 1 gram per serving)
  • Fair Trade, non-GMO, and gluten free
  • contains inulin, a fiber supplement that can cause digestive issues in large quantities

60% Cacao

Ghirardelli dark chocolate is sold just about everywhere and goes up to 86% cacao. Note: their 60% bar does contain milk fat, so it is not suitable for vegans.

Ghirardelli Intense Dark Evening Dream 60% Cacao

  • widely available
  • 14 grams of sugar per serving

Alter Eco's Fair Trade and organic products, including quinoa, rice, and chocolate, live up to the company's mission to provide healthy, nourishing, and sustainable food. Their quinoa chocolate bar may be a bit higher in sugar than we'd like, but it does contain 10% more iron than a similar-sized serving of Ghirardelli, probably because quinoa is a good source of iron!7

Alter Eco Dark Quinoa Organic Chocolate

  • organic and Fair Trade
  • 25% of your recommended daily iron intake per serving
  • 20 grams of sugar per serving, more than other 60% bars

70% Cacao

sweetriot is a NYC-based chocolate company producing organic and Fair Trade chocolate. Their bars use a variety of healthy and somewhat unusual (at least for chocolate) ingredients, including chia seeds, quinoa, and flax.

sweetriot Pure 70% Dark Chocolate With Fabulous Flax

Endangered Species Dark Chocolate comes in numerous percentages and flavors. Their line of 72% dark chocolates are available plain or with mint, raspberries, cacao nibs, and espresso beans. Plus, they donate 10% of their net profits to charity. Could be more, but it's more than most companies are doing!

Endangered Species Dark Chocolate

  • certified gluten free
  • 12 grams of sugar per serving

85% Cacao

Pascha chocolate has a lot going for it. They advertise their chocolate as allergen free, and it's certainly the most allergen free chocolate we've heard of! It is peanut free, nut free, dairy free, soy free, egg free, fish free, wheat free, and gluten free. It's also organic, Fair Trade, and non-GMO. If you're thinking 85% is too dark for you, Pascha offers 55% and 70% cacao versions too.

Pascha Organic Dark Chocolate 85% Cacao

  • allergen free chocolate
  • just 7 grams of sugar per serving
  • something negative

90% Cacao

Lindt chocolate is commonly available and its dark chocolate bars range from 60% up to 99%.

Lindt 90% Cocoa Supreme Dark Chocolate

  • no artificial ingredients
  • just 3 grams of sugar per serving
  • easy to find

100% Cacao

Ready for the major leagues? If you want to try totally unsweetened chocolate, you might consider purchasing a chocolate baking bar. In fact, these might be the only options you find at your local supermarket. Hershey's, Baker's, and Ghirardelli all sell 100% cacao baking chocolate with 0 grams of sugar. If you prefer organic chocolate, Dagoba sells a certified organic 100% cacao chocolate bar, but it does contain soy lecithin and a tiny amount of milk.

Dagoba Organic Chocolate - Unsweetened

  • sugar free
  • 0 grams of sugar
  • organic
  • not dairy free or vegan
  • harder to find, but available on Amazon

Recommended Read

Chocolate: Sweet Science & Dark Secrets of the World's Favorite Treat

If you're interested in learning more about how chocolate might be good for your health, as well as its history and social impact, we recommend this "deliciously informative" book.

check it out »

Sources

  1. "Heart Health Benefits of Chocolate." Cleveland Clinic. Web. 17 July 2015. http://my.clevelandclinic.org/services/heart/prevention/nutrition/food-choices/benefits-of-chocolate
  2. Wiley. "Dark chocolate, cocoa compounds, may reduce blood pressure." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 14 August 2012. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120814213359.htm.
  3. "How Dark Chocolate, Not Milk Chocolate, May Help Blood Flow." NPR. NPR. Web. 17 July 2015. http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2014/07/02/327775106/how-dark-chocolate-not-milk-chocolate-may-help-blood-flow.
  4. American Chemical Society. "Precise reason for health benefits of dark chocolate: Thank hungry gut microbes." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 March 2014. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140318154725.htm.
  5. "Eat Dark Chocolate to Beat the Midday Slump, NAU Study Says." NAU News. Web. 17 July 2015. http://news.nau.edu/eat-dark-chocolate-to-beat-the-midday-slump-nau-study-says/#.Valx9Pmqqko.
  6. "Nuts and Your Heart: Eating Nuts for Heart Health." Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. Web. 17 July 2015. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/in-depth/nuts/art-20046635.
  7. "2013 International Year of Quinoa: Nutritional Value." Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Web. 17 July 2015. http://www.fao.org/quinoa-2013/what-is-quinoa/nutritional-value/en/.

Author

Crystal Schlegelmilch

Written by on July 18th 2015

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