There’s no doubt about it: Americans love their chocolate.
According to statista.com, more than 268 million Americans consumed chocolate and other candy in 2020—a number that is expected to grow to more than 275 million in 2024. Among survey takers, Snickers was the top chocolate of choice, with 48 million Americans consuming this sweet treat in 2020. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Kit Kat Chocolates were also a popular pick: In 2020, more than 15 million and 11 million Americans consumed five or more servings of each, respectively.
If you too are slightly (or, maybe not-so-slightly!) obsessed with chocolate, you’ll be thrilled to know that in addition to mouthwatering flavor, your favorite indulgence dishes out some pretty sweet health benefits. That’s right: A growing body of evidence links chocolate consumption to a bevy of benefits for your body.
But before you plunge headfirst into your hidden stash of sweets, know this: Not all chocolate is created equal. In order to reap the health benefits of chocolate, you have to choose the right kind. Read on to find out which chocolate is the best, and to get all the details on everyone’s favorite sweet treat.
Here’s everything you need to know about chocolate:
What types of chocolate are there?
There are three primary types of chocolate: Dark chocolate, milk chocolate and white chocolate. They differ in composition, which explains why they also differ in both nutrition and flavor profile.
Dark chocolate: In order to be called “dark,” chocolate has to contain at least 35 percent cocoa, says the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Often, that percentage is much higher. Aside from the cocoa, dark chocolate typically contains cocoa butter, which is the natural fat of the cocoa bean, sugar, an emulsifier that holds the ingredients together, and sometimes, flavorings. Dark chocolate is also referred to as “semi-sweet chocolate,” since the high cocoa content provides a slightly bitter taste.
Milk chocolate: Like dark chocolate, milk chocolate typically contains cocoa butter, sugar, an emulsifier and flavorings. Unlike dark chocolate, this type of sweet treat must contain a much lower percentage of cocoa—as little as 10 percent, according to the FDA requires that milk chocolate has to contain at least 10 percent cocoa. The FDA also requires that milk chocolate contain a minimum of 12 percent dry milk solids.
White chocolate: White chocolate contains at least 20 percent cocoa butter and up to 55 percent sugar, plus milk solids, lecithin and flavorings. Since white chocolate is pretty much just sugar and fat, you should limit it—or avoid it altogether.
What’s better, milk chocolate or dark chocolate?
In the showdown of the chocolates, dark chocolate is the winner by a long shot.
The most notable difference between milk and dark chocolate is the flavonoid content. Flavonoids are antioxidants that fight free radicals, compounds that damage the cells in your body. Dark chocolate typically contains a much higher percentage of flavonoid-filled cocoa than milk chocolate, making it the most nutritious option. And there’s science to back that up—research has linked dark chocolate consumption to several health benefits, including:
- Helps lower blood pressure
- Improves blood flow
- Reduces risk of blood clots
- Helps improve cholesterol levels
- May reduce risk of heart disease
- May protect your skin from sun damage
- May improve cognitive function
Dark chocolate also contains far more body-boosting nutrients. It contains magnesium, iron, potassium, calcium and trace amounts of vitamins. Milk chocolate typically only provides potassium and trace amounts of vitamins. Milk chocolate also contains far more sugar and fat than its darker counterpart.
How much chocolate can I eat?
Dark chocolate may be chock full of health benefits, but that’s not a free pass to chow down with reckless abandon. It’s still a calorie-dense food, so consuming too much of it can lead to weight gain and other health issues.
Experts recommend chocoholics enjoy up to an ounce daily. (Many standard large chocolate bars are more than three times that amount.)
And follow these rules when choosing your chocolate:
- The darker, the better: Chocolate treats with the highest cocoa content like 70 to 85 percent boast the most benefits.
- Pick plain: Skip selections with fillings or coatings, unless they’re nuts or unsweetened fruit.
Looking for something to satisfy that chocolate craving without wreaking havoc on your health? We’ve got you covered with our dark chocolate covered, plant-based protein bars. They’re covered in a layer of dark chocolate, for an indulgence that’s bursting with antioxidants. Check them out here!