Though it was once considered a dieting sin, indulging in chocolate can actually fit into a healthful diet -- as long as you choose the right kind. For optimal health benefits, you'll want to forgo milk chocolate in favor of dark chocolate, and choose a bar with the highest percentage of cocoa solids possible -- many bars note the percentage on their label. Healthy chocolate options are high in beneficial nutrients, including healthful antioxidants, and low in sugar.
Different types of chocolate differ in their sugar levels, and healthy chocolates -- moderately or very dark chocolate -- offer a lower-sugar alternative to milk chocolate. Controlling your sugar intake helps reduce your risk of chronic health problems, including heart disease and obesity. Very dark chocolate -- 70 to 85 percent cocoa solids -- contains just 6.7 grams of sugar, while moderately dark chocolate -- 60 to 69 percent cocoa solids -- has 10.3 grams. Both fare better than milk chocolate, which weighs in at 14.4 grams of sugar per ounce. Stick to super-dark chocolate to more easily stay within your added sugar limit -- 36 grams for men and 24 for women, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.
In general, the darker the chocolate, the higher the fiber content. That's because cocoa solids -- which increase as chocolate gets darker -- are naturally rich in fiber, and there's less fiber-free milk and cocoa butter in the mix. Fiber helps prevent constipation, and it might also help you stick to a calorie-controlled diet by helping you feel full after your meal. A 1-ounce serving of very dark chocolate contains 3.1 grams of fiber, a significant chunk of the 25 and 38 grams women and men need daily, respectively. An ounce of medium dark chocolate contains 2.2 grams of fiber.
Copper and Manganese
Darker chocolates also offer more health benefits due to their higher mineral content, especially copper and magnesium. The copper and magnesium in your diet both activate enzymes needed for tissue function. Copper also supports your immune system, while magnesium helps your cells communicate. An ounce of very dark chocolate boasts an impressive 494 micrograms of copper and 64 milligrams of magnesium. This provides 20 percent and 15 percent of the daily magnesium needs for women and men, respectively, and makes up 55 percent of the copper needs for adults. Moderately dark chocolate doesn't fare as well -- 1 ounce contains 349 micrograms of copper and 49 milligrams of magnesium.
Reach for the darkest chocolate possible for the highest dose of beneficial polyphenols. These chemicals help reduce blood lipid oxidation, a risk factor for heart disease, and also help protect you from blood clots. They help improve blood flow, and might even benefit your mental health by boosting serotonin, your brain's "feel-good" chemical. While darker chocolates are best for polyphenols, any dark chocolate is preferable to milk chocolate -- the milk binds to chocolate's polyphenols and prevents them from functioning properly, explains the University of Michigan Health System. You'll also want to avoid drinking milk when you eat chocolate to get the maximum health benefits.
- University of Michigan Health System: Dark Chocolate
- HealthAliciousNess: Nutrient Facts Comparison Tool: Chocolate Dark 45- 59% Cacao Solids/Chocolate Dark 70-85% Cacao Solids/Cocoa Dry Powder Unsweetened
- Harvard School of Public Health: Added Sugar in the Diet
- Colorado State University Extension: Dietary Fiber
- Linus Pauling Institute: Copper
- Linus Pauling Institute: Magnesium
- Linus Pauling Institute: Good News About Chocolate