Chocolate Comes With Sweet Health Perks — but Only if You Choose the Right Bar

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Dark chocolate can be part of a healthy diet so long as your bar meets a few criteria.
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Willy Wonka was onto something. Eating about 1 ½ ounces of dark chocolate made with at least 70 percent cacao is linked to reduced stress and inflammation and better mood, immunity and memory, according to an April 2018 report published in The FASEB Journal.

While chocolate can get a bad rap for being high in sugar, each of the three dietitians we spoke to say it's OK to go cocoa if you choose the right bar. Find out some sweet news about one of America's all-time favorite craving cures, plus the best healthy chocolate bars you can have delivered directly to your door.

Read more: The Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate and How to Choose the Right Bar

Chocolate Health Benefits, Explained

But you get a lot of chocolate health benefits for that extra 19 or so calories. Super-dark chocolate is also higher in antioxidants called flavonoids, which help protect the body's cells from damage that can occur by potential cancer-causers called free radicals bouncing around in the atmosphere, explains Michelle Hyman, RD, CDN, a registered dietitian at Simple Solutions Weight Loss.

In fact, the dark variety boasts two to three times more antioxidant-rich cocoa solids than milk chocolate does, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and supplies iron, copper, manganese, magnesium, potassium and other essential minerals. The higher the percentage of the cacao solids (listed on the label as percent cacao), the more health-boosting your chocolate snack can be.

Read more: How to Eat Chocolate to Lose Weight

"Chocolate with a higher cacao concentration has a more intense flavor with less added sugar," says Lauren Harris-Pincus, RDN, founder of NutritionStarringYOU.com and author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club. That's because sugar and other fillers (like milk) replace the space that more cacao solids take up in darker chocolate bars.

"Some studies have shown dark chocolate to lower blood pressure, raise 'good' HDL cholesterol and improve blood flow," Hyman adds. In fact, an April 2017 review published in Cochrane Reviews observed that eating dark chocolate reduced blood pressure by about two points.

How to Pick the Best Chocolate Bar

For the most health benefits per bite, dietitians we spoke to suggest seeking out dark chocolate that:

  • Is low in added sugars
  • Doesn't list “dutch” or “alkalized” cocoa, a process that can lower its antioxidant content
  • Is sustainably- and ethically-sourced
  • Has a short ingredient list
  • Is fair-trade and organic, if possible
  • Has the country of cacao bean origin listed on the label

Read more: 6 Decadent Chocolate Desserts With 5 Grams of Sugar or Less

9 Healthy Dark Chocolate Bars to Buy

No need to make a special trip to the supermarket to stock up. These dietitian-approved healthy chocolate bars can all be ordered online.

1. Endangered Species Natural Dark Chocolate Bar With Blueberries

To get your dark chocolate fix and help save wildlife, go for Endangered Species' rich bar.
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Cacao percentage: 72

Ten percent of every dollar spent on these vegan and gluten-free chocolate bars is donated to support a wildlife-related non-profit organization. The dried blueberries give back to your body, too, in the form of antioxidants and natural sweetness. (P.S. here are four major reasons to eat more blueberries.)

Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $29.98 for 12 3-ounce bars

2. Alter Eco Dark Salted Brown Butter Gluten-Free Dark Chocolate Bar

Crush those dessert cravings with Alter Eco's brown butter bar.
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Cacao percentage: 70

Going above and beyond fair-trade and organic, Alter Eco promises that each bar is carbon neutral — meaning that it offsets any carbon emissions required to make the chocolate bars. Plus, you'll love the brown butter pieces sprinkled in.

Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $2.95 per 2.82-ounce bar

3. Trader Joe’s The Dark Chocolate Lover’s Chocolate Bar

TJ's bar's high cocoa content makes this a smart pick.
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Cacao percentage: 85

Fruity and nutty in flavor with just a hint of vanilla, this uber-dark chocolate bar features beans from a region on the southern end of Colombia. Each serving has just 13 grams of carbs.

Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $11.22 for two 3 ½-ounce bars

4. Lily’s Sea Salt Extra Dark Chocolate

If you don't mind the taste of stevia, Lily's bar is a good option.
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Cacao percentage: 70

Sweetened with plant-derived, zero-calorie stevia instead of sugar, Lily's chocolate contains no added sugars. The sea salt in this variety accentuates the hint of sweetness in the dark chocolate bar.

Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $19.99 for four 3-ounce bars

5. Theo Chocolate Pure Dark Chocolate Bar

With 85-percent cacao, you can add this bar to any baked good.
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Cacao percentage: 85

This chocolate bar's label is full of buzzy-but-true claims: It's vegan, gluten-free, soy-free, kosher, non-GMO and sustainable. Each serving of the rich dark chocolate offers 8 percent of your daily iron needs.

Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $23.94 for six 3-ounce bars

6. Hu Vegan Chocolate Bars

If you're dairy-free, give Hu's bar a go.
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Cacao percentage: 70

Made with no dairy or gluten, this chocolate bar's also free of palm oil and soy lecithin, two common additives that make chocolate more shelf-stable. For when you're feeling indecisive, Hu offers variety packs with eight flavors, including crunchy mint, hazelnut butter and almond butter with puffed quinoa.

Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $24.99 per four 2.1-ounce bars

7. Compartes Superfood Vegan Organic Strawberry Acai Dark Chocolate Bar

This fruity bar comes wrapped in beautiful packaging and makes for a delightful gift worth the heftier price tag.
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Cacao percentage: 75

This California-based chocolatier has been a celeb favorite since it was founded in the 1950s. The newest organic addition to the line-up features acai, goji berries and strawberries for a triple dose of superfoods.

Buy it: Compartes.com; Price: $9.95 per 3-ounce bar

8. Lindt Excellence Bar Extra Dark Chocolate

You'll find this dark chocolate bar in just about every grocery store and pharmacy.
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Cacao percentage: 85

Also available in coconut, almond, orange, sea salt, blackberry-acai and caramel-sea salt varieties, Lindt dark chocolate bars are made in the classic Swiss style. The result: A super-smooth texture.

Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $28.27 for 12 3 ½-ounce bars

9. Cavalier Dark Chocolate

This stevia-sweetened bar skips the added sugars.
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Cacao percentage: 85

Like Lily's, this bar is sweetened with stevia. Fans swear by it for a lower-carb swap for traditional grocery-store-checkout-lane-lining candy bars.

Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $10 per 3-ounce bar

How to Incorporate Dark Chocolate Into a Healthy Diet

A simple rule keeps Harris-Pincus on track when it comes to snacking on dark chocolate without overdoing it: "I usually aim for a square or two after dinner to finish off the day instead of ice cream, cookies or other more concentrated sweets. Some people prefer to use chocolate as a mid-afternoon pick me up, which is certainly OK, too, as long as you can control the portion," she says.

Regardless of the time of day you choose to enjoy a dark chocolate dessert, an appropriate portion size is key, Hyman continues.

"Even though dark chocolate has some health benefits, it's still a dessert. I encourage my clients to enjoy dark chocolate in moderation — and to savor each bite so they get the most satisfaction possible. For those with weight-loss goals, I recommend limiting 'treats' to about 100 to 200 calories per day," Hyman says.

If the bitterness of dark chocolate is a bit too much for you, try slathering your daily square with a spoonful of peanut butter.

Read more: 9 Ways to Stop Emotional Eating For Good

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