Chocolate is often considered an occasional treat, but if you choose the right healthy chocolate brand, you can enjoy it more frequently and reap some serious benefits from the myriad bioactive compounds present in cacao. Dark chocolate is considered one of the longest-known functional foods, dating back to 400 AD. It is rich in bioactive flavonoids including catechins, anthocyanins, and procyanidins.
Research shows that enjoying dark chocolate has positive health benefits, from reducing inflammation, and relaxing blood vessels to lowering blood pressure and improving overall cardiovascular health. One review article published in the journal Nutrients reported that chocolate consumption was inversely correlated with coronary heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. The authors noted that two to six servings per week was considered optimal for reducing one's risk.
However, not all chocolate bars are created equal. You want chocolate that provides a higher percentage of flavonoid-packed cocoa solids. The healthiest bars will provide at least 70% cocoa. Cocoa (or cacao) is loaded with polyphenols as well as providing some iron, zinc, magnesium, and many other essential minerals. Unfortunately, milk chocolate lacks the polyphenols and essential nutrients that make dark chocolate a healthier option.
How to choose the best chocolate bars:
- Look for those with at least 60% cacao (cocoa), but higher is even better.
- Compare added sugars and choose a bar that has the least amount of added sugar.
- When possible, look for those that are organic and made with non-GMO ingredients for the health of the planet.
- If you eat a plant-based diet, choose bars that are dairy-free and certified vegan.
Here are the nine best chocolate bars dietitians love due to their nutritional benefits.
1. GATSBY Sea Salt Extra Dark
This is one of my favorite healthier chocolate bars. It tastes so great and has such a good proposition that even Mark Cuban and Lori Greiner from Shark Tank are investors. I like that it's significantly lower in calories and added sugar compared to milk chocolate bars and even the best dark chocolate bars. GATSBY chocolate bars have less than half the calories and about 75% less sugar than a traditional chocolate bar because the primary sweetener is allulose, a natural zero-calorie sweetener that most closely resembles sugar in taste and function. With 4 grams of fiber, this chocolate bar can also help keep you satisfied longer. It's also non-dairy and gluten-free.
2. Macalat Organic Sweet Dark Chocolate
The advent of a new chocolate category, this organic sweet dark chocolate is actually sugar-free. Macalat is made with organic superfoods including organic Peruvian cacao, lucuma, cinnamon, vanilla bean, monk fruit, and organic mushroom extract. The marvelous mushroom extract acts to cut the bitter notes of the cacao, so the bar has a rich, sweet taste but with zero sugar and zero net carbs. It's perfect for anyone living a carb-controlled lifestyle but who wants to enjoy chocolate. You need to taste it to believe it!
3. Endangered Species Almond & Sea Salt 72% Dark Chocolate
This bar is not only dairy-free but it is also certified vegan, says Rhyan Geiger, RDN, owner of Phoenix Vegan Dietitian. Plus, it has only 7 grams (1 ¾ teaspoons) of added sugar, compared to around 17 grams (4+ teaspoons) of sugar in other leading chocolate bars on the shelves, adds Geiger.
4. Hu Simple Dark Chocolate Organic 70% Cacao
This bar is great because it has a high percentage of cacao and is certified organic. It's made with just three ingredients: organic fairtrade cacao, unrefined organic coconut sugar and organic fairtrade cocoa butter. The brand doesn't use any refined sugar, cane sugar, sugar alcohols, among other more processed ingredients in its bars.
5. Alter Eco 70% Cacao Sea Salt Organic Dark Chocolate
"I love that this healthy chocolate bar is 100% plant-based, USDA-certified organic, certified gluten-free, and made with simple, recognizable ingredients," says Los Angeles-based registered dietitian Cynthia Sass, MPH, MA, RD. "It's rich without being bitter and it really melts in your mouth, which not all dark chocolates do." What's more, these bars provide fiber, iron, and magnesium and the brand supports fair wages for farmers and sustainable agriculture.
6. Lily's Salted Carmel Milk Chocolate Style Chocolate Bar
Lily's is a favorite brand made without added sugar, but does have Stevia for sweetness, explains Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, an award-winning registered dietitian. "The bars are certified gluten-free and made with non-GMO ingredients. "When I crave chocolate, I prefer milk chocolate (especially caramel), so I pop an ounce of this chocolate bar." While this bar will lack the same bioactive compounds present in dark chocolate with high cacao counts, its nutritionals are still impressive with low sugar and high fiber counts.
7. Alter Eco Deep Dark Quinoa Crunch
This organic bar has 60% cacao, so you'll get the phytonutrient antioxidants from polyphenols, flavanols, and catechins, notes Amidor. It has no GMOs, no soy ingredients, no corn ingredients, no additives, no artificial ingredients, and it's vegan. Plus, you'll get a crunch of whole-grain quinoa in every bite!
8. Alter Eco 85% Cacao Raspberry Blackout
This super dark bar is among the highest in beneficial cacao, with 85% cacao. It has less added sugar and more fiber than many of its premium dark chocolate peers. Made with smooth dark chocolate and contrasted with the tart red raspberry for a delicious combo. This bar delivers on taste and quality and is made with eco-friendly ingredients, notes registered dietitian Patricia Bannan, MS, RDN, author of From Burnout to Balance.
9. Barebells Protein Bars Chocolate Dough
"For a chocolate bar alternative, I'm a big fan of Barebells Protein Bars Chocolate Dough," says Bannan. While they are processed 'once-in-a-while foods,' compared to dark chocolate, I like that they provide 20 grams of protein and no added sugar, adds Bannan.
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