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Healthy Chocolate: Fact or Fiction?

Antioxidants. That one beautiful word has brought joy to chocolate-lovers around the world. Antioxidants protect our bodies from harmful free radicals, and chocolate contains antioxidants. I know what you’re thinking, “Bring on the candy bars!” But before you get carried away, we need to remember a couple of things — moderation and quality.

Health Benefits of Chocolate

Chocolate is made from cocoa beans, which contain flavanols. Flavanols work as an antioxidant to reduce cell damage, lower blood pressure and improve blood flow. Several studies have indicated that flavanols can improve heart health and brain function. Flavanols are a form of flavanoid.

Even though there are health benefits to chocolate, eating too much can harm your health — and your waistline. To get the most benefit, stick to 1½ ounces a few times a week.

Not All Chocolates Are the Same

The first place to start in your “healthy chocolate journey,” is to understand which types of chocolate contain the most antioxidant power.

  • Dark – Dark chocolate has more flavonoids and antioxidants than other types of chocolate.
  • Milk – Milk chocolate has a higher fat content than dark and two to four times less flavonoids and antioxidants.
  • White – White chocolate contains no cocoa and has the most sugar. Since cocoa is where all the antioxidant power comes in, white chocolate is a big miss.

What to Look for In Dark Chocolate

The healthiest chocolate choices:

  • Are at least 70 percent cocoa (the higher the percentage, the more antioxidant power)
  • Have cocoa (or some form of cocoa) listed as the first ingredient
  • Are organic (to be sure they don’t contain pesticides)
  • Have as few ingredients as possible

Avoid Chocolate Pitfalls

Knowing what should not be in your candy bar is also important. There are ingredients and processing techniques that can rob you of the health benefits chocolate has to offer. Take a look at the list below to see what you need to be watching for on your candy label.

Alkalization or Dutching

This is a process used to make chocolate taste less bitter. Unfortunately, it also removes antioxidants. If you see the word “alkali” on the label, set the bar down and keep looking.


A lot of chocolates are flavored with spices, extracts and oils to enhance the flavor. As long as the flavor comes from natural sources, this isn’t a problem. Choosing organic chocolate is a simple way to ensure you’re not getting artificial flavoring.


There shouldn’t be milk added to dark chocolate, except possibly milk fat.


Sugar is added to most dark chocolate, but the amount of sugar varies widely. The further down sugar appears on the ingredients list, the better.

Trans fats

Trans fats are bad for your heart, which completely contradicts the health benefits of chocolate. If your bar contains trans fats (look for hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil in the ingredients), drop the bar and run.

Curious about chocolate’s effect on your heart? An OhioHealth heart doc weighs in.