May 19, 2021

Dark, Milk or White – Which Chocolate Is Best for Your Heart?

A closer look at what's inside your favorite candy

white milk and dark chocolates

Chocolate is good for blood flow, which means it’s good for your heart. But not all chocolate is created equal. We asked registered dietitian Mira Ilic, RD, LD, to give us the breakdown about which chocolate is best for your heart health.

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Is chocolate good for your heart?

Ahh, the rich flavor of chocolate! It comes from the “flavonoids” in cocoa beans — which are also the reason that chocolate is so healthy for your heart. Flavonoids are antioxidants that fight cell-damaging free radicals in your body.

These flavonoids help your heart by:

  • Controlling cholesterol.
  • Lowering blood pressure.
  • Reducing your risk of blood clots.
  • Inhibiting sticky platelets.
  • Improving blood flow to your vital organs.

Dark chocolate is best for you because it’s the least processed chocolate, which means it contains the highest percentage of flavonoid-filled cocoa bean (cocoa).

Are all types of chocolate healthy?

Before you grab a chocolate candy bar or slice of chocolate cake, it’s important to understand that not all forms of chocolate contain high levels of flavanols.

Cocoa naturally has a very strong, pungent taste, which comes from the flavanols. When cocoa is processed into your favorite chocolate products, it goes through several steps to reduce this taste. The more chocolate is processed (through things like fermentation, alkalizing, roasting, etc.), the more flavanols are lost.

Dark chocolate. Also called semi-sweet chocolate, dark chocolate has at least 35% cocoa to be called dark. The remainder is cocoa butter (the natural fat of the cocoa bean), sugar, an emulsifier (what holds ingredients together) and vanilla or other flavorings. Milk may be added to soften texture.

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Recommendations:

  • The darker the better! Eat chocolate with the highest cocoa content — 70% to 85%.
  • Plain dark chocolate provides the greatest benefit. Avoid fillings unless they are nuts or dried or fresh fruit.
  • A little goes a long way. Enjoy up to 1 oz. daily. Be sure to trim calories elsewhere to avoid weight gain.
  • Standard larger chocolate bars are around 3.5 oz. (about 100 g), so a good rule of thumb is to eat no more than ⅓ of the bar at a time.

Nutrition: 8-12 g fat, 0 trans fat per 1 oz. or 28.4 g. Provides magnesium, iron, potassium, calcium and trace amounts of vitamins.

Milk chocolate. The FDA requires that milk chocolate contain at least 10% cocoa and at least 12% dry milk solids. Like dark chocolate, the remainder is cocoa butter, sugar, an emulsifier and vanilla or other flavorings.

Recommendations:

  • Eat in limited amounts. Milk chocolate is filled with more sugar and fat than dark chocolate.
  • Read ingredients on the package to know what you’re getting. ​

Nutrition: 12+ g fat per 1 oz or 28.4 g. Provides potassium and trace amounts of vitamins.

White chocolate. A derivative of chocolate, it’s made of 20% (or more) of cocoa butter and up to 55% sugar, plus milk solids, lecithin and vanilla and other flavorings.

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Recommendations: Avoid or eat in very limited amounts!

Nutrition: Not much! Mostly sugar and fat.

The bottom line

Chocolate with over 70% cocoa packs the best punch for your health, but enjoy it in small amounts: 100 g of dark chocolate has 500 calories!

Unsweetened chocolate is 100% cocoa. It’s very bitter and only eaten as part of prepared baked goods. Try using 100% cocoa powder in hot cocoa, homemade baked goods and recipes (replacing milk chocolate) or add it to a smoothie or coffee for rich flavor.

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