Dark chocolate is a special type of chocolate that has a particularly high concentration of antioxidants and beneficial natural compounds from the cocoa bean.
It’s a useful food to add to your diet for better heart health, longevity, and resistance to chronic diseases.
The health benefits of dark chocolate might be a bit surprising, because chocolate is fairly high in sugar.
However, it turns out that on balance, the benefits of the antioxidants in dark chocolate outweigh the drawbacks of the sugar content at small to moderate daily doses.
If you want dark chocolate that’s both tasty and healthy, our researchers have ranked the highest-quality dark chocolates you can get.
1. Endangered Species Extra Dark Chocolate Panther
Endangered Species Chocolate has a social mission as well as a commercial one. Part of the profits from their sales go to protect endangered rainforest species, like this chocolate bar’s namesake, the panther.
But this chocolate isn’t just good for the rainforest—the 88% cocoa content makes it super high in antioxidants and fiber, and low in sugar.
Add to that the fact that there are no extra flavorings or additives and you’ve got a winner.
2. Lindt Excellence Supreme Dark
Lindt makes a fantastic super-dark chocolate bar that is 90% cocoa solids. Thanks to the presence of real vanilla beans, extracted with bourbon, its rich taste is complemented by the airy notes of vanilla oils.
The fiber content is high and the sugar content is low, making this a great choice if you want an extremely dark chocolate.
3. Newman’s Own Organics Premium Organic Dark Chocolate
Newman’s Own is a great choice for a medium-dark chocolate that’s certified organic. It’s also certified by the Rainforest Alliance, meaning that it uses ethical and sustainable production when growing and harvesting its cocoa beans.
The sugar content is moderate, and the fiber content is pretty good. Since it includes vanilla extract, and since it has a lower concentration of cocoa, it’s a smooth and widely accessible dark chocolate good for those who haven’t developed a taste for darker and more complex chocolates.
4. Ghirardelli Chocolate Intense Dark
Ghirardelli makes an 72% cocoa dark chocolate bar that’s a bit more approachable for people who shy away from the bitter and complex taste of some of the more raw and natural dark chocolates.
Ghirardelli includes natural flavors and vanilla extract to smooth out some of the flavoring, and milk fat for more creaminess.
Using dairy does make this dark chocolate not a viable option for vegans or people with harsh lactose intolerance, so if you fit in these categories, you’ll want to look elsewhere.
5. Pascha Organic Dark Chocolate
Pascha Organic makes a dark chocolate bar that is both organic and ethically sourced.
For organic fans, it’s a great choice, especially for those who want something a little smoother and less complex than the darkest of the dark chocolates.
As with other medium-dark chocolates, the sugar content is somewhat higher, but that’s about the only drawback.
6. GODIVA Chocolatier
GODIVA Chocolatier makes 72% dark chocolate bars that are smoother and less intense than some of the higher cocoa content dark chocolates on the market.
It also has no dairy ingredients, which is not common among the lower cocoa content chocolates.
It’s a good choice for those who are dairy averse but also want something a little different than the extreme dark chocolates that have 80 or 90% cocoa. The only downside is that, as a result of the lower cocoa content, the sugar content is higher.
7. BIJA Chocolates Organic Dark Chocolate
BIJA Chocolates Organic Dark Chocolate comes in three distinct flavors, all of which have 72% cocoa content and all of which are certified organic.
The flavors range from citrus and inca berry to espresso and cacao nibs to wild ginger and cayenne, so if you are tired of the same dark chocolate flavor, give BIJA a try.
Like other flavored dark chocolates, the extras do bump the sugar content up, so it’s better for occasional use, not daily use.
8. Green & Black’s Organic Dark Chocolate
Green & Black’s Organic Dark Chocolate is a smooth and approachable dark chocolate that has 70% cocoa content and notes of vanilla bean, thanks to the organic vanilla extract used to make it.
All of the ingredients are certified organic, making it a good choice for those looking for a milder dark chocolate with minimal change of pesticide or synthetic fertilizer content.
9. Imlak’esh Organics Cacao Wafers
If you want to go straight to the source of the antioxidants in dark chocolate, Imlak’esh Organics Cacao Wafers might be the way to go.
These wafers contain only unprocessed cacao, the raw ingredient that makes up the bulk of a good dark chocolate bar.
The taste is distinctively bitter, not sweet, so they’re definitely not the right call for everyone, but these quarter-sized wafers make for good snacking.
10. Equal Exchange Organic Lemon Ginger Dark Chocolate with Black Pepper
Equal Exchange has an innovative take on dark chocolate, sprinkling in ginger, black pepper, and lemon essential oil for a distinctly tangy and spicy dark chocolate.
These extras, however, push the cocoa content down to 55%, and the sugar content up higher than what you’ll find in many other competitors.
It’s nice for an occasional treat, but isn’t a good choice for regular consumption if your goal is taking advantage of the health benefits of dark chocolate.
Dark chocolate benefits and recommended intake
Dark chocolate is seen as a luxurious delicacy, but a growing body of scientific research makes a strong case that it should also be considered a health food.
Dark chocolate, like the cacao powder that it’s made from, contains powerful antioxidant compounds.
Studies of cell cultures and animals have connected these compounds with positive biochemical changes, and epidemiological and clinical studies have connected this activity at the cellular level with positive health outcomes.
Dark chocolate is good for heart health. Some of the early work supporting the health benefits came from large epidemiological studies which involved studying the dietary habits of a big group of people, then following them for several decades and tracking their health.
Studies started to uncover an association between dark chocolate consumption and several heart health related outcomes. One such investigation was published in the European Heart Journal by researchers at the by German Institute of Human Nutrition (1).
The researchers followed a group of nearly 20,000 healthy subjects over a period of eight years. Of these, several hundred experienced a heart attack or stroke during follow-up.
When the researchers compared those with the highest dark chocolate consumption to those with the lowest, they found that risk of heart attack or stroke was 40% lower among the dark chocolate consumers.
Decreases in blood pressure accounted for about 12% of this decrease in risk, which the researchers attributed to the blood pressure lowering effects of the flavanols in cocoa.
Eating dark chocolate could reduce levels of inflammation, particularly in women. Like other powerful antioxidants like resveratrol and astaxanthin, the flavanols in dark chocolate are also thought to reduce levels of inflammation in the body.
A study published in 2008 in the Journal of Nutrition detailed the effects of dark chocolate on inflammation in a group of healthy people living in Italy (2).
The researchers assigned 28 people to consume dark chocolate every day for a week, then tracked their levels of blood lipids (a risk factor for heart disease) and their levels of C-reactive protein, a biomarker for systemic inflammation.
The results found that dark chocolate consumption was associated with decreases in blood lipids, which is exactly what we’d expect knowing what we already do about the effects of dark chocolate on heart health.
However, the researchers also found evidence that dark chocolate reduced C-reactive protein levels in the female subjects, suggesting that women may benefit from its anti-inflammatory properties.
Dark chocolate, despite its sugar content, does not increase cholesterol levels. Given that dark chocolate, like any chocolate product, contains sugar, there’s good reason to worry that the sugar content could be associated with negative health effects.
Some studies have connected sugar intake with increases in cholesterol, such as one study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism in 2011 (3).
However, a systematic review published by researchers at Harvard School of Public Health looked at 136 different studies on dark chocolate and health, and concluded that consuming dark chocolate is “cholesterol neutral”—whatever negative effects on cholesterol caused by the sugar are negated by the positive effects of the other compounds in dark chocolate (4).
This is a relief, as it suggests that the consequences of the sugar content of dark chocolate are not so severe as they might be if you consumed the same amount of sugar from a different source as a part of your diet.
For greater health benefits, go for a dark chocolate with a high cocoa content. Pretty much every dark chocolate bar you’ll see lists its cocoa solids content (as a percent) in a prominent place on the label.
From a taste perspective, higher concentrations of cocoa solids create a more complex, nuanced, and bitter taste to dark chocolate.
In contrast, smaller amounts of cocoa mean a smoother, sweeter, and more milky taste (and also a higher sugar content).
A typical milk chocolate might have 10 or 20% cocoa solids, whereas for dark chocolates, you’ll see everything from 55% at the low end to 90% on the high end. If you’re eating dark chocolate for the taste, you can go with whatever level you like best, but what about for health?
Research out of the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania suggests that, for health, more is better when it comes to cocoa content. Joe Vinson and Matthew Motisi, two chemistry researchers, tested the levels of polyphenol antioxidants in 46 different brands of chocolate, and examined whether greater cocoa content resulted in more antioxidant power.
They found unambiguously that it does—there is a direct, linear relationship between a higher cocoa content and greater antioxidant power (5).
Moreover, the label-stated cocoa content is actually a pretty reliable indicator of the actual antioxidant content, so you can rely on percent cocoa solids as a good proxy for how healthy a given chocolate bar is for you.
This makes it clear that, for the best health benefits, you should go for the highest cocoa content you can find. Fortunately, plenty of top-ranked dark chocolates are 85% cocoa or more.
From the epidemiological and clinical literature, the levels of dark chocolate intake connected with good health are surprisingly high.
The typical “dose” is 40 to 50 grams of dark chocolate per day, though a few studies have even found benefits with up to 100 grams per day.
Fifty grams per day would be about half of a standard-sized bar of dark chocolate, meaning you could easily go through three to four bars in a week.
The polyphenols in dark chocolate (which account for its powerful antioxidant benefits) make up somewhere around 0.5% of the bulk weight of the chocolate bar, which probably accounts for why fairly high intake in dark chocolate is beneficial.
Dark chocolate contains powerful antioxidants that are connected with lower blood pressure, decreased risk for heart attack and stroke, and decreases in systemic inflammation among women.
For optimal health benefits, the best approach seems to be to go for the highest cocoa content you can find if your top priority is health benefits—the percentage of cocoa solids in dark chocolate correlates directly with its antioxidant content.
A daily intake of somewhere around 50 grams, which works out to roughly half of a standard sized chocolate bar, seems to be the most effective and most-studied dose.
Eating some dark chocolate every day is an easy way to improve your heart health and decrease your risk of chronic health conditions in the long run.
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Author: John Davis