Willy Wonka's HDL must have been off the charts.

By Betty Gold
December 13, 2019

Chocolate is delicious in any form, from cakes and cookies to brownies, bars, and even boozy hot cocoa. But healthy? Sure—in ways.

“If you’re looking for a small health benefit from eating chocolate, the type you choose is important,” says Ali Webster, PhD, RD, and associate director of nutrition communications for the International Food Information Council Foundation.

Dark chocolate has a higher percentage of cocoa, which is where the beneficial flavanol compounds in chocolate reside, Webster explains. Dark chocolate is generally 50 to 85 percent cocoa. Consuming flavanol-rich chocolate and cocoa products can lower blood pressure to a small extent, which is important because high blood pressure is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Cocoa powder has also been shown to increase HDL (the 'good' cholesterol) and lower total LDL (the 'bad' cholesterol) for those with high cholesterol levels. Dark chocolate may also decrease insulin resistance, which is a very common risk factor for type 2 diabetes and heart disease. 

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Milk chocolate, on the other hand, has a lower cocoa percentage and often includes more fat and sugar. This means that in addition to having less of the healthy flavanol compounds, milk chocolate may also be higher in added sugars and calories compared to dark chocolate.

To make sure you’re reaping the health benefits of chocolate, be a careful reader of the nutrition information on food packaging to understand serving sizes, calories, and nutrient content. When it comes to its nutrient content, one 11-gram square of dark chocolate contains about 1 gram of fiber and also provides small amounts of the minerals magnesium, copper, potassium and iron.

The Bottom Line

Regardless of the dark vs. milk debate, Webster says it’s equally important to be mindful of how much chocolate you’re eating. “While dark chocolate does have some beneficial nutrients, its saturated fat and sugar content can add up quickly. Eating one 100-gram bar of dark chocolate that’s 70% to 85% cocoa has over 43 grams of fat and 24 grams of sugar!” she says.

Health benefits have been demonstrated for consuming much smaller amounts, so stick with a 10 to 15 gram square (or two) per day.

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