The (surprising) best ways to get your hit of healthy dark chocolate (2024)

We know dark chocolate is good for us, thanks to plant compounds called flavanols which have been shown to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and theobromine, known to improve mood.

But does every dark chocolate product have these benefits — does it matter if you get it as cocoa powder, in a bar, or a chocolate-covered nut?

Charlotte Dovey asked experts to assess a selection, which we then rated...

Green & Black's 85% dark chocolate bar

Green & Black's bar was called 'one of the best here for the benefits of dark chocolate'

90g, £2.50,

Cocoa content: 85 per cent minimum

Per 100g: Calories, 607; saturated fat, 30g; fibre, 13g; sugar, 14g

Expert verdict: ‘Generally a high level of cocoa — 70 per cent and above — is a good indicator of flavanol content, but it’s not the only factor,’ says Kaitlin Colucci, a dietitian and founder of The Mission Dietitian.

‘How the beans are processed can also affect levels. Alkalisation, for example, where cocoa powder is treated with an alkali solution to reduce bitterness and improve its solubility in water, can greatly reduce the final amount. Unfortunately, there’s no way of telling this from the label.’

Charlotte Foster, a Surrey-based dietitian, adds: ‘One certainty with high cocoa content is higher levels of nutrients such as iron, zinc and magnesium.

‘This bar has no artificial additives such as emulsifiers, which are common in chocolate and are used to stop the cocoa and cocoa butter (the fat from the beans) separating. Some animal research has suggested emulsifiers may cause inflammation by affecting the balance of our gut microbes.

‘Overall, this bar is one of the best here for the benefits of dark chocolate.’

Taste test: Savoury flavour with slightly bitter aftertaste.

Health rating: 9/10

Truly Nuts! Brazil nuts dark chocolate

Brazil nuts are full of antioxidants, fibre and good fat— but may be best eaten plain, says one expert

120g, £3.79,

Cocoa content: 64 per cent

Per 100g: Calories, 622; saturated fat, 21g; fibre, 6.3g; sugar, 21g

Expert verdict: ‘Combining the health benefits of Brazil nuts — full of antioxidants, fibre and good fats — and dark chocolate, this sounds like a match made in heaven,’ says Charlotte Foster.

‘But it does contain emulsifiers and the glazing agent, gum Arabic, which gives the chocolate its shine and protective coating to extend shelf life.

‘Gum Arabic is full of fibre and is a probiotic, but in large quantities (over 30g) can cause tummy upsets. I’d suggest instead having 30g of plain nuts with a couple of pieces of plain dark chocolate, at least 70 per cent cocoa, for the same taste without all the sugar.’

Taste test: Surprisingly sweet.

Health rating: 6/10

Lindt dark chocolate spread

200g, £5.75,

Cocoa content: 17 per cent

Per 100g: Calories, 588; saturated fat, 11g; fibre, not given; sugar, 40g

Expert verdict: Kaitlin Colucci says: ‘Don’t be fooled by “dark chocolate” on the label as the cocoa content here is just 17 per cent. Surprisingly there’s no legal minimum requirement for something to be called “dark chocolate”, although most experts suggest it should be at least 50 per cent.

‘Dark chocolate shouldn’t contain milk, but this has skimmed milk powder, and nuts, so not unlike that well-known hazelnut spread with added cocoa.

‘Sugar is first on the ingredients list, with a huge 40g per 100g. This won’t have any health benefits.’

Taste test: More nutty than chocolatey.

Health rating: 3/10

Montezuma absolute black dark chocolate

90g, £3,

Cocoa content: 100 per cent

Per 100g: Calories, 604; saturated fat, 33g; fibre, 17g; sugar, 2.7g

Expert verdict: ‘At 100 per cent cocoa, this is as pure as it gets,’ says Kaitlin Colucci.

‘It is the highest fibre chocolate here. At 17g per 100g this contains more fibre than 100g of black beans. On the downside, it’s an acquired taste.

Taste test: Dry, bitter — almost savoury.

Health rating: 9/10

Monin premium dark chocolate sauce

Monin's dark chocolate sauce was described in our taste test as 'eye-wateringly sweet'

500ml, £5.97,

Cocoa content: 20 per cent

Per 100ml: Calories, 352; saturated fat, 1.6g; fibre, not given; sugar, 74.1g;

Expert verdict: ‘If there were sugar awards this would win hands down with a whopping 74.1g per 100ml,’ says Charlotte Foster.

‘The second ingredient is water, which will help make the product runny and pourable — but there’s also a load of preservatives and additives. While its primary use is to flavour coffees or to make chocolate drinks, the label says it can also be added to desserts and ice cream.

‘For a far healthier sauce, melt a dark chocolate bar or grate a bit of dark chocolate on top.’

Taste test: Eye-wateringly sweet and artificial.

Health rating: 1/10

Cadbury Bourneville Cocoa

250g, £4,

Cocoa content: 100 per cent

Per 100g: Calories, 416; saturated fat, 12g; fibre, 34g; sugar, 2g

Expert verdict: This cupboard basic makes the perfect hot chocolate if you just add hot water or milk, suggests Charlotte Foster.

‘Adding milk sweetens it slightly [because of naturally occurring sugar, lactose] but adding just one level teaspoon of sugar cranks up the sugar content.

READ MORE:How to eat to beat the menopause (and shed those midlife pounds): These are the surprising reasons chocolate will stop your snacking, fibre is like natural Ozempic and cottage cheese will keep you calm

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‘However it’s a good option for a healthy hit of flavanols. Add it to savoury dishes such as chilli — the bitterness enhances the flavours.’

Taste test: Intensely chocolatey, not as bitter as expected.

Health rating: 8/10

Holland & Barrett dark chocolate raisins

210g, £4.49,

Cocoa content: 72 per cent

Per 100g: Calories, 471; saturated fat, 15g; fibre, 3g; sugar, 53g

Expert verdict: ‘The label states “with friendly cultures”; this refers to the “dusting” of pediococcus and lactobacillus cultures — probiotics, essentially,’ says Kaitlin Colucci.

‘Probiotics are good for gut health although I doubt the “dusting” would survive long enough to reach the gut.’

Charlotte Foster adds: 'This contains additives and numerous glazing agents — and are also very high in sugar, mainly down to the raisins.

‘The bag says it contains eight 25g servings, but with these things most people will nibble through half a bag [50g sugar] before realising, making any benefit from the chocolate’s flavanols disappear.

‘If you want the sweetness of raisins, grab a handful and eat with a piece or two of plain dark chocolate.’

Taste test: A sweet fruity hit with lingering chocolatey after taste.

Health rating: 5/10

Hotel Chocolat dark chocolate fruit and nut bar

Nutritionist Charlotte Foster calls this product 'basically a high cocoa content chocolate bar with a bit of fruit and nut added'

100g, £4.95,

Cocoa content: 80 per cent

Per 100g: Calories, 526; saturated fat, 19.7g; fibre, 11g; sugar, 28.5g

Expert verdict: 'This is basically a high cocoa content chocolate bar with a bit of fruit and nut added.’ says Charlotte Foster.

‘When fruit is dried, the sugar is concentrated: anything over 22.5g sugar per 100g is high — this bar is 28.5g.

‘Dark chocolate is quite bitter — adding sugar, fruit and nuts helps mask this.

‘People tend to believe products with fruit and nuts are healthier but don’t kid yourself: they boost fibre, but the sugar largely negates any benefits.’

Taste test: Smooth, dry and intense.

Health rating: 6/10

Dr. Oetkar extra dark chocolate cooking bar

100g, £1.75,

Cocoa content: 72 per cent

Per 100g: Calories, 534; saturated fat, 24g; fibre, not given; sugar, 27g

Expert verdict: ‘Cooking chocolate tends to be of a lower quality, often containing added oils and fats so tends to be cheaper than “eating” chocolate,’ says Kaitlin Colucci.

‘With less cocoa butter, it melts more easily. But this bar, with 27g per 100g, isn’t dissimilar to standard eating chocolate.’

Taste test: Sweet and dry with a lingering bitterness.

Health rating: 5/10

Try carob powder for pets and baking

Carob powder contains no caffeine and is rich in plant compounds thought to boost digestion

Carob powder (e.g. Organic carob powder, 250g, £3.59, is made from dried, roasted carob tree pods.

‘It contains virtually no fat and is richer in fibre than cocoa powder, with almost 5g in two tablespoons, over 20 per cent of your recommended daily intake,’ says dietitian Kaitlin Colucci.

‘It has no caffeine and is rich in plant compounds thought to boost digestion and protect against heart disease.

‘But it’s also naturally high in sugar — 41g per 100g [so is added to baked goods as a natural sweetener].

‘It’s used in pet treats as it has much less theobromine than chocolate, a compound toxic to dogs and cats in large amounts.’

The (surprising) best ways to get your hit of healthy dark chocolate (2024)


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