How To Choose Dark Chocolate and Its Awesome Benefits

How To Choose Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate is going through an image revolution.

Once, it was almost always the second choice, with people preferring the creamier taste of milk chocolate.

But now there is growing recognition of the health benefits that dark chocolate offers, which has made dark chocolate pretty popular.

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Why Dark Chocolate Matters

These benefits appear to come from a class of compounds present in dark chocolate called flavanols (technically, flavan-3-ols). Research has touched on a number of these potential advantages and research into the field continues to be significant.

For example, some studies have suggested that dark chocolate can help to lower heart disease risk (1,2,3), partly by improving cholesterol profiles (4,5) . Dark chocolate has also been associated with fighting inflammation (6).

Research has also suggested that dark chocolate may be especially relevant for fighting stress (7,8) and may also play a role in cognition (9,10), such as by increasing blood flow to the brain (11).

You can find more about the benefits of dark chocolate by checking out my guide to dark chocolate and health or my list of key reasons that dark chocolate is healthy.

However, if you want to get the most benefits out of dark chocolate, then the first step is to pick a good bar After all, there are lots of different brands and manufacturers out there and they vary what they put in their chocolate and what the end product tastes like.

How to Choose the Best Chocolate

There are countless numbers of different dark chocolate brands out there and they all differ from one another. In some cases, the brand may be one that focuses exclusively on dark chocolate but often the brand will also offer a number of milk chocolate flavors as well.

You will also find that some brands are very clear about the cocoa percentage in their chocolate, while other brands don’t mention it. Take Dove, for example, they have a dark chocolate bar but there is no indication of the cocoa percentage.

With all of the differences between brands and individual chocolate bars, how do you figure out which chocolate is the healthiest?

It might not be possible to definitively say which chocolate is the healthiest but there is a range of different things you can look out for.

Cocoa/Cacao Percentage

Girl eating chocolate

The health benefits from chocolate are associated with the plant-based chemicals that the cocoa contains, including polyphenols and flavanols.

By definition, dark chocolate contains more cocoa than milk chocolate, which is a key reason why dark chocolate seems to offer many more health benefits.

This pattern also means that darker chocolate will tend to offer more benefits. As such, you want to be looking for the highest possible cocoa percentage (or, as high as you can stomach). Ideally, this means you should pick chocolate with at least 70% cocoa.


One factor that’s easy to miss comes from processing. Dark chocolate is sometimes processed with alkali, a process known as dutching. When this happens, it will always be noted on the ingredients list, often as: ‘processed with alkali’.

The problem with this process is that it impacts the flavanols in the dark chocolate. Overall, it means that the chocolate is going to have fewer healthy compounds and have fewer health benefits overall (12,13). This practice is deceptive because many people eat dark chocolate for health benefits, without realizing the impacts that processing can have (14).

For me personally, dutching is one of my key criteria when considering whether or not dark chocolate is healthy, along with the percentage of cocoa in the chocolate. Because of that, all of the brands on this list have not been processed with alkali.

Sugar and Other Additives

One of the first indications of the quality of chocolate is where sugar is on the ingredients list.

Now, dark chocolate does contain some sugar. However, the levels are typically lower than you see in milk chocolate. For example, the graph below shows differences in key values for 100 g of Lindt Milk Chocolate and Lindt 85% Dark Chocolate.

Lindt Milk versus 85%

Those differences are going to vary somewhat depending on what specific bars of chocolate you are considering but they’re a good general estimate. As you can see, these differences mean that dark chocolate tends to be much lower in sugar than milk chocolate but is higher in fat and saturated fat (which isn’t as bad as you might think).

This does mean that dark chocolate is often a little bit higher than milk chocolate in terms of calories. But, you typically consume less dark chocolate per serving.

So, dark chocolate should contain a fairly low amount of sugar, typically around 5 g per serving, although this varies considerably from one brand to the next.

Because of this, sugar should never be first in the ingredients list for any dark chocolate. If it is, then the company has added much more sugar into the mix than is needed, which isn’t good for health. In fact, the low sugar content of dark chocolate makes it useful for people following ketogenic diets and for diabetics.

Chocolate in the shape of a heart

Another good indication of chocolate quality is the number of ingredients. In general, you want to find dark chocolate with as few ingredients as possible.

Realistically, it doesn’t take many ingredients at all to make good quality dark chocolate and if you’re after health benefits, unnecessary additives are something to avoid.

One additive of note is soy lecithin. This is an emulsifier and people vary in their opinions of it. A key reason is that the additive comes from soy, which can be genetically modified.

So, if you’re trying to avoid GMOs, you may also want to pick chocolate without soy lecithin (or choose a brand with a GMO-free label).

Even added ingredients that sound healthy (like tart cherries or orange peel) can result in less healthy chocolate. Often, such an approach will result in more sugar and/or a lower cocoa percentage.

However, there are exceptions.

So, if you want something healthy that is a bit more interesting than plain dark chocolate, it does exist, but you have to pay close attention to the ingredients label.

Dietary and Ethical Requirements

This is another area where chocolate brands majorly vary. For example, you can find dark chocolate that is fair trade, non-GMO, organic, gluten-free and/or vegan. Most of the time, brands will offer some of those advantages but not all of them.

In terms of health, the area that matters the most is whether or not the chocolate is organic (and 100% organic is better than simply organic). In general, organic crops tend to be subject to fewer chemicals, which should make them healthier – although the difference hasn’t been researched for chocolate.

Some people may also feel that vegan or gluten free chocolate is healthier, or they may prefer these options based on their diet.

Likewise, you might prefer non-GMO and fair trade options based on your own perspectives. Personally, I’d always recommend getting fair trade chocolate if you can, even though the difference isn’t likely to affect your health. The Good Trade offers interesting information about fair trade chocolate and the different brands out there.

6 of the Healthiest Dark Chocolate Brands (+ 1 bonus)

Bits and pieces of dark chocolate

Even if you know what to look for, picking the healthiest dark chocolate brands can be difficult and it’s often confusing. In many cases, you may only have a limited selection available or you may find the various options overwhelming.

To help in that area, this article provides guidance for choosing healthy dark chocolate that is easy to access.

Specifically, I looked for healthy chocolate brands that were readily available at local grocery stores (Kroger and Meijer, in my case). In total, I found six different brands that I would consider healthy and a good option if you’re looking for health benefits from dark chocolate.

Most of these dark chocolate options were fairly inexpensive, as far as dark chocolate goes. Certainly, they area easier and less expensive than going to a specialty store.

Now, there may well be healthier brands out there. After all, these brands are common and fairly easy to access. But, if you’re interested in dark chocolate, this is a great place to start.

So, in no particular order, here are 6 of the healthiest dark chocolate brands from grocery stores, along with a bonus brand at the end.

1. Lindt Excellence

Of all of these brands, Lindt is probably the most well-known. The brand offers a wide range of different flavors, including milk chocolate and a number of different dark chocolate options. However, if you want health benefits from dark chocolate, you have to be careful about what types of Lindt chocolate you choose.

In terms of straight dark chocolate, the range currently offers 70%, 85%, 90% and 99%, although stores may vary in which versions they offer.

Additionally, the brand also has a number of dark chocolate options that contain little bits of other flavors, like Orange Intense, which has small pieces of orange and almonds.

Some people turn to those flavored versions because it can be easier to eat for people who aren’t accustomed to dark chocolate. Unfortunately, these versions aren’t as good as they seem because the cocoa percentage is fairly low. For example, in Orange Intense, the cocoa percentage is 48%.

The version of Lindt chocolate that I looked at for my comparison was their 85% Dark Chocolate. The chocolate has a relatively short ingredients list, which is appealing. Plus, sugar is fairly low down on the list.

Lindt ingredients

In fact, of the 6 major chocolate brands that I looked at, Lindt had the second lowest amount of sugar, just 5 grams per serving, which works out to 12.5 grams sugar per 100 grams of chocolate.

However, it’s important to be very careful with Lindt.

The company has a tendency to change its ingredients and some of the dark chocolate brands (at the time of writing) are processed with alkali. So, the 85% version is a good choice for health but I’d recommend checking the ingredients label for any Lindt chocolate.

For example, this is the ingredients label for their 90% version:

Lindt 90%

Finally, Lindt isn’t particularly interesting when it comes to dietary or ethical aspects. The chocolate isn’t labeled as fair trade, gluten free, organic, GMO-free or vegan.

2. Ghirardelli

This is another pretty common brand and it’s a fairly well-known one too. As with Lindt, the company offers a lot of different types of chocolate. Some of these include 72% and 86% dark chocolate. However, the company does appear to specialize in milk chocolate and chocolates that work well as gifts.

One thing that I do like about this brand is the bags you can buy of individually wrapped chocolate squares, including dark chocolate. That approach is useful if you only eat dark chocolate from time-to-time and don’t want to open a block. It’s also a good way to go if you have poor self-control.

For my analysis, I looked at the 86% cocoa chocolate from their range. This was their ingredients list:

Ghirardelli ingredients

One disadvantage with this chocolate is that it is fairly high in sugar. Per serving, the sugar content was 10 g, which calculates out to 26 g of sugar per 100 g of chocolate. That’s pretty high for dark chocolate – and roughly double the sugar content of the Lindt and Endangered Species chocolate.

That sugar means that this is probably the least healthy chocolate on the list, although you would still get the benefits from the cocoa, especially as the cocoa percentage is pretty high.

The addition of extra sugar does have a taste advantage though. It would make this brand of dark chocolate easier to eat than most similar percentages. Likewise, this chocolate is 72% cocoa. That’s high enough to offer health benefits but it is lower than all the others on this list.

Because of these factors, this is probably the least healthy chocolate on the list, although it would still offer significant health benefits.

As such, it might be an option for people who find dark chocolate too bitter or who are still getting used to the taste. After all, this is chocolate – eating it should be at least somewhat enjoyable.

Like Lindt, there is also nothing spectacular about the dietary or ethical aspects to this chocolate.

3. Pascha Organic Dark Chocolate

This brand isn’t a well-known one but I’ve seen it in a number of different grocery stores. Unlike the first two brands, this company has a strong focus on quality. In fact, the chocolate manages to be GMO-free, dairy-free (vegan), gluten free, fair trade and organic. So, if any of those areas interest you, this is a good brand to choose.

The brand also has multiple bars, ranging from 55% to 85%. Some of them also include other ingredients, such as their 70% dark chocolate with coffee (which looks really good).

Unfortunately, I’ve noticed that most grocery stores only stock a few bars from this range, so you might need to shop online if you want some of their more unusual variations.

For nutrition, I looked at the 85% bar from their range. The bar was roughly in the middle when it came to various nutrition components, including fat and sugar. It was also fairly high in protein, offering 12 g of protein per 100 g, which was higher than just about every other chocolate brand.

Overall, the brand is well-balanced and checks all the boxes for health. It’s also nice to find a company that is focused on quality and ethics when it comes to chocolate. You can actually see this focus when you look at the ingredients list and this is one of the simplest ingredients lists that I have seen.

Pascha ingredients

On a side note, most chocolate is processed on machinery that is also used for milk- or nut-containing products. This company is an exception to that rule, so the chocolate is a perfect choice for most food allergies.

4. Endangered Species

This is another brand that has a strong focus on quality. Although the chocolate doesn’t appear to be vegan, it is fair trade, non-GMO, vegan and gluten free. The company also claims to donate 10% of its profits, which will appeal to some people.

The brand offers a range of flavors, including some more unusual dark chocolate flavors, such as cranberries, orange and cinnamon. You would need to be careful with the flavors, as some of them are for 60% chocolate, which is lower than ideal for health benefits.

I will admit though, I love their dark chocolate with raspberries version, which is 72% cocoa.

For this brand, the chocolate that I looked at was the 88%. As you can see below, the ingredients list is fairly simple, which is good.

Endangered Species ingredients

This brand might be a good choice for people avoiding sugar or carbs, as it had the lowest sugar content on this list – at around 11.5 g of sugar per 100 g. At the same time, the fat content of the chocolate is about average, which results in the brand also being the lowest in calories.

5. Divine

As a brand, Divine is a little bit unusual. Their chocolate is fair trade and they have a strong emphasis on this. However, the brand isn’t marketed as organic, GMO-free, gluten-free or vegan. In most cases, companies that are fair trade also meet some of those other criteria but that’s not the case here.

Nevertheless, the company does maintain a fairly simple ingredients list, so the company does have some focus on chocolate quality.

Divine ingredients list

Nutritionally, this brand was the second highest on the list in terms of fat and was also the highest in calories (equal with Pascha – at 619 calories per 100 g). However, the calorie difference between the brands isn’t that large and this shouldn’t be the primary consideration when it comes to dark chocolate.

The brand is another one that offers some unique flavors with decent cocoa percentages, such as mango and coconut with 70% cocoa. Aside from Ghirardelli and Lindt, I’ve found that this brand is probably the most common one in grocery stores, so it might be a good choice for many people.

The only catch is that, once again, most stores don’t offer the full range, so you might have to check online to find some of the less common ones.

6. Alter Eco

This is the final grocery store brand that I found, and this is another brand that is gluten-free, non-GMO, vegan, fair trade and organic. However, the chocolate is made on equipment that uses milk and soy, as well as nuts, so there is the chance for cross contamination.

Like Pascha, the brand uses just four ingredients. Honestly, I think that’s an impressive feat.

I looked at the 85% variety from the brand to compare with other brands. In terms of sugar, the variety had around 15 g per 100 g. That’s higher than many on this list but still substantially lower than the sugar in the Ghirardelli brand.

Bonus Brand – Vital Choice

This brand of chocolate is different from the rest because it isn’t as common. In fact, you won’t find it in grocery stores at all. Instead, it comes from an online company called Vital Choice, which specializes in a range of healthy products, especially wild caught seafood and grass-fed beef.

I focused on the plain dark chocolate from this brand, which is an 80% block. In this case, the amount of fat was the lowest out of the brands (43 g per 100 g), although the sugar was on the high end (21 g per 100 g). That profile is similar to Ghirardelli’s chocolate, although the cocoa percentage of Vital Choice’s chocolate is higher (80% versus 72% for Ghirardelli).

What interests me the most about this brand is actually their flavors.

They have a number of flavors in their range that are still 80% chocolate. Likewise, the sugar and fat in those flavors are pretty similar to the chocolate without them. For example, this is the ingredients for one of those flavors (coconut).

Vital choice ingredients

This makes the brand a good choice if you want dark chocolate that’s a little more interesting but still offers health benefits.

Now, the flavors themselves are pretty subtle, which isn’t a surprise, as 80% chocolate is pretty intense. Personally, I could taste the flavors fine and enjoyed them. But, I had a friend try the chocolate and she couldn’t taste them at all. I suspect that was because she rarely eats dark chocolate, so the flavor of the chocolate overwhelmed the other flavors.

Additionally, some of the flavors are good choices for health benefits because of their ingredients, such as tart cherries in one flavor and ginger in another.

The chocolate is also fair trade and organic.

Final Thoughts

There are many chocolate bars and brands out there and I’ve only covered a handful of them. 

With the list, I’ve focused on the benefits of dark chocolate, rather than the taste of the brands. As a general rule, chocolate will tend to have a stronger and more bitter taste the higher you go up in percentage. Some of the highest percentages can be difficult to eat (such as 90% or even 99%).

With the higher percentages, it becomes even more important to eat the chocolate slowly and savor the taste. You may even find yourself needing to find ways of dealing with the taste, as this can be quite intense.

The site Ultimate Chocolate Blog offers some insight into what to do with very high percentage dark chocolate. 

Now, even if you choose the healthiest dark chocolate brands, dark chocolate is still a sweet treat and one that you don’t want to overindulge on. Thankfully, it’s actually fairly hard to eat excessive amounts of dark chocolate (especially for the higher percentages). After all, it does tend to be very rich.

Most people find that they are satisfied after a square or two. In comparison, many of us find ourselves eating half a block of milk chocolate without even thinking about it.

To me, this advantage is almost as good as any health benefits that dark chocolate offers. If you take the time to savor dark chocolate, then it can be a significant treat and it can satisfy any chocolate cravings that you might have.

Nevertheless, it is still important to pay attention to the calories in dark chocolate and account for these in your diet. Otherwise, you may find that the chocolate does more harm than good.

One alternative to try is cacao nibs. These have been through less processing than dark chocolate and don't contain added ingredients. They're a fantastic way to get dark chocolate benefits and are very easy to use.

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Please let me know in the comments if I’ve missed one of your favorite brands on the list.

4 thoughts on “How To Choose Dark Chocolate and Its Awesome Benefits”

  1. This is a great page regarding the benefits of dark chocolate. I eat dark chocolate myself I allow myself 2 squares every day as dark chocolate is a sirt food which means it speeds up the metabolism and helps people to lose weight more easily. I am sure that many people will find this article very interesting and helpful

    • Having a square or two of dark chocolate after dinner is also a good technique for weight loss because of the behavioral impact. In particular, it can help satisfy sugar cravings and provides a mental signal that you are done eating. It isn’t effective for everybody but doing this after dinner can actually help people reduce the calories that they consume.

  2. This is a great interesting article to read on chocolate.

    Many people, including myself, will be surprised to hear that chocolate has some health benefits. I have spent the last few years telling myself that chocolate is the devil due to the excess pounds I have gained..

    I will be glad to try some more of the darker chocolates in the future, I have had the lindt one before and would recommend it to anyone.

    Are you able to cook with dark chocolate?

    • Yes, you can cook with dark chocolate. However, it’s likely that the health benefits would be decreased as heat tends to affect volatile compounds in food.


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