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Healthy Dark Chocolate Candy Bars

By Jessica Bruso

Dark chocolate contains beneficial antioxidants called flavonoids, which may help lower your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, improve your mood and cognitive performance and limit your risk for blood clots, according to the University of Michigan. The beneficial bacteria in your gut appear to ferment both these antioxidants and the fiber that is in dark chocolate to form compounds that cause these beneficial effects, according to research presented at the March 2014 American Chemical Society Meeting. Choosing the right type of dark chocolate can make these benefits more likely.

Cocoa Content

The higher the cocoa content of your dark chocolate, the more beneficial flavonoids it's likely to contain. Look for a chocolate that has at least 60 percent cocoa, preferably higher, although chocolates tend to get more bitter as the cocoa content increases. This bitterness comes from the flavonoids. Researchers often use dark chocolate containing 70 percent cocoa in studies on the potential health benefits of this delicious treat. Darker chocolate is also more nutritious because as the cocoa content of chocolate increases, the fiber and protein content increases as well, and the fat and sugar content decreases.

Effect of Processing

Choose cocoa that hasn't been Dutch-processed and dark chocolate over milk chocolate. Many commercial brands of dark chocolate bars have gone through extensive processing, including fermentation, roasting and alkalizing, to make the chocolate less bitter. In general, the more processed chocolate is, the lower the flavonoid content, according to an article on the Cleveland Clinic website.

Other Ingredients

Avoid dark chocolate bars with fillings, such as marshmallow and caramel, because these add more sugar and calories to the chocolate, which is already high enough in calories on its own. Don't buy chocolate that contains milk because the milk binds to the flavonoids and makes them unavailable to your body. Choose dark chocolate made with cocoa butter and not other types of fat, such as hydrogenated oil, palm oil or coconut oil, as the type of fat in cocoa butter has less of an effect on your cholesterol levels.

Amount to Consume

The high fat content in chocolate also makes it high in calories, so don't go overboard eating dark chocolate. Stick to an ounce of dark chocolate per day, or 28 grams, which is enough to provide some health benefits. This amount of 70 percent dark chocolate has about 167 calories and 11.9 grams of fat. A study published in the "American Journal of Hypertension" in 2010 found blood pressure benefits from eating just 6 grams of dark chocolate per day, although the beneficial effects were greater in participants who ate 25 grams of dark chocolate per day. Eating 20 grams per day of dark chocolate for four weeks helped lower insulin levels and improve insulin sensitivity, according to a study published in "Endocrine Abstracts" in 2014.

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