Is Milk Chocolate or Dark Chocolate Healthier?

Dark chocolate is often touted as a superfood, but milk chocolate can have nutritional value, too.

April 12, 2022

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Photo by: Dmitr1ch/Getty Images

Dmitr1ch/Getty Images

Chocolate gets a majority of its health benefits from the cacao bean. Cacao is a main ingredient in both milk and dark chocolate, and contains a range of nutrients including iron, magnesium and zinc. Cacao beans are high in antioxidants, which have been shown to lower our risk for certain chronic oxidative stress-related conditions.

The amount of cacao bean in chocolate impacts its flavor and nutrition — the higher the amount of cacao bean, the more bitter the chocolate will be. Dark and milk chocolate contain varying amounts of cacao. Milk chocolate contains milk or cream along with cacao bean and other ingredients. Some milk chocolate may contain as little as 10% cacao, while others may have up to 40%. Dark chocolate typically contains at least 55% cacao, and you may have seen dark chocolate bars with higher percentages on them like 70%, 80%, 90%.

While the amount of cacao in chocolate is important, it doesn't tell the whole nutritional story. When you compare milk and dark chocolate like the bars below, milk chocolate definitely has more sugar. However, when it comes to calories, saturated fat and minerals like iron and potassium, amounts vary and dark chocolate doesn’t necessarily contain more. Milk chocolate will also likely contain more calcium because of the milk added. Cacao contains more phenolic antioxidants than most foods, and dark chocolate has significantly higher levels of flavanols (rich in antioxidant activity) than milk chocolate.

Theo Chocolate Bars

  • Ingredients: Cocoa Beans, Cane Sugar, Cocoa Butter, Sea Salt.
  • Serving size: 28 grams (1/3 bar)
  • Nutrition data (DV is % daily value): Saturated fat: 6 grams (30% DV), Total sugars: 9 grams, Protein: 2 grams, Calcium 15mg (2%): 15mg, Iron: 1mg (6% DV), Potassium: 153mg (4% DV)
  • Ingredients: Cane Sugar, Cocoa Butter, Cocoa Beans, Whole Milk Powder
  • Serving size: 28 grams (1/3 bar)
  • Nutrition data (DV is % daily value): Saturated fat: 7 grams (35% DV), Total sugars: 12 grams, Protein: 2 grams, Calcium: 56mg (4%), Iron: 2mg (10% DV), Potassium: 139mg (2% DV)

Lindt Chocolate

  • Ingredients: Chocolate, cocoa powder, cocoa butter, demerara sugar, bourbon vanilla beans.
  • Serving size: 30 grams (3 pieces)
  • Nutrition data (DV is % daily value): Saturated fat: 8 grams (40% DV), Total sugars: 4 grams, Protein: 4 grams, Calcium 25 mg (2%): 15mg, Iron: 3mg (15% DV), Potassium: 269mg (6% DV)
  • Ingredients: Sugar, cocoa butter, milk, chocolate, lactose, skim milk, soya lecithin (emulsifier), barley malt extract, artificial flavor.
  • Serving size: 38 grams (5 pieces)
  • Nutrition data (DV is % daily value): Saturated fat: 7 grams (37% DV), Total sugars: 21 grams, Protein: 2 grams, Calcium 10%, Iron: 3mg (4% DV)

While dark chocolate has more health benefits than milk chocolate, it also has a pretty bitter flavor, especially if you’re going for a higher percentage of cacao. If you don’t enjoy the flavor of dark chocolate, I wouldn’t recommend eating it just for the health benefits since there are so many other ways to get antioxidants. If you love milk chocolate, I encourage you to enjoy it. If you want more antioxidants, look for a milk chocolate that has a higher percentage of cacao to reap some of those health benefits.

As a registered dietitian/nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Educator, Wendy Lopez, MS, RDN, CDCES is passionate about accessible and culturally relevant nutrition education. She is the co-host of the Food Heaven Podcast, and the co-founder of Food Heaven, an online platform that provides resources on cooking, intuitive eating, wellness and inclusion. When not working on creative projects, Wendy also provides nutritional counseling and medication management to patients with diabetes.

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.

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