“If you’re craving chocolate you should have dark chocolate because it’s healthier than milk chocolate”. I’m sure most of you have heard this statement before and wondered what the difference is and if it’s even true.
Let’s take a look at the differences and why dark chocolate is promoted as the ‘super hero’ of the chocolate world.
What’s the difference?
Calorie for calorie, there isn’t much of a difference at all, in fact dark chocolate is slightly higher in calories containing 580 calories per 100g and milk chocolate containing 534 calories per 100g.
An important question then follows, where do those calories come from and why is dark chocolate higher?
I’ve put it in to a table for you, so you can clearly compare the two:
||Milk Chocolate (per 100g)
||70% Dark Chocolate (Per 100g)
You’ll quickly see that the biggest differences are in the fat and the sugar content, dark chocolate contains 7g more saturated fat and 27g less sugar than milk chocolate and because fat is more calorie dense than sugar this is what drives the total number of calories up. In addition to this, dark chocolate is also slightly higher in protein and in fibre.
The difference in the two comes from the quantity of original cocoa found in the chocolate, the quality of the other ingredients and the additives.
A standard bar of milk chocolate contains 10-20% original cocoa, whereas a bar of dark chocolate contains anywhere between 30-80% original cocoa, the higher the cocoa concentration the more bitter the chocolate.
Looking at the ingredients list is always a good way to understand the difference;
|Milk chocolate bar
||Dark chocolate bar
|Milk**, Sugar, Cocoa Butter, Cocoa Mass, Vegetable Fats (Palm, Shea), Emulsifiers (E442, E476), Flavourings, **The equivalent of 426 ml of Fresh Liquid Milk in every 227 g of Milk Chocolate, Milk Solids 20 % minimum, actual 23 %, Cocoa Solids 20 % minimum, Contains Vegetable Fats in addition to Cocoa Butter
||Cocoa Mass, Sugar, Cocoa Butter, Natural Bourbon Vanilla Bean, Cocoa Solids: 70% min
As you can see there are very few ingredients that go in to dark chocolate. And although sugar is listed as the second ingredient in each of them the quantities vary greatly, as mentioned in the first table.
Lower quality versions of dark chocolates may contain added butter fat, artificial flavours or colours and vegetable oils so always check the ingredients list.
Milk chocolate contains milk, sugar and fats to make a creamier, sweeter and less bitter variation of its darker counterpart.
Although dark chocolate has a higher amount of fat, nutrients should not be looked at in isolation, it also has higher amounts of protein and fibre, less sugar and other additives. Dark chocolate is also usually consumed in smaller quantities than milk chocolate due to its rich flavour.
Why then is dark chocolate said to be so much better?
The ‘health benefits’ of cocoa come from the flavanols which are naturally occurring in the cocoa plant. These flavanols are anti-oxidants and studies have shown they decrease our risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure, improve glucose metabolism and provide cognitive benefits. As dark chocolate has a higher percentage of cocoa it generally contains a higher amount of flavanols which means gram for gram it offers more health benefits than milk chocolate and you’d need to eat a lot more milk chocolate to gain the same benefits.
But before you think of using this as an excuse to add dark chocolate to every meal of the day to improve your health there’s something you should know. Most of the studies looking at the benefits of these flavanols contained doses of between 100-800mg, the average bar of 70% dark chocolate contains approximately 100mg, therefore to reap the benefits you would need to consume 100g (that’s 1 bar) of 70% dark chocolate a day. When you look at the impact that the fat and sugar content may have on your health it’s clear that this wouldn’t be a wise move.
However, having a few squares of dark chocolate alongside a healthy balanced diet that included other good sources of flavanols such as apples, pears, grapes, tea and red wine (no more than one glass) may be beneficial to your health.
Because dark chocolate has a slightly richer and bitter taste it’s less likely that you’ll over indulge. Milk chocolate on the other hand just tastes like more and before you know it you’re left trying to hide the evidence of an empty wrapper, choosing dark chocolate is a handy tactic to help control your portions.
Should you avoid milk chocolate completely?
Firstly, if you can do this I’m not sure if you’re an alien or a superhuman but I need to meet you! Secondly, no! If you put yourself on a milk chocolate ban you are likely to be left feeling sad, deprived and haunted by images of galaxy bars floating around your head. Practice moderation, if you allow yourself a bar of chocolate (maybe not the whole slab) every now and then, alongside a healthy balanced diet that’s ok!
If you are making a conscious effort to be healthier and know you struggle to cut down on your chocolate intake, then try having a few squares of dark chocolate (70% or more) as a tactic to help you eat smaller quantities.
And let’s be honest not all chocolate bars are created equal, when that craving for a Twix or a Kit-Kat strikes no amount of dark chocolate is going to help. So, eat the darn Twix, just not too often.
What about flavoured dark chocolates?
This is hugely dependant on the brand. Some flavoured dark chocolates contain roughly 20g more sugar per 100g compared to their plain bar and only contain around 40-50% cocoa. Other brands use oils to flavour the chocolate which has little/no impact on the sugar or cocoa content – so choose your brand wisely and ALWAYS read the label!
Its true then, dark chocolate does have more health benefits in comparison to its milk chocolate counter parts but like anything if consumed in excess it’s not going improve your health and it shouldn’t be used as your only attempt to improve your health. Eating milk chocolate is not BAD and it’s not going to have a negative impact on your health unless you consume it in excess.
Eat your fruits and vegetables, be active, and nibble on some chocolate when the craving strikes – it’s all part of living a healthy, happy and balanced life!