by SHAPE editors
The once guilty pleasure has gone from sinner to winner in recent years, as a slew of research has uncovered benefits that range from protecting your heart to improving your mood. But not all varieties are created equal, warns Andrea Giancoli, R.D., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Chocolate's healthful effects derive from its plant source, the cacao bean, which contains flavanols (phytochemicals that act as antioxidants); different formulations have varying amounts of the magic ingredient. Here's how these sweets stack up.
With fewer flavanols than dark, milk chocolate isn't a top choice. But you can pump up the benefits by going for a bar with a medium to high level of cacao (around 40 percent) and some nuts or dried fruit for an extra boost of good-for-you ingredients.
Try: Chuao Chocolatier Caracas ($5 for 3.5 oz; chuaochocolatier.com) The cacao clocks in at 41 percent; almonds, hazelnuts, and pistachios offer protein and other nutrients.
This counterintuitive "chocolate" is the least nutritious option in the bunch because it doesn't contain cacao, says Giancoli. "The only advantage you can hope for is a bit of calcium."
Try: Divine White Chocolate With Strawberries ($4 for 3.5 oz; divinechocolateusa.com) Strawberries, dehydrated at their peak of ripeness, add a dose of antioxidants.
Deeply colored, somewhat bitter bars are the gold standard of healthy chocolate because they have the most cacao. "Most palates can't handle the strong taste of pure dark chocolate," says Giancoli, "but 70 percent seems to be the sweet spot."
Try: Lindt Excellence Smooth Dark 70 Percent Cocoa ($3 for 3.5 oz; lindtusa.com) A super- short list of ingredients-just five!-earns this pick high marks.
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After you've decided how dark to go, check the label to make sure your choice is the real deal. Cocoa butter should be one of the first few ingredients. Avoid chocolates that list waistline-unfriendly corn syrup, cane sugar, orwhole milk near the top. Most 3.5-oz bars have a whopping 550 calories and 30 to 40 grams of fat. So rather than considering the entire thing a "serving, savor that dessert one ounce at a time and you'll take in only around 150 calories.