Dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants and minerals that benefit your body. As the popularity of low carb diets increases, we see more and more products advertised as keto friendly, including dark chocolate bars and snacks. But, is dark chocolate a keto snack?
In this post, you’ll learn how dark chocolate compares to milk chocolate, how dark it must be to be beneficial, and the mistakes that are easy to fall into when you add this snack to your diet.
Is Dark Chocolate a Keto Snack – Summary
- Dark chocolate contains minerals and antioxidants that benefit your health.
- To reap the health benefits, dark chocolate must contain at least 70% cacao and limit added sugar.
- There is no widely accepted standard for when to use cocoa vs. cacao. Therefore, they are often used interchangeably.
- Despite the nutritional benefits of dark chocolate, it is a calorie-dense snack and contains around 11 grams of carbs per 30-gram serving (about 3 squares).
Is Dark Chocolate a Low Carb or Keto Friendly Snack? [Video]
In this video, you’ll learn…
- The differences between dark chocolate and milk chocolate.
- What to look for when choosing dark chocolate!
- The difference between cocoa and cacao.
Dark Chocolate vs. Milk Chocolate
Most of us would look at a milk chocolate bar and realize that it is not diet-friendly. However, when we are faced with a dark chocolate bar, we think differently. We’ve been told that dark chocolate has nutrients that benefit our health, so it is natural to wonder if we can include it in our diet to provide a bit of “healthy sweetness.”
Dark chocolate indeed has a nutritional edge over milk chocolate. Still, to fully appreciate where it fits in a healthy diet, we need to understand what it takes to be considered dark chocolate.
Side Note: I grew up and still live in central Pennsylvania near the town of Hershey. Hershey is famous for supplying the world with chocolate and attracts tourists from all over the world. One of the attractions is a building dedicated to the making of chocolate called Chocolate World.
Inside, a nice little ride takes you through the entire chocolate-making process, from the harvesting of cocoa (or cacao), off of the cocoa tree to the packaging of the iconic Hershey bar. I have been on this ride dozens of times, and after researching information for this post, I found that the details presented are not only entertaining but accurate…just a little shout-out to Hershey.
Cocoa beans are ground, roasted, shelled, and fermented to form a non-alcoholic paste referred to as cocoa liquor. The proportion of cocoa liquor in the final product is what determines the “percent cacao” or how dark the chocolate is. Most dark chocolates combine the same primary ingredients: cocoa liquor, cocoa butter, and sugar, but differ in the proportions added (1).
Milk chocolate contains the same primary ingredients as dark chocolate, along with condensed or powdered milk. Milk chocolate tends to be high in added sugar and low in nutrients, but this can also be said for low-quality or “less dark” chocolate.
A general rule of thumb for knowing if your dark chocolate is dark enough to contain health benefits is to choose one with a cacao content of 70% or higher. At this level, the chocolate provides beneficial nutrients, such as magnesium, which has a calming effect on our muscles and moods (1).
The health benefit that dark chocolate is most known for is its high level of antioxidants. Antioxidants are compounds that protect your cells from being damaged by unstable molecules called free radicals. There are many different types of antioxidants.
Dark chocolate and cocoa products are exceptionally high in polyphenols, which you might think of as the beneficial compounds found in red wine and black tea (1).
Cocoa vs. Cacao
When shopping for dark chocolate, you may have noticed the use of two similar-looking terms: cocoa and cacao. You may be wondering what’s the difference. The words are not entirely synonymous.
However, there is no widely accepted standard for the use of one term over the other. The true chocolatier may say that the raw bean or seed earns the name cacao, whereas the more processed powder is best referred to as cocoa. But the lack of agreement on when to use the terms makes them more-or-less interchangeable.
Therefore, even though cacao is the more nutritious-sounding name, you can’t conclude that just because it is on the label that the product is healthier than the one beside it labeled cocoa.
What you can pay attention to is the percentage of cocoa or cacao of the chocolate. And, this brings us to a discussion about common mistakes that are easy to make when you’re considering if dark chocolate should be a part of your low carb or keto diet.
Dark Chocolate Mistakes
For Health Benefits Stay Above 70% Cacao (Cocoa)
The antioxidant and nutrient benefits are most notable when the chocolate contains a 70% or higher cacao content. Below that level, more of the nutrients have been refined and processed out of the chocolate, and more sugar has been added. For instance, a chocolate bar with 70% cacao may have sugar listed as the second ingredient.
You may need to choose a bar with 85% cacao for sugar to drop out of the first three ingredients and graduate to a bar with 100% cacao to completely avoid added sugar. You’ll get the most nutritional benefit from the 100% bar, but it will also be the most bitter-tasting due to the lack of sugar.
Sugar Addiction or Sweet Addiction?
The decrease in chocolates’ sugar content with a higher cacao percentage will lessen the sweetness. But this is where adding dark chocolate snacks to your low carb or keto diet gets tricky.
While a bar with 85% cacao may contain a small amount of added sugar, a seasoned low-carb or keto dieter will still find it to be somewhat sweet. I’ve discussed sugar addiction on my blog, but it is the sweetness that keeps us hooked and keeps our tastebuds and brain craving sweets.
When your sweet tooth is kept alive, it can end up defeating your weight loss journey rather than enhancing it.
Calories & Carbs vs. Nutrients
Adding to the challenge of including dark chocolate in your low carb or keto diet is the portion size. Dark chocolate is lower in carbs than milk chocolate, and the carb content tends to decrease as the cacao content increases.
However, chocolate is calorie-dense. For instance, a 30-gram serving (3 squares) of 85% cacao chocolate contains 170 calories and 11 grams of carbs. The snack will provide you with nutrients and antioxidants, but if you are on a strict keto diet, you’ll need to weigh the calories and carbs against the nutritional benefit.
Also, keep in mind that some of those carbs will come from added sugar, making it hard to stop eating. In contrast, the same size serving of Swiss cheese (30 grams) will save you 52 calories and more than 10 grams of carbs and be more hunger-satisfying.
Dark chocolate is more nutritious than milk chocolate, and the nutrient-density increases with the percentage of cacao in the chocolate. However, like milk chocolate, dark chocolate is calorie-dense and contains more carbs than other low carb snacks.
Also, to reduce the bitterness, dark chocolate contains added sugar that can keep your sweet tooth alive. If weight loss is your goal, you’ll be happiest with your results if you look at dark chocolate as an occasional treat rather than an everyday snack.
I hope this was helpful. If you are new to the low carb way of eating, I encourage you to download my 0,1,2,3 strategy. It shares 4 daily habits that, when followed, give your body no choice but to lose weight. You can follow the links here on the video and below in the description area.
(1) Katz, David L., Kim Doughty, and Ather Ali. “Cocoa and chocolate in human health and disease.” Antioxidants & redox signaling 15.10 (2011): 2779-2811.
About the Author
Becky Gillaspy, DC graduated Summa Cum Laude with research honors from Palmer College of Chiropractic in 1991.