With Valentine's Day looming ahead, you know the deal: Chocolate is the quickest way to your partner's heart. But which type is the healthiest—milk chocolate or dark chocolate? To help you make the smartest decision, here are some facts that may have you thinking twice about your chocolate of choice.
Chocolate and heart health
For what it's worth, chocolate is rich in fat to start, but milk chocolate is the biggest culprit here—compared to dark chocolate, milk chocolate contains more saturated fat, which in excess is associated with high blood cholesterol and heart problems. On the contrary, epidemiological and correlational studies have identified associations between dark chocolate and improved heart health.
For instance, a 2012 study published by the British Medical Journal showed that hypertensive patients experienced fewer instances of "cardiovascular events" after eating dark chocolate daily. Other studies show correlations between dark chocolate consumption and a reduced risk of death from a heart attack. On the contrary, no studies have identified beneficial cardiovascular links with increased milk chocolate consumption.
Chocolate and calories
We all know it: Eating too many calories causes weight gain (as well as a slew of associated health risks, such as diabetes). It's easy—incredibly easy, some might say—to overdo your caloric intake when chocolate is involved, but is one chocolate necessarily better than the other?
Unfortunately, healthier doesn't necessarily mean fewer calories here. On average, milk chocolate and dark chocolate carry the same amount of calories—usually around 560 calories per 100 gram serving—which can both help pile on the pounds if you're not careful with your caloric intake. It's also a myth that eating healthier chocolate will make you gain less weight simply because it has more health benefits. Your body does not differentiate between healthy or unhealthy calories; if you eat too many calories, you'll gain weight, regardless of what you're eating.
Chocolate and antioxidants
For a good dose of antioxidants, most diet experts recommend dark chocolate over milk, thanks to a few studies that gained national attention. And it's true: Dark chocolate does carry antioxidants called flavonoids, which have been associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer.
But dark chocolate isn't the only beneficial chocolate here. According to Penny Kris-Etherton, a nutrition professor from Penn State, some types of milk chocolate (namely the high-quality kinds) carry bioactive molecules, which can benefit your health. If you opt for milk chocolate with nuts such as almonds, you'll get a double whammy: antioxidants and monounsaturated fat, which may reduce your heart disease risk.
Dark chocolate versus milk chocolate: Which is best?
While more health benefits are linked to daily dark chocolate consumption, it's not as powerful as you think—consuming too much dark chocolate can still make you gain weight and put you at risk for obesity-associated illnesses, such as diabetes. On the contrary, milk chocolate doesn't contain as many health benefits, but that doesn't mean it's completely bad for you; in moderation, having a bar of milk chocolate won't affect your health.
The takeaway: If you're really concerned about your health, consider dark chocolate for Valentine's Day, but don't stress if you choose milk chocolate. Both are good options for your partner for special occasions—in moderation.