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Ask Tufts Experts April 2017 Issue

Q. Can you clarify what counts as dark chocolate?

A. Camille Finn, a master's student at Tufts' Friedman School and a dietetic intern at Frances Stern Nutrition Center at Tufts Medical Center, says: "The main differences between dark chocolate and milk chocolate are that dark chocolate does not contain milk or milk solids, and dark chocolate is typically lower in added sugars. However, there is not a specific minimum cacao percentage (the amount of cocoa solids in a product) for dark chocolate in the US; in Europe, dark chocolate is defined as chocolate containing at least 35% cocoa solids. As the cacao percentage increases, the chocolate becomes stronger in flavor and contains more compounds from the cocoa beans that may be beneficial.

"Some research suggests that milk may interfere with the absorption of flavanols from chocolate. Thus, dark chocolate can be a better source of flavanols since it does not contain milk. Jeffrey Blumberg, PhD, a senior scientist in Tufts' HNRCA Antioxidants Research Laboratory has found that high intake of cocoa flavanols may contribute to vascular (blood vessel) health and also may help reduce blood pressure." Although high in calories, small amounts of dark chocolate can be included as part of a healthful diet.

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