Although milk chocolate bars are an easy-to-carry, quick source of energy, milk chocolate itself is not really considered a healthy snack. Though all chocolate is healthy to a degree, milk chocolate is produced by mixing chocolate, cocoa butter and sugar with milk, either condensed or in powder form. Milk chocolate will still give you the benefits associated with chocolate; antioxidants, serotonin, lower cholesterol and blood pressure, but its high fat content and sugar levels reduce those benefits to a large degree.
Naturally, one of the healthiest alternatives to milk chocolate is chocolate without a lot of sugar or fat content -- dark chocolate. Dark chocolate differs from milk chocolate in that there is no milk added to the mixture when it is produced, and dark chocolate has a higher percentage of cocoa in it than milk chocolate. In Europe, chocolate has to have at least 35% cocoa to be considered dark chocolate. The higher the percentage of cocoa, the darker the chocolate, and the better it is for you. In fact, when it comes to antioxidants, ounce for ounce dark chocolate has more antioxidants than red wine. However, one problem with dark chocolate is that the substances that make it healthy are bitter tasting, so the darker the chocolate, the more bitter the bar.
Other Chocolate Alternatives
Other chocolate based alternatives to milk chocolate are dairy-free chocolate, which is typically made with soy or rice milk instead of cow's milk, and sugar-free chocolate, also known as diabetic chocolate, where the sugars found in normal chocolate have been replaced with chemical sweetener. Many people have chosen to make their own sugar-free chocolate bars at home, using sugar substitutes such as aspartame or Splenda. If you prefer a spoon-based delivery system over a chocolate bar, you might want to look at a chocolate hazelnut spread like Nutella, which combines the benefits of chocolate with the good poly and mono-unsaturated fats found in nuts.
Of course, there is no reason that a healthy alternative to a milk chocolate bar has to be chocolate based in the first place. Carob, made from the pod containing the seeds of the Carob Tree, a shrub native to the lands around the Mediterranean Sea, has been used as a chocolate substitute for centuries, and has health benefits of its own. Like chocolate, carob contains antioxidants, and carob is naturally sweeter than chocolate, so less sugar is needed in a carob bar as opposed to a milk chocolate bar, making it relatively lower in calories. If the caffeine in chocolate concerns you, take heart! Carob has no caffeine. It's also a good source of fiber, and contains pinitol, a chemical which helps to regulate blood glucose levels.
You'll want to check the labels on any carob bars you see in the health store, though. Just as with milk chocolate bars, some manufacturers will add large amounts of sugar and fat to the bar, overwhelming carob's benefits.