- Hershey’s is launching oat milk-based plant-based chocolates this spring.
- While having vegan-friendly and lactose-free chocolate will give more options to people who have specific dietary needs, nutrition experts point out that plant-based options are not necessarily better for you than the originals.
- The plant-based Reeses’s cups contain more saturated fat and the same amount of calories as the original.
Hershey’s has launched new plant-based chocolates: Reese’s Plant-Based Peanut Butter Cups are already available in stores nationwide, and Hershey’s Plant-Based Extra Creamy with Almonds and Sea Salt bars will hit shelves in April.
Since they’re made with oat milk instead of cow’s milk, the desserts will be a great alternative for people who are dairy-free.
But even people who don’t have food allergies or intolerances are drawn to the “plant-based” label because they assume it means “healthier.” Here’s what experts say about the nutrition facts behind the new oat milk-made treats.
Why Oat Milk Is Used in Chocolate
In the last year, retail sales of oat milk in the United States increased by over 50%. The dairy-free milk alternative is made using the liquid that’s left over after soaking oats.
The plant-based beverage is a popular choice for latte recipes, as a base for frozen desserts, and as an ingredient in vegan-friendly soups and smoothies. As Hershey has figured out, it also seems to be a great milk for confections like chocolate.
People enjoy oat milk because of its creamy texture and versatility, but it can also provide a little nutrition boost: Unlike other dairy-free milk options, oat milk has some fiber and iron.
Plant-Based vs. Original Reese’s
The new plant-based chocolate treats are a little different than the originals. Since they’re already on store shelves, let’s take a look at how the new Reese’s Plant-Based Peanut Butter Cups compare to the original milk chocolate Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
Milk chocolate (sugar, cocoa butter, chocolate, skim milk, milk fat, lactose, lecithin, PGPR)
Is Plant-Based Chocolate Healthier?
The choice to make chocolate a part of your diet depends on your nutritional needs and health goals
Chocolate can be a source of extra calories, fat, and added sugar. If you’re trying to reduce your sugar intake or manage your weight, you may find that including chocolate in your diet regularly doesn’t support your plan.
Jaclyn London, MS, RD, CDN
As long as most of the foods that make up your meals and snacks for the day are filled with wholesome foods that are delicious and nourishing to you, a little chocolate in whatever form, flavor, or packaging you like is A-OK.
— Jaclyn London, MS, RD, CDN
At the same time, there can be some benefits to enjoying chocolate in moderation.
Any chocolate that’s made with real cocoa solids has some micronutrients (like magnesium and copper) in it, as well as flavonoid plant compounds. Research has shown that flavonoids might be linked to a reduced risk of chronic diseases like cardiovascular diseases, metabolic disorders, and cancer.
Hershey’s plant-based bars are made with real chocolate, so they’ll have some flavonoids and micronutrients. The bars also have some protein. Plus, for people who need to avoid dairy, plant-based bars are a way to satisfy a sweet tooth.
That said, the plant-based Reese’s cups still have added sugars and saturated fat, just like the original.
Is Plant-Based Chocolate Better for the Environment?
For some people, choosing plant-based foods is about supporting the health of the environment and meeting their sustainability goals.
Products with the Rainforest Alliance label contain chocolate that was made with methods that support the three pillars of sustainability: social, economic, and environmental.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that most Americans limit their added sugar intake to no more than 6% of the total calories they eat daily.
Based on an allowance of about 25 grams of added sugars per day for women, that’s about half a serving of the plant-based Reese’s cups.
The AHA also recommends limiting your daily intake of saturated fat to about 5%–6% of your total calories per day, which is around 13 grams of fat. One serving of the plant-based Reese’s cups provides more than half the recommended limit.
What Do Nutrition Experts Think?
Studies have shown that people perceive items labeled as “plant-based” as being less caloric or more nutrient-dense—even though that’s not always the case.
Nutrition experts hesitate to call the plant-based option a “better” chocolate choice compared to the classic.
Jaclyn London, MS, RD, CDN, a New York-based dietitian, author, and food and beverage consultant, told Verywell that based on what we know about the ingredients and nutrition facts thus far, there doesn’t seem to be any nutritional upside to choosing the plant-based version over the original formulation.
The original version and the plant-based version of the peanut butter cups are the same calorie-for-calorie: 210 per serving. Though, the plant-based version is about 1 ounce smaller.
London added that the first ingredient in plant-based cups is sugar, meaning that it’s the ingredient found in the highest amount.
The plant-based cups also have more saturated fat (7 grams compared to 4.5 grams in the original), which might be because it has cocoa butter. The original version only has cocoa butter as a part of the milk chocolate ingredient formula.
“The fact that it’s called plant-based is more of a marketing term than an actual health benefit because there is nothing wrong with consuming some dairy if you’re not allergic,” Kacie Barnes, MCN, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist based in Dallas, Texas, and the creator of Mama Knows Nutrition, told Verywell.
Should You Switch to Plant-Based Chocolate?
For people who are trying to reap the health benefits of eating a more plant-based diet, it is unlikely that swapping out the classic Reece’s cup for the plant-based version will offer any major health benefit.
Since following a plant-based does not mean avoiding animal products altogether, people who adopt this way of eating can include some milk chocolate if they choose.
A Dairy-Free Dream?
The people who might be most excited about plant-based chocolate are those who need to be strictly dairy-free. While some people with lactose intolerance can tolerate milk chocolate, some cannot.
For those folks, London said the plant-based bars could be “a great alternative for people who are severely lactose intolerant and also love milk chocolate.” For people who like dark chocolate, that’s another dairy-free option, too.
“As long as most of the foods that make up your meals and snacks for the day are filled with wholesome foods that are delicious and nourishing to you, a little chocolate in whatever form, flavor, or packaging you like is A-OK,” London said.
Ultimately, chocolate made with dairy milk or a milk alternative is still candy. You’ll need to decide whether including it in your diet in moderation helps you with your health goals.
What This Means For You
Hershey’s new oat milk-based chocolate is not necessarily a more nutritious alternative to the originals, but they do offer an option for people who are dairy-free. You can decide for yourself whether including any kind of chocolate in your diet in moderation supports your needs and goals.