What is a Chocolate Allergy?
Chocolate is an ingredient used in many foods, including some that aren’t especially sweet. Unfortunately, some people don’t have a positive experience when they consume chocolate. This can indicate they have either a chocolate allergy or chocolate intolerance.
Chocolate (cacao or cocoa) allergy vs. chocolate intolerance/sensitivity
Chocolate allergies and chocolate sensitivities aren’t the same things. If you eat chocolate and you have a chocolate allergy, it affects your immune system, which releases chemicals like histamine into the bloodstream. If you have a chocolate sensitivity or intolerance, most reactions will occur in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract or elsewhere in your body.
If you find that chocolate “doesn’t agree” with you, understanding the symptoms of chocolate allergy and chocolate intolerance is essential. If you have a chocolate allergy you should steer clear of things that contain it.
Chocolate Allergy Symptoms
A chocolate allergy can produce a reaction that’s more severe than that caused by chocolate intolerance, which is sometimes referred to as chocolate sensitivity. You may be allergic if you experience any of the following when you consume chocolate:
- Shortness of breath
- Stomach cramps
- Swelling of the lips, tongue, or throat
All the above symptoms can be precursors to a life-threatening allergic reaction called anaphylaxis, which must be treated immediately.
If you experience any of these symptoms, call your doctor.
Chocolate Intolerance/Sensitivity Symptoms
You may have chocolate intolerance or sensitivity if you experience any of the following when you consume it:
- Bloating, gas, or cramps
- Rashes, hives, or acne
- Upset stomach
Fortunately, chocolate intolerance or sensitivity symptoms are usually not life-threatening and can be managed by limiting your chocolate intake or eating chocolate substitutes, like carob.
Because chocolate can include a variety of other ingredients, it’s possible that reactions after eating chocolate could be related to one or more of its components.
Some of these ingredients include:
- Milk. Dairy allergies are common, especially in children, and most chocolate contains at least some milk.
- Peanuts and tree nuts. Many chocolates are filled with peanut butter or whole nuts, which can cause serious reactions for those with nut allergies. But, even if chocolate doesn’t contain nuts, there’s a chance it might come in contact with nut remnants if it’s being manufactured on the same production line. If you have a nut allergy, ensure the chocolate was manufactured in a nut-free facility.
- Soy. Chocolate is a mixture of two liquids that would otherwise separate without the addition of an emulsifier to keep it solid at room temperature. The most common emulsifier is soy lecithin, which can be a problem for those with soy allergies. Check the food label, which will usually indicate if soy is used.
- Corn. Corn is very difficult to avoid in industrial food production, and chocolate is no exception. High-fructose corn syrup can be used in some chocolates. Corn is also found in many white chocolates.
- Wheat and gluten. Filled chocolates often use flour or wheat starch as a binder, which affects those with celiac disease or wheat allergies.
Caffeine Hypersensitivity: Reaction to the Caffeine in Chocolate
It’s possible that a person experiencing a reaction after eating chocolate can be reacting to the caffeine. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that a 100-gram bar of chocolate has around 43 milligrams of caffeine, which is roughly the same as half a cup of coffee.
If you’re highly sensitive to caffeine, you may want to avoid chocolate. Dark chocolate contains significantly more caffeine than milk chocolate.
Symptoms of caffeine sensitivity
- Jittery or nervous behavior
- Diarrhea, nausea, or stomach pain
- Increased heart rate
- Trouble sleeping
Foods to Avoid
You should avoid obvious sources of chocolate like candy bars and desserts if you have a chocolate allergy or intolerance. But you should also be aware that chocolate is an ingredient in many other foods and beverages.
For example, it’s often used in flavored coffees, alcoholic beverages, and soft drinks. You may also find it in jams, marmalades, and some sauces like mole. Cocoa can even be a component of medications like laxatives.
If you’re allergic to chocolate, you likely can still enjoy white chocolate. However, your reaction to white chocolate will depend on the actual reasons you’re allergic or sensitive to chocolate.
People who are allergic to chocolate often replace it in recipes with carob, a legume similar in taste and color.
If you have a nut or dairy allergy, you should avoid chocolate that doesn’t specifically indicate that it’s nut- or dairy-free.
In addition to the cocoa and caffeine in chocolate and the ingredients companies use to make it, it poses other risks. For example, some chocolates are high in nickel, which means people with a nickel allergy shouldn’t consume them. Chocolate may also contain heavy metals like cadmium and lead.
If you suspect you may have an allergy or sensitivity to chocolate, see an allergist for a chocolate allergy test. Chocolate allergy diagnosis methods include:
- Skin prick tests
- Blood tests
- Elimination diets
Depending on whether you have an allergy or intolerance, your doctor may advise you to avoid chocolate completely or reduce the amount of it you consume. If you have a severe chocolate allergy, you may have to carry an auto-injector device containing epinephrine. This hormone can stop an allergic reaction.
Learn More About Chocolate Allergy and Sensitivity Treatment from Baptist Health
To find out if you have a chocolate allergy or sensitivity, get diagnosed by a Baptist Health professional and receive treatment. Find a Baptist Health provider near you.