Many people love chocolate. Early cultures revered chocolate as the “food of the gods,” and U.S. consumers today spend over $20 billion per year on chocolate and indulge in around 9.5 pounds per person, which isn't a problem for most people aside from the calories. Research suggests, in fact, that a little bit of chocolate, especially dark chocolate, can be good for you, improving cardiovascular health. Chocolate contains a class of compounds called flavonoids that act as antioxidants and help prevent the buildup of plaque in the arteries. Some people report, however, that eating chocolate occasionally causes them to experience diarrhea. While there is no scientific evidence that chocolate itself causes diarrhea, there are ingredients found in chocolate foods that might be a problem for some.
Ingredients in Chocolate Foods May Contribute to Diarrhea
Chocolate foods often contain ingredients other than chocolate that might be a problem for some people or contribute to diarrhea. Some forms of chocolate foods, for example, contain what is called “milk chocolate,” which is not a problem for most people, but if you are lactose intolerant, there might be enough lactose to cause diarrhea, especially when combined with other conditions that may make you more sensitive to disruption, such as celiac disease.
Another ingredient that may cause problems for some people is caffeine. Chocolate does contain a small amount of caffeine, which causes the gastrointestinal system to speed up. Some people are more sensitive to caffeine than others and may find that too much caffeine causes them to experience diarrhea.
Some manufacturers, trying to reduce calories, might include artificial fats or sweeteners. These might include the fat substitute Olestra or the sugar substitutes sorbitol or mannitol. While not a problem for many people, others may find that these ingredients give them diarrhea.
Coincidental Timing of Chocolate Consumption
For some people, chocolate is a treat largely consumed on special occasions. You might be celebrating a birthday or a promotion with a large celebratory meal. Often these types of meals are rich, fatty and not the type of meal your body is accustomed to processing on a daily basis. When a celebratory meal concludes with a nice piece of chocolate cake or other chocolate dessert, you might mistakenly blame later diarrhea on the chocolate, when it may just be your body responding to the unusually large, rich meal.
Can Chocolate Cure Diarrhea?
While some people may experience diarrhea following consumption of chocolate, ancient South American and European cultures actually used chocolate to treat diarrhea. While there have been no large-scale clinical studies to examine this issue and plenty of diarrhea medications exist, there has actually been at least one study that supports the notion of chocolate as a cure for diarrhea: A study published in the Journal of Nutrition in October 2005 suggested that flavonoids in cocoa extracts inhibited the secretion of salt and water from intestinal cells grown in culture dishes. These cultures were used to mimic the cells that line the intestines, which release too much salt and water in cases of diarrhea.