Chocolate isn't typically on a list of constipation-fighting foods, however it may help, due to its fiber and caffeine content. Confections containing dairy may cause lactose-intolerant people to get diarrhea after consuming chocolate, as well as have other side effects like gas and bloating.
The fiber and caffeine in plain chocolate, and the lactose in milk chocolate and chocolate candies containing dairy, could have a laxative effect.
Caffeine and Fiber in Chocolate
If you've ever had the urge to go right after drinking your morning coffee, then you've experienced caffeine's laxative effects. Caffeine can increase the rate of motility, which is the contraction of the muscles in the digestive tract that encourage bowel movements.
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How much caffeine chocolate contains depends on the type of chocolate. Generally, the higher the cocoa content — thus, the darker the chocolate — the higher the caffeine level. For example, according to USDA data, an ounce of dark chocolate with 70 to 85 percent cacao solids has 22.7 milligrams of caffeine, while one ounce of dark chocolate with 45 to 59 percent has 12.2 milligrams.
Compared to a cup of coffee, which has 96 milligrams of caffeine, that's not much. However, if you eat more than an ounce, you could get the runs. And if you eat a lot of chocolate and drink a lot of coffee, you could be taking in too much caffeine, which the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders says is a common cause of chronic diarrhea.
Chocolate also contains fiber — the indigestible parts of plant foods that help move food through the digestive tract. Eating enough fiber is crucial to preventing constipation and normalizing bowel movements. But, especially for people who don't eat a lot of fiber, a big dose all at once can make you feel the urgent call of nature.
The darker the chocolate, the more fiber it has. One ounce of chocolate with 70 to 80 percent cacao solids has 3 grams of fiber. That's not likely enough to have an immediate laxative effect. But if you eat the whole 3.5-ounce bar, you'll get 11 grams of fiber in one sitting, which, along with the 81 milligrams of caffeine, could really get you going — so to speak.
Read more: 19 High-Fiber Foods — Some May Surprise You!
Chocolate Containing Dairy
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as many as 50 million Americans are lactose intolerant, which means they are unable to digest lactose, a natural sugar in milk products. Common symptoms of lactose intolerance include bloating, cramps, gas and diarrhea.
Plain dark chocolate is typically dairy-free; however, milk chocolate and other chocolate confections do contain dairy. If you get diarrhea after eating chocolate, check the ingredients list. Dairy comes in many forms, and may not be listed simply as milk or cream on the label. Other dairy-containing ingredients that may be lurking in your favorite chocolate treat include:
- Butter solids
- Sodium caseinate
- Iron caseinate
And many more. It's worth it to print out a list of all the dairy ingredients so you can reference it when choosing chocolate.
Milk allergy can cause symptoms similar to lactose intolerance; however, it is a much more serious matter. Milk allergy is an immune response to the proteins in milk, and the symptoms are potentially life threatening. If you experience hives, itching around mouth, swelling of lips, tongue or throat, wheezing, vomiting, or shortness of breath, it's important to seek immediate medical attention.
Read more: The 11 Best "Clean" Dark Chocolate Bars
- International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders: "Common Causes of Chronic Diarrhea"
- USDA: "Chocolate, Dark, 70-85% Cacao Solids"
- USDA: "Chocolate, Dark, 45- 59% Cacao Solids"
- USDA: "Coffee, Brewed"
- Mayo Clinic: "Dietary Fiber: Essential for a Healthy Diet"
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: "Lactose Intolerance: Information for Health Care Providers"
- Go Dairy Free: "Dairy Ingredient List"
- Mayo Clinic: "Milk Allergy"