You don’t have to use pregnancy cravings as an excuse to want chocolate — it’s almost universally popular. But your pregnancy may have you questioning what you can and cannot eat.
Here’s the good news: Chocolate is safe for you to enjoy in moderation. Here’s why.
Chocolate is perfectly safe to consume during pregnancy, as long as we’re talking about a few pieces rather than a six pack of king-sized candy bars. Like most things in life, moderation is a good general rule.
Some moms-to-be use their pregnancy as a time to be extra cautious about their diet, and monitor their intake of things like caffeine, sugar, and unnecessary additives.
And this is often for good reason: Research has shown that consuming too many calories and high amounts of added sugar during pregnancy can lead to negative health outcomes for both mom and baby.
For example, high sugar diets during pregnancy have been
- gestational diabetes
- increased gestational weight gain
- preterm birth
For this reason, it’s suggested that pregnant women keep their added sugar intake to a minimum to avoid these potential complications.
However, this doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy chocolate. It just means that chocolate and other foods and beverages high in added sugar should be enjoyed in moderation.
Additionally, you can help cut your added sugar intake by choosing chocolate products that are lower in added sugar than others.
Very sweet chocolates include white chocolate and candy bars (think Hershey’s Milk Chocolate bars, for example). In general, the darker the chocolate, the less sugar it contains. (But the higher the caffeine — which brings us to our next common safety concern.)
An additional concern is caffeine intake, as too much caffeine has been linked to miscarriage risks. Currently, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends 200 milligrams of caffeine or less per day during pregnancy.
Rest assured: You can definitely stay under this amount while still enjoying your occasional piece of chocolate.
Take a look at these typical caffeine levels:
- dark chocolate bar, 1.45 ounces: 30 mg caffeine
- milk chocolate bar, 1.55 ounces: 11 mg caffeine
- chocolate syrup, 1 tablespoon: 3 mg caffeine
Again, the type of chocolate matters. Dark chocolate has almost triple the caffeine amount as milk chocolate. If you’ve already had two cups of coffee for the day, a large portion of chocolate will set you over the recommended caffeine intake amount.
Simply tracking your intake for a few days can give you an idea of how much caffeine you consume on a typical day. You can then make adjustments from there.
In the review of more than 2,000 pregnancies, a lowered risk for preeclampsia was associated with chocolate consumption in the first and third trimesters, while the lowered risk for gestational hypertension was associated only with chocolate consumption in the first trimester. (With a caveat that more studies are needed to confirm these findings.)
And while you can’t substitute your prenatal vitamin for a chocolate bar, there are other surprising benefits of dark chocolate in particular. For example, dark chocolate contains minerals including magnesium, copper, and iron.
Just like that handful of blueberries you suspect you should be eating, dark chocolate also contains antioxidants, which are helpful to anyone’s health, not just pregnant women.
If you want to get the blood pumping to your baby for optimal growth, chocolate may be the secret.
In a 2016 study of two groups of pregnant women, participants consumed 30 grams of chocolate every day for 12 weeks (tough study to be a part of, right?). Both groups — one consuming low flavonol and one consuming high flavanol chocolate — showed increased blood flow to the fetus at their ultrasounds.
In addition, those myths your grandma has been cooing about over your growing belly may just be backed by science: Eating chocolate may cause “sweeter” temperaments in babies, an older study revealed. Around 300 mothers were studied, and the ones who consumed chocolate daily rated their 6-month-olds as having a more positive temperament.
Then again, perhaps those mamas saw their babies more positively because chocolate puts us all in a better mood.
During the third trimester, the same positive correlation between chocolate and blood flow can present more of a concern, though scientists aren’t completely sure of the effects yet.
One 2014 study examined eating chocolate in the third trimester and said it’s possible there could be negative effects on the baby’s ductus arteriosus (DA) late in pregnancy. The DA is a fetal blood vessel important for development that disappears shortly after birth.
Researchers basically suggested women should be careful when consuming chocolate during this part of the pregnancy: The anti-inflammatory effects of chocolate may backfire during the third trimester.
But you’d likely have to eat a lot of chocolate for it to have a negative impact.
You can enjoy chocolate, especially dark chocolate, in moderation throughout your pregnancy. The benefits are largely well proven, including possibly reducing blood pressure and risks of some complications, and also improving blood flow to the baby and to the mother.
There is some evidence that in the third trimester chocolate is more of a risk, but it hasn’t been proven to the point that doctors are recommending against it.
Finally, throughout pregnancy, you may want to monitor your total caffeine and sugar intake, and make sure that eating chocolate is factored into those totals.
Pregnancy has enough anxieties and stressors that you have to worry about. Luckily, that midnight chocolate craving isn’t one of them.