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“Is it ok to give my baby chocolate?”
This is a common question that mums have as there is a lot of conflicting information online about chocolate.
Although chocolate is delicious, it is not recommended for babies under two years of age as it contains refined sugars and caffeine, which could have negative effects on your baby (1).
Despite this, having worked with parents for many years, I know that chocolate is often given before the second birthday.
So, if you wish to introduce chocolate to your baby, here is what you need to know.
When can babies have chocolate?
The American Association for Paediatrics suggests that chocolate should not be given to children before the age of two (1) because it is a source of refined sugar. But it is also best avoided by young children because of its caffeine content.
Caffeine is a stimulant that affects the central nervous system. As adults, we can tolerate more caffeine than children can. It can make toddlers feel quite restless and can upset their stomachs.
Caffeine also increases their heart rate, leading to an increase in blood pressure. It can also make it harder for them to sleep (2).
How much caffeine and added sugar is in different types of chocolate?
Different types of chocolate have different amounts of caffeine and sugar. The darker the chocolate is, the more caffeine it has due to the amount of cacao contained in chocolate. The USDA states that:
White chocolate contains no caffeine
Milk chocolate contains 9 milligrams of caffeine per 44grams
Dark chocolate contains 12 milligrams of caffeine per 28 grams (3).
Likewise, different types of chocolate contain different amounts of sugar. The darker the chocolate is, the less sugar it contains. The amount of sugar in 10g of chocolate (approximately 2 squares) is:
Dark chocolate (70%) is 2.1g
Dark chocolate (40%) is 4g
Milk chocolate is 5g
Milk chocolate is 5.7g.
When to avoid giving your baby chocolate
It’s really best avoided in under 2’s and you should definitely not feed your baby chocolate if they are having digestion issues.
Reflux, colic, wind or tummy aches
If your baby has reflux, colic, wind or tummy aches, you should definitely avoid giving them chocolate. Chocolate can trigger these symptoms (4).
Another reason to avoid giving your baby chocolate is if they have gastroesophageal reflux where acid and foods from the stomach come back up. Chocolate is acidic and can trigger reflux and so should be avoided in these circumstances (5).
A few hours before bedtime
You should avoid giving your baby chocolate at least 4 hours before they go to sleep. This is due to the caffeine content which can keep your baby awake and can prevent them from getting to sleep. Although the effect of caffeine is small and doesn’t affect adults, it is enough to affect your baby.
The safest way to introduce chocolate to your baby
If you choose to offer chocolate to your baby, be aware that whole pieces of chocolate can be choking risk (6). The safest and best way to introduce chocolate to your baby is by giving them chocolate milk.
The reason for this is because chocolate milk contains less caffeine and as a liquid, it also is less of a hazard.
Be sure to watch your baby when you introduce them to chocolate for the first time, to look out for any reactions. You should never leave your baby to eat alone as they can easily choke if you’re not watching.
What about allergies?
Chocolate does have the potential to cause an allergic reaction from the cacao content. Cacao generally means the raw bean (from the cacao tree) whereas cocoa is when cacao has been roasted and made less acidic (14). Other allergens that may be contained in chocolate include:
Although allergic reactions to chocolate are rare, signs to look out for include rashes and eczema, difficulty breathing, vomiting or diarrhoea. You should see your GP or call 999 if this happens (13).
Can introducing chocolate hinder my child’s healthy eating habits?
Babies and young children have a preference for sweet foods as their sweet taste buds are more mature, so it’s no surprise that they will love chocolate!
During their first couple of years, you should refrain from giving your baby sugary foods as it can prevent them from accepting healthier, less sweet foods.
This is why we advise giving your baby bitter foods first such as vegetables, so that they get used to the taste. This is also thought to promote them eating and enjoying healthier foods as they grow up (7).
Fun Food Swaps – High sugary snack alternatives
Healthy food swaps are important as you want to feed your baby the most nutritious food that you can. Instead of giving them foods and snacks high in sugar such as chocolate, try some of these alternatives (7):
Instead of ice cream, cakes or biscuits for dessert, offer fruit and natural yoghurt.
Instead of sugary drinks or baby juices, it’s best to offer them water or milk.
Instead of breakfast cereal with added sugars, offer them plain porridge oats.
Does healthy chocolate exist?
The idea of chocolate providing health benefits is an appealing one but unfortunately it is too good to be true!
Research suggests that dark chocolate may be good for you, as it contains antioxidants and phytochemicals, which decreases the risk of heart disease (9).
However, these healthy nutrients are packaged up with saturated fat and sugar which are not good for us and hugely outweigh any benefit you might get from the antioxidants and phytochemicals.
What about raw cacao powder? Is it healthy for babies?
A lot of mums ask if it is safe to give their baby raw cacao powder and if it’s healthy. Although raw cacao powder is shown to have some beneficial effects such as reducing heart disease as a result of its flavonoid content, it still contains high levels of caffeine, around 49mg per 2-3 tablespoons of powder (10).
If you are thinking of giving your baby cacao powder, you need to know that the caffeine content will still affect them.
Future health concerns
Research has shown that the intake of sugary foods and a lack of healthy foods in childhood can increase the risk of obesity, which in turn can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes (12).
This is why it is important to have chocolate and other sugary foods in moderation.
Added sugar from foods like chocolate, biscuits, cakes, sweets and sugary drinks also cause dental cavities and tooth decay.
Limiting these foods in childhood is extremely important to prevent tooth decay and gum problems (13).
Bottom line: If you want to give your baby something sweet, fruits and dairy foods are the best options, as they are packed with nutrients that your baby needs to grow.
Special thanks to Eva Molloy for her research and support with writing this blog.