Eating chocolate during pregnancy boosts fetal growth and development, according to the Universite Laval Quebec City in Canada (1). Regular consumption of dark chocolate in small amounts from your first trimester could improve placental function. MomJunction tells you why you should eat chocolate, and how much of it could be safe or unsafe.
Is It Safe To Eat Chocolate During Pregnancy?
It is safe to have chocolate while you are pregnant as several studies vouch for its benefits. But it is important for the expectant mothers to keep their caffeine intake less than 200mg a day (2).
Chocolate contains caffeine, which can interfere with the functioning of your body during pregnancy. It affects the neurotransmitters (chemical messengers that carry signals) and may also cause gestational diabetes and excess weight gain. Therefore, you should have it in moderation.
Dr. Emmanuel Bujold, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Universite Laval in Quebec City, says: “Our observations suggest that a regular small consumption of dark chocolate — whether or not the level of flavanol is high — from the first trimester of pregnancy, could lead to an improvement of placental function.”
Why You Should Eat Chocolate When You Are Pregnant
Experts advise moderate consumption of chocolate. The flavanols found in cocoa, which is a major component of chocolate, is beneficial for pregnant women. The darker the chocolate, the more flavanols it possesses. Here are a few benefits of eating chocolate:
1. Dark Chocolate Relieves Pre-eclampsia:
Pre-eclampsia is one of the causes of premature labor and is characterized by high blood pressure and protein levels in your urine during pregnancy. When the blood pressure increases, it leads to convulsions and may also cause blood clotting and liver damage.
According to a study reported in the Annals of Epidemiology, cocoa’s theobromine content helps relieve the condition.
Researchers at the Yale University found that chocolate intake lowered the risk of pre-eclampsia by almost 70%. It, therefore, concludes that dark chocolate, about five servings a week, is effective in preventing preeclampsia especially in the third trimester (3).
2. Regulates Blood Pressure:
Theobromine present in cocoa helps in regulating blood pressure in pregnant women by dilating the blood vessels.
3. Contains Essential Antioxidants:
Chocolate is rich in flavonoids, which are known to be potent antioxidants (4). This antioxidant property helps pregnant women improve their immunity levels and combat some cancers.
4. Prevents Heart Disease:
The antioxidant property of dark chocolate plays a prominent role in preventing heart disease and, therefore, supports the cardiovascular system (5). The darker and the higher the quality of chocolate, the better it is for the heart.
5. Relieves Stress:
The dark chocolate is found to enhance mood by raising endorphin and serotonin levels in the brain. The findings from a research study published in the Proteome Research, say that eating 1.4 ounces of dark chocolate every day for two weeks lowers the levels of cortisol hormone (stress hormone). The flavanol reduces fatigue and reflects on the degree of stress (6).
6. Gives Happier Babies:
Research findings in the New Scientist Magazine state that pregnant women who had more dark chocolate gave birth to happier and livelier babies.
Researchers randomly picked a few mothers who had six-month-old babies and asked them how frequently they had chocolate in their pregnancy. They were told to rate their babies’ happiness.
Mothers who frequently had chocolate in their pregnancy gave higher happiness score to their babies than mothers who did not have chocolate regularly.
However, the exact reason is not known – it may be the chocolate passing through the placenta into the breast milk or mother’s enhanced happiness from chocolate that made the babies happy.
Another interesting finding from the study was that it protected babies from maternal stress. Mothers who never ate chocolate showed high stress levels during pregnancy and had babies who were fearful. Mothers who ate chocolate showed low stress levels and had babies who were less fearful (7).
7. Regulates Cholesterol Levels:
Dark chocolate contains low sugars and fats. Also, the flavonoids present in it raise good cholesterol levels, reduce oxidation of bad cholesterol and regulate blood sugar levels. They also improve the blood flow by making the blood vessels elastic (8).
8. Good Sources Of Iron And Magnesium:
About 100g of dark chocolate provides you with 67% of recommended daily intake for iron and 58% for magnesium (9). Iron is essential to maintain the hemoglobin count during pregnancy and magnesium helps to metabolize fatty acids.
Why Too Much Chocolate Is Not Safe During Pregnancy
Bujold adds: “Consumption of chocolate must remain reasonable during pregnancy, and caloric input has to be considered in the equation.”
You should not over-eat chocolate during pregnancy for the following reasons:
It is important for you to keep a check on caffeine intake. See that you do not take more than 200mg a day as it can lead to miscarriage. Chocolate contains caffeine, and when you mix it with tea, coffee or other beverages you will be exceeding the recommended daily amount as 1.5 ounces of dark chocolate contains 31mg of caffeine. The same amount of milk chocolate contains 10mg caffeine (10).
Caffeine is also known to trigger heartburn. Many women experience heartburn during pregnancy due to physical and hormonal changes. One should avoid or limit the intake of chocolate in this situation to alleviate heartburn (11).
2. Fat And Calories:
Too much consumption of chocolate may cause excess weight gain because of the increased fat and calorie intake. Putting on excess weight will, therefore, cause varicose veins, gestational diabetes, hypertension and increased risk of C-section delivery. One ounce of dark chocolate contains 150 calories and nine grams fat. Similarly, milk chocolate contains 150 calories and 8.5g fat (12).
Excess sugar from chocolate can increase the risks of weight gain, gestational diabetes, and dental problems. About 1.5 ounces of dark chocolate contains 18g of sugar, and the same amount of milk chocolate contains 23g of sugar. Your obstetrician can tell you the safe amount of sugar you may take, to help you assess the safe amount of chocolate you can eat.
How To Choose Your Chocolate Wisely?
1. Choose Darker Chocolates:
Dark chocolate contains about 600 essential compounds including flavonoids, magnesium, theobromine, and iron. The flavonoids are antioxidant in nature, which help to enhance vitamin C, lower blood pressure and boost vascular function.
2. Avoid Chocolate Mousse:
Mousse is not recommended for pregnant women as it is not good for baby’s health. It contains raw eggs, which may cause conditions like listeriosis and toxoplasmosis. There is a risk of the mother carrying salmonella bacteria to the fetus (13).
3. Organic With Minimal Sugar:
Choose chocolates that have a minimum amount of sweeteners or refined white sugar. Go for organic chocolates as they contain less unessential components or GMOs. Also, take bars that contain about 65% cocoa, as it is considered nutritional.
Chocolate Milk During Pregnancy:
Chocolate milk offers you an ideal dose of calcium and vitamin D, which is essential for growth and development of baby’s bones (14). One cup of homemade chocolate milk can give you 285mg of calcium, which is important for heart, muscle and nerve development, and blood clotting (15).
If you do not have enough calcium when you are pregnant, you may be at a risk of developing osteoporosis. You can occasionally take a cup of chocolate milk to prevent bone loss and have a healthy baby.
Consuming chocolate milk in moderation is a good way to get extra calories as well in your diet, especially if your doctor suggests you to gain weight. One cup of homemade chocolate milk gives you about 200 calories, but it may vary depending on the milk type. Skimmed milk provides fewer calories than whole milk. However, both are good choices compared to other beverages.
Consuming excess amounts of dark chocolate or any other sweet treats will reduce the room for healthy foods. During pregnancy, you should have a balanced diet, which includes whole grains, lean protein, dairy, fruits and vegetables. Eat dark chocolate as a part of this balanced diet.
Frequently Asked Questions:
1. Is hot chocolate safe during pregnancy?
Yes, hot chocolate is safe to have during pregnancy as it contains very low caffeine, usually about 25mg per one serving. Pregnant women can have up to 200mg of caffeine and, therefore, it is completely fine to consume hot chocolate in moderate amounts.
2. Why do women have chocolate cravings during pregnancy?
The exact reason for chocolate craving among pregnant women is not known. It is believed that deficiency of elements like antioxidants and magnesium trigger cravings for chocolate. However, studies disagree with this belief because women hardly have any cravings for green vegetables or other nutritious food.
Another belief is that pregnant women crave for chocolate as it affects the brain giving a feeling of happiness. It is also believed that cravings arise due to hormonal changes.
However, according to a paper published in the Frontiers in Psychology, craving is simply a result of the mind than biology. It is the outcome of the thought that women can eat any food during pregnancy without the worry of getting overweight.
3. Do chocolate cravings determine gender?
It is believed that chocolate cravings during pregnancy may be due to the sex of the baby. If a woman in her pregnancy craves for sweet treats like chocolates, candies or dairy products, it is believed that she will have a girl. However, there is no scientific research to back this belief. So, even if you crave chocolate during your pregnancy, you might have a boy.
4. How much chocolate can you eat when pregnant?
Each pregnancy is different, and so are the dietary needs. The amount of chocolate you can have depends on your overall health condition. You should discuss this with your healthcare provider.
5. Can I eat white chocolate when pregnant?
White chocolate has high sugar content and does not contain caffeine. A moderate amount a day should not cause a problem.
6. How do I benefit by eating dark chocolate during the first trimester pregnancy?
Having dark chocolate from first trimester can provide your fetus with certain essential nutrients. It provides iron, zinc and vitamin K necessary for your growing baby. However, you should be careful about its consumption as too much can cause weight gain.
7. What are the benefits of dark chocolate during the second trimester pregnancy?
Dark chocolate contains magnesium, iron, potassium and calcium, all of which are essential for you and your baby’s growth and development. You can safely take in moderate amounts during your second trimester.
8. Can pregnant women eat chocolate cake?
Yes, you can have but in moderation (16). You can also eat chocolate ice cream but make sure you take in moderation as it is high in fats and sugars.
Go ahead and have the delicious chocolate when you are pregnant. Let us know your experiences with food cravings during this time of your life.