A woman lightly jumps from a cracking bar of milk chocolate over a mug of hot cocoa, onto a square of dark chocolate.

Chocolate and IBS: Tread Carefully

I recently wrote a post for this site about eating ice cream with IBS and ways to try to still enjoy it anyway (in moderation and with certain modifications of course). One tip was I found I had to give up chocolate ice cream (or in the case of black and white milkshakes, chocolate syrup) as it added to the trigger potential of the ice cream.

Luckily, I've never been a chocolate fiend (with the exception of a short stint as one when I was around 22), so it has not caused me too much suffering to minimize my chocolate intake. But I am only human and do occasionally want to indulge.

How does chocolate worsen IBS?

Chocolate can be a triple whammy – not only does it have the potential to bring on an IBS flare, but it also instigates reflux and if I am close to my period, it can make my PMS and menstrual cramps worse (which in turn, also aggravates my IBS).

So what if someone still wants to get their chocolate fix but not bug their IBS (at least too badly)? After all, chocolate – or at least dark chocolate – does have some health benefits, such as lowering blood pressure.

How can I still eat chocolate with IBS?

First, of course, is to minimize/moderate intake. I am not going to eat a dozen or even half-dozen brownies in one sitting. But I may have a single brownie or even just a half or quarter of a brownie. Or a single square of a chocolate bar. The less chocolate I eat, the less likely I will have an IBS flare, or if I do, that it will be very severe.

Some might think, what's the point if it's such a small helping?

But I believe better some than none at all. Also, smaller helpings also make me appreciate what I am eating all the more, and really eat it mindfully, savoring the taste rather than scarfing something down without thinking about it. In this way, I think I enjoy it more than I would a larger helping. This works on a more technical level as well, as low doses of chocolate (esp those with no fruit or little dairy) are often low-FODMAP but tip over into being higher FODMAP with bigger portions. Monash University has created an app where you can check on the FODMAP content of your food to determine if you are going too high, and it includes an assessment of different kinds of chocolate.1

The type of chocolate matters

The kinds of chocolate can also make a difference. For instance, I used to love hot chocolate. But it wasn't only the chocolate that began to bother me, but the dairy! So now, sometimes in the winter, I make a hot chocolate with vegan organic almond milk instead of cow milk. I use low-fat vegan organic chocolate.

Chocolate and gut health

Did you know that chocolate in moderate doses can even promote healthy gut bacteria (which can have benefits for IBS)? One peer review study noted that: "...consumption of cocoa flavanols can significantly affect the growth of select gut microflora in humans, which suggests the potential prebiotic benefits associated with the dietary inclusion of flavanol-rich foods."2

Chocolate contains caffeine

Chocolate also has caffeine in it, an IBS trigger. There are caffeine-free chocolate brands available (though caffeine can be small – especially in small doses of chocolate – if you don't overdo it). Also, low-sugar chocolates can also reduce the risks of IBS flares. Be cautious of "sugar-free" chocolates, as they can sometimes have fructose or other fillers in their place that are high FODMAP and known IBS triggers. Make sure the sugar substitute isn't going to be worse for you. Carob is an alternative to chocolate but is actually high FODMAP. So if you have FODMAP-sensitive IBS, take note.

To avoid chocolate, or to indulge?

I also find avoiding chocolate altogether in the days leading up to and including my period helps avoid a flare, as does not eating chocolate on an entirely empty stomach.

Do you still enjoy chocolate despite having IBS? If so, are there brands, types or tricks to eating it that help you avoid or minimize flares? Please feel free to share your experiences or thoughts in the comments section below!

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