Chocolate & IBS – what’s the deal?

It’s National Chocolate week this week! Chocolate is a complex food for people with IBS, as it contains more than one ingredient that could make IBS symptoms worse – high-fat content, lactose in milk chocolate and caffeine. Yet it is allowed in the low fodmap diet in small amounts, plus specific chocolate types such as dark chocolate are better for those who respond to a low fodmap diet. In this post we look at chocolate in more detail:


What is the link with higher fat content of chocolate and IBS symptoms?

Foods high in fat can trigger symptoms, particularly in respect of abdominal pain for people with functional gut problems. Reducing foods high in fat is not explicitly part of the low fodmap diet. Fat is a symptom trigger, where a reduction is often advised by dietitians. Sometimes just a reduction in the foods we consume that have a higher fat content can lead to an improvement in symptoms for some people with IBS. Not everyone needs to go on a low fodmap diet, and the importance of other symptom triggers shouldn’t be underestimated.


Is it lactose in milk and white chocolate?

Yes, for some people with IBS – the government standard and the European directive (2000/36/EC) for milk and white chocolate state that these types of chocolate should not contain less than 14% dry milk solids. Therefore a 100g bar contains at least 14g dry milk solids, which can provide significant amount of lactose (possibly around to 50% of lactose content in non fat milk powders, Lomer, Parkes and Sanderson 2017.) 7g of lactose per 100g is likely to induce symptoms with people who have lactose intolerance when milk or white chocolate is consumed. Dark chocolate is suitable for the low fodmap diet – but it still contains fat and caffeine and might need to be consumed in moderation, if it continues to result in symptoms of IBS.

What about the caffeine?

Caffeine is a trigger for gut symptoms, and this may be the cause. The caffeine content of chocolate is as follows:

Dark chocolate contains 20mg per 25g

Milk chocolate contains 10mg per 25g

If chocolate is your only source of caffeine, you would probably have to have more than 100g per portion to induce symptoms, but if you eat chocolate alongside coffee, energy drinks and tea, it might be worth reducing your intake. Don’t go cold turkey as this can induce withdrawal symptoms – reduce your consumption slowly. This is another example where it is not the fodmap content that induces symptoms.

Check out the chemistry!

Tryptophan and serotonin link – the content of tryptophan is not likely high enough to reduce symptoms at all. Theobromine – the same applies here, no evidence that this chemical, found in chocolate, induces symptoms in IBS.

Chocolate can contain high fat, lactose and caffeine which can produce IBS symptoms. But don’t despair, if you respond to the low fodmap diet then dark chocolate is fine – everything in moderation is a good idea, and you might be able to manage a small amount as a treat during chocolate week, perhaps!



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