Can it be? Are you allergic… to chocolate?
Chocolate is a source of great joy to many people. But if it’s given you a headache (quite literally), the true cause may be something else entirely.
An ingredient. An additive.
A thing put in the chocolate that was not there to begin with – and can be had without it.
I hope you grasp what I’m saying to you: You STILL MAY be able to enjoy chocolate without side effects! I invite you to check the label. See if any of the following ingredients stand out.
Dairy: Several friends have lamented their inability to enjoy chocolate due to dairy sensitivities. But cocoa beans don’t come out of a cow, they grow in a tree! Silly.
Perhaps you have yet to discover dark chocolate. Or maybe you tried it and didn’t like it. I urge you to keep trying! Those percentages listed on the packaging help you gauge the sweetness of the chocolate. Go for sweeter to start – your taste may change over time (mine did!).
Gluten: Chocolate is by nature gluten-free, but brownies, cookies and cakes are made with flour. So if you’re avoiding gluten, stay away from baked goods and you’re probably fine.
Soy: Soy! It’s in everything! In fact, just about any chocolate bar off the shelf is sure to have soy lecithin listed as an ingredient. It’s used as an emulsifier, helping to keep the cocoa butter and solids combined while the product sits on a shelf waiting to be consumed.
If you’re otherwise allergy free, but still experiencing symptoms from chocolate, you may very well be sensitive to soy. Try frequenting smaller chocolate makers (like our friends Potomac Chocolate and most of the chocolate sold by Cocova) who don’t use emulsifiers.
The Ultimate Chocolate Blog has a list of chocolate makers and chocolatiers that are soy-free. This is a great place to start shopping!
Or stick with cocoa powder and make your own chocolate treats… A whole level of fun all of its own.
Nuts: Cocoa beans are not part of the nut family, but chocolate with nuts is often processed on the same equipment as chocolate without nuts. If this is the case, it will be specified on the label (at least in America). Otherwise, just avoid chocolate containing nuts and nut butters.
Sugar: If you’re avoiding sugar, it can be done! There are now at least 12 chocolate bars commercially available that are 100% chocolate – no other ingredients but chocolate.
You can also look for chocolate makers who use honey or agave as a sweetener. I tried chocolate sweetened with Stevia recently – expecting to hate it, because Stevia is gross – but it was really good.
As Mrs. Rachel Lynde would put it, “You’re never safe from surprise until you’re dead.”**
Corn: Believe it or not, corn syrup is sometimes used as an alternative (or additional) sweetener to sugar. Shouldn’t be too tough to avoid, but it’s something to be aware of.
- Caffeine. Caffeine can cause anxiety, sleep problems, difficulty concentrating, restlessness and heartburn. Withdrawal from caffeine may cause headaches and fatigue. Chocolate contains much less caffeine than coffee.
- Theobromine. An alkaloid with about one–tenth the stimulating effect of caffeine. Withdrawal from theobromine may cause headaches. Theobromine is toxic to dogs and other animals.
- Phenylethylamine. A chemical in the body that is similar to an amphetamine (a central nervous system stimulant). The amphetamine–like nature is responsible for mood swings and may cause blood vessels to dilate in the brain causing headaches in some people.
- Tyramine. This ingredient can trigger headaches in some individuals.
Do any of these strike a chord? Where have you found chocolate that suits your unique food sensitivities? We’re always learning here at The Chocolate Tourist…
Thanks for joining us in the journey.
** Surprise Anne of Green Gables reference