The good news is that you don’t have to say goodbye to your favourite sweet treat while expecting. In addition to mood-boosting qualities, chocolate packs a powerful punch – and it can be a healthy part of your pregnancy diet, with benefits for you and your baby.
But there’s also reason to pay attention. Read on for the potential benefits of chocolate and all the fine print to help you make the best choices when treating yourself.
Chocolate is rich in flavonoids. In addition to having potent antioxidant qualities, research shows that these flavonols have other potential influences on vascular health, such as lowering blood pressure, improving blood flow to the brain and heart, and making blood platelets less sticky and able to clot.
The theobromine content in cocoa, used to make chocolate may help to prevent pre-eclampsia. Researchers at Yale University found that pregnant women who eat chocolate regularly are 50% less likely to suffer from the condition during pregnancy. Theobromine may also contribute to the proper regulation of blood pressure in pregnant women. (For more info on this research, click here.)
Researchers in Finland found that women who occasionally indulge in chocolate are more likely to have happier, livelier babies. The babies were found to show less fear, and to smile and laugh more at 6 months. The results are linked to chocolate components like phenylethylamine that reduce stress and are passed onto the child in the womb.
Chocolate also contains nutritional contents such as iron and magnesium which can aid in lowering blood pressure, preventing hypertension and lowering the risk of iron deficiency.
The Fine Print
But before you bit into that chocolate bar – beware. Most commercial chocolate is highly processed. While it was once believed that dark chocolate had the highest levels of flavanols – this is not necessarily the case, and depends on how the dark chocolate was processed.
The naturally strong taste of cocoa comes from flavanols. When cocoa is processed to make chocolate, it goes through several steps (fermentation, alkalising, roasting, etc) to reduce this taste – the more processed it is, the more flavanols are lost. While manufacturers are looking for ways to preserve the flavanols in the process, you will have to make some smart choices.
Make Good Choices
Choose dark chocolate over milk chocolate (especially those loaded with other fats and sugars). Pick the cocoa powder that has not undergone Dutch processing (cocoa that is treated with an alkali to neutralize its natural acidity). And look into natural / raw chocolate at your health food store.
Indulge in moderation
While chocolate is perfectly safe to eat during pregnancy, you don’t want to overdue it or crowd out healthier foods. Remember that chocolate is also high in calories and fats that could lead to excessive weight gain.
Keep in mind that chocolate also contains caffeine, which should only be consumed in moderate amounts during pregnancy. 9 Hershey’s Kisses, for example, contain only about 10 mg of caffeine. But keep in mind that it all adds up, especially if you are also consuming caffeinated beverages. Aim to keep your caffeine intake below 200 mg a day.