Chocolate and Constipation: Is There Really a Link?

Chad Birt

Written by Chad Birt on Thu Sep 15 2022.

Chocolate and Constipation: Is There Really a Link?

Constipation. It’s a topic no one wants to talk about, but if symptoms occur, it’s crucial to explore the cause. Regularity indicates good health, but straining during bowel movements or passing hard, lumpy stools isn't normal.

If you eat lots of chocolate, you might blame your snacking habits. Some people swear there’s a link between eating chocolate and constipation. But is there scientific proof? 

To find out, we contacted several experts, including Alaina Ross, a registered nurse, dietician, and co-founder of Sleep Family; Kelsey Lorencz, an RDN and nutrition advisor for Fin vs Fin; and Megan Wong, a registered dietician specializing in older adult nutrition at AlgaeCal.

Does eating chocolate really increase the risk of constipation? Why or why not?

Chocolate is one of those ingredients that almost everyone loves. It’s added to various treats, including ice creams, cookies, and cakes. 

Most people associate chocolate with desserts, but cocoa—the plant from which chocolate is derived—is actually quite bitter. It’s also loaded with minerals like magnesium, which helps increase the amount of water in the intestines. 

“Believe it or not, cocoa isn’t the main reason many people feel constipated after eating chocolate,” Ross said. “Rather, it’s the milk, caffeine, and added sugar commonly found in chocolate products that contribute to digestive issues.”

Wong concurs, adding that “chocolate may be constipating for some, but definitely not all, individuals. There is some research suggesting that chocolate worsens constipation…but this study looked at a very specific population—people with the constipating type of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS-C).”

When should someone see a doctor about constipation?

Most people experience constipation at some point in their lives. Often it occurs because of dehydration, lack of exercise, or eating a diet low in fiber. If one has trouble passing stools occasionally, it’s likely nothing to worry about.

Nonetheless “it’s time to schedule a doctor’s visit if you haven’t had a bowel movement for more than a week,” Wong said. “or if your constipation causes persistent and/or intense abdominal pain, blood in your stools, fever, or vomiting.”

“Without treatment, constipation can cause discomfort, disrupt your daily activities, and lead to more severe medical problems,” said Lorencz. “If you regularly go three or more days without passing stool, or have pain during bowel movements, it may be time to speak to your doctor and/or a dietitian about what you can do.”

So, it’s probably okay to eat chocolate?

Yes. As Socrates suggested, everything in moderation, including moderation.

“If chocolate is a snack that you enjoy, continue eating chocolate,” Lorencz said. “Chances are it may not actually be the chocolate that’s causing your constipation. Be sure to regularly eat high-fiber foods and drink plenty of water. Then, reevaluate if chocolate is actually making your symptoms worse. If you’re sensitive to dairy, switch to dark or dairy-free chocolate and see if that helps.”

Speaking of dairy-free chocolate, have you heard of cacao nibs? 

“Cacao nibs are the actual beans of the cocoa plant that are broken down into small pieces after being roasted,” said Ross. “Nibs are great because they’re crunchy and taste like chocolate, but they don’t contain dairy or added sugar—two items that can contribute to constipation.”

When selecting chocolatey snacks, “aim for dark chocolate that contains at least 70% cacao,” Wong said. “Dark chocolate supports digestive health by being a natural source of prebiotics. It’s also rich in flavonoids, which contain antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds. Studies show dark chocolate can help improve learning and memory, increase blood flow to the brain, and protect brain cells. Dark chocolate is also rich in magnesium, which helps relax muscles, improve sleep, and strengthen bones.”

Suffering from constipation? Laxatives may help!

Constipation occurs for various reasons, but eating chocolate typically isn’t one of them. However difficult bowel movements may indicate an underlying health problem.

Make sure your medicine cabinet contains stool softeners and/or laxatives.

If your symptoms continue or affect your quality of life, schedule an appointment with your primary care physician. Need help selecting a laxative? Our friendly care specialists are here to assist! Call (855) 855-1666 during normal business hours or send an email to support@carewell.com.

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Chad Birt
Chad Birt

Chad Birt is a freelance B2B and B2C medical writer who resides in Astoria, Oregon. When he isn't behind a keyboard, you can find him hiking, camping, or birdwatching with his wife Ella and their two dogs, Diane and Thoreau.