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Does Chocolate Allergy Exist or is it a Myth??

Chocolate allergy?  Yes, unfortunately, allergic reactions to chocolate confections can occur; and DO!

How much chocolate is eaten each year?

  • According to Euromonitor, Americans are major choco-holics, consuming 18% of the world’s supply of chocolate in 2015 amounting to $18.27 billion.  However, the U.S. ranks 20th in the world in the amount of chocolate per person per year at just 4.3 kg (9 1/2 pounds).
  • The Swiss “take the cake” for eating the most chocolate with an average of 20 pounds per person per year.

What are the ingredients in chocolate?

  • According to Hershey’s® Company, the 4 “core ingredients” are: cocoa, milk, sugar and nuts.
  • Allergic reactions can occur to 3 of these 4; especially milk and nuts; less likely cocoa and NOT sugar.

Is there a difference between milk chocolate, dark chocolate and white chocolate?

According to the Hershey’s® Company, the FDA sets the standard definition for chocolate, although your chocolatier can modify the recipe greatly.  Per the FDA:

  • Milk chocolate: contains at least 10% chocolate liqueur (cocoa solids and cocoa butter) and 12% milk
  • Dark chocolate: contains at least 15% chocolate liqueur and less than 12% milk.  Some dark chocolate bars now contain 90% cocoa!
  • White chocolate: contains cocoa butter without the cocoa solid, combined with sugar, milk and vanilla.

Allergic reactions to milk chocolate?

  • These obviously contain milk and should therefore be avoided by milk-allergic patients.

Allergic reactions to dark chocolate?

  • According to the FDA, chocolates are one of the most common sources of undeclared milk associated with consumer allergic reactions. A survey of milk in dark chocolate products by FDA  After a number of incident reports to the FDA regarding allergic reactions to dark chocolate, the FDA analyzed 100 dark chocolate bars to determine if milk was present.  “FDA researchers found that of 94 dark chocolate bars tested, only six listed milk as an ingredient. When testing the remaining 88 bars that did not list milk as an ingredient, FDA found that 51 of them actually did contain milk. In fact, the FDA study found milk in 61 percent of all bars tested.”

How did this happen?

  • According to the FDA, “In part, that’s because milk can get into a dark chocolate product even when it is not added as an ingredient. Most dark chocolate is produced on equipment that is also used to produce milk chocolate. In these cases, it is possible that traces of milk may inadvertently wind up in the dark chocolate.”

If the label reads “may contain” understand that it means “highly likely contains”!

  • “To inform consumers that dark chocolate products may contain milk even if not intentionally added, many chocolate manufacturers print “advisory” messages on the label.  There’s quite a variety of advisory messages, such as:
    • “may contain milk”
    • “may contain dairy”
    • “may contain traces of milk”
    • “made on equipment shared with milk”
    • “processed in a plant that processes dairy”
    • “manufactured in a facility that uses milk”
  • “FDA found that milk was present in 3 out of every 4 dark chocolate products with one of these advisory statements. Some products had milk levels as high as those found in products that declared the presence of milk.”

Not Quite ‘Dairy Free’!

  • Labels for chocolate bars may claim a product is “dairy-free” or “lactose free.”  However, FDA has found milk in 15% of dark chocolates with this label.  Also, 25% of dark chocolate products labeled only “vegan” were found to contain milk.

No Message Doesn’t Mean No Milk!

  • Per the FDA, “You shouldn’t assume that dark chocolate contains no milk if the label does not mention it at all. “Milk-allergic consumers should be aware that 33% of the dark chocolates with no mention of milk anywhere on the label were, in fact, found to contain milk.”

Other non-milk ingredients that may be found in chocolate that trigger allergic reactions:

  • Peanut and nuts: the most common causes of food anaphylaxis in the U.S.  are peanuts and nuts.  Unfortunately, there continue to be fatalities from inadvertent ingestion of Peanut contaminated chocolate .  The most common nut allergy is walnut but other nuts that can trigger allergic reactions includes cashew, pistachio, pecan, hazel nut, almond, macadamia nut, Lychee and pine nut.
  • Coconut is not a botanical nut; it is classified as a fruit, even though the FDA recognizes coconut as a tree nut. While allergic reactions to coconut have been reported, most people who are allergic to tree nuts can safely eat coconut.  If you are allergic to tree nuts, see me for an allergy test before adding coconut to your diet.  Similarly, nutmeg is a spice derived from seeds, not nuts and may be safely consumed by people with tree nut allergy.
  • Other foods:  egg, corn, soy, or wheat may also trigger symptoms in sensitized individuals.

Reactions to cocoa or cacao, the chocolate bean?

  • Workers exposed to inhalation of cacao beans during processing can develop asthma triggered by the cacao bean dust.
  • Extensive processing during the preparation of cacao beans denatures (breaks down) the proteins of the cacao bean making allergic reactions to ingested chocolate confections very unlikely!

At Family Allergy & Asthma Care of Montana, we enjoy all types of chocolate and want you to enjoy it safely too!

This information is solely for informational purposes and not intended as a substitute for consultation with a medical professional.


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