Children and Chocolate – When is the right time?
When is appropriate to give your child chocolate? What are the benefits and disadvantages to giving babies chocolate, and how much should they have? What are some good ways to let babies enjoy chocolate? We’re answering these questions and more in this article.
Almost as often as we hear the question “when can babies have sugar?”, we hear parents wondering when it’s good time to introduce chocolate to their kid.
And because we’re chocolate lovers too, we completely understand the curiosity about when baby can enjoy one of life’s most amazing culinary pleasures.
Here’s a dive into chocolate and what science says about chocolate for babies.
What Is Chocolate?
When you think of chocolate, a number of things perhaps come to mind. Maybe it’s the chocolate cake you love to make for celebrations, the hot cocoa you love on cold winter nights, or your favorite Halloween candy.
When it comes down to the basics, though, what is chocolate exactly?
Chocolate is made from fermented seeds of the cacao tree, combined with cocoa liquor (basically a paste made from the fermented beans), and sugar. Milk chocolate also includes milk.
How much cocoa liquor is in the chocolate determines what percentage you see on the packaging. Milk chocolate is usually 10-12% cacao, while dark chocolate can be anywhere from 35-90% cacao.
Chocolate can then of course either be eaten by itself, or used to make a variety of sweet dishes such as ice cream, cake, brownies, fudge, pudding, or milkshakes.
When Can Babies Have Chocolate?
There isn’t necessarily one answer to this question, but chocolate isn’t something we would recommend as a “first food” for babies.
There are a number of reasons for this, but a big one is that it’s a concentrated source of added sugars, which the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests waiting to introduce until at least 2 years of age.
That being mentioned, there are a number of things to consider before giving your little one chocolate, which we’ve outlined below.
Downsides to Feeding Babies Chocolate
There are a few reasons why it’s best to wait to give your baby chocolate, and to make it an occasional treat when you do.
Chocolate can boost your baby’s potential for cavities. Any source of added sugar, like desserts, refined carbohydrates, and fruit juices, carry this risk.
There are around 15 grams of sugar in one ounce of both dark and milk chocolate (with a little more in white chocolate).
The AAP recommends that kids ages 2 years and older have a maximum of 25 grams (6 teaspoons) of added sugar per day. Kids younger than that should ideally have as little added sugar as possible.
Chocolate contains potential allergens that may need to be monitored. Though rare, some children do have an actual allergy to chocolate (specifically to cacao) itself.
Nevertheless, a large number of kids have allergies to milk, a common ingredient in some chocolates.
Besides, some chocolate bars contain peanut butter, berries, soy, corn, wheat, or other nuts (which are a choking hazard for babies and shouldn’t be given to them anyway).
Chocolate contains caffeine and a caffeine-like substance called theobromine. There are 12 mg of caffeine in dark chocolate, and around half of that in milk chocolate. For comparison, there are also 12 mg of caffeine in 1 oz of coffee.
Although there’s not a ton of research on the caffeine effects in babies, there’s no doubt that they have delicate, developing digestive systems. Caffeine, even in seemingly small amounts, could cause a lot of discomfort for such a little body.
Depending on how caffeine affects your baby, it could also disrupt his regular sleeping and eating schedule – which we know is perhaps the last thing you want!
Chocolate contains little nutritional benefit for babies. Yes, quality chocolate contains some vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, but it’s also a concentrated source of added sugars best saved for special treats.
There are other foods that offer far more nutrients without the addition of sugar – like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nut/seed butters. We of course recommend basing your baby’s diet on those foods.
Benefits of Chocolate
When you do consider introducing chocolate to your babe, the good news is that chocolate – in particular forms (e.g., not so much the bags of colorful assorted wrappers in the candy aisle) – can offer some health benefits.
Nutritionally, pure chocolate in general has some good things to offer. It contains both unsaturated and saturated fatty acids, as well as a small amount of fiber. It’s also a good source of minerals like magnesium, potassium, copper, iron, and calcium.
A good rule of thumb is to select chocolates that are at least 70% cacao and made with the fewest ingredients.
Dark chocolate has the most health benefits. It contains disease-fighting antioxidants called flavonoids that are especially good for the heart.