Is Chocolate AIP (Autoimmune-Friendly)?
It’s the Achilles’ heel in my diet. While I’ve never been a big fan of milk or white chocolate, dark chocolate has been my trusted companion since I can remember.
Luckily, dark chocolate is OK on a Paleo diet in moderation, but what about on the Paleo autoimmune protocol (AIP)?
Is chocolate AIP (Autoimmune-Friendly)?
Short Answer: Probably Not
I’m sorry to disappoint you, but chocolate is generally not considered autoimmune-friendly.
You’re probably thinking there’s some loophole because I used the words “probably not” and “generally,” but I don’t want to get your hopes up. It’s really best if you don’t eat chocolate on the AIP diet, and here’s why:
Sarah Ballantyne says the following about chocolate in The Paleo Approach:
“Chocolate is extremely high in phytic acid and omega-6 polyunsaturated fats and contains caffeine, all of which are reasons to avoid it on the Paleo Approach.”
In fact, Sarah herself experienced dramatic improvements in her lichen planus when she cut out chocolate from her diet.
So, what’s the loophole then?
There’s no specific link between chocolate and autoimmune conditions or leaky gut. And most less strict versions of the Paleo autoimmune protocol (like the one in Robb Wolf’s book, The Paleo Solution) don’t mention anything about chocolate.
So, should you eat chocolate on the Paleo autoimmune protocol (AIP)?
As with anything in life, the choice is yours. My thoughts would be to eliminate it initially and then to introduce it and see whether it affects your autoimmune condition or not.
What are the scientific reasons for why chocolate isn’t allowed on AIP?
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If you’re like me, then you might want to delve beneath the surface and understand why something is the case. So, when someone tells me that chocolate isn’t autoimmune-friendly, then I want to know why!
So, what’s unhealthy about chocolate?
1. Chocolate contains added sugar and non-Paleo ingredients
First, there’s the obvious, most chocolate is made into processed desserts that contain a bunch of unhealthy ingredients like sugar, milk solids, etc.
But what about pure dark chocolate? Ok, read on!
2. Chocolate is high in phytic acid.
Phytic acid is a substance naturally present in chocolate as well as various other plant-derived foods like nuts, seeds, beans, and grains. Phytic acid can prevent us from absorbing many of the nutrients in the meal we’re eating. For that reason, it’s often called an anti-nutrient. So, eating chocolate as a dessert can mean that you don’t absorb as many of the minerals from the rest of the food you ate that meal.
This is problematic in those with autoimmune conditions as they likely already have impaired digestive issues and often already have mineral deficiencies. So they wouldn’t want to then not absorb the few minerals they do take in with their meal by eating chocolate as a dessert.
3. Chocolate contains caffeine
According to the USDA, 1 oz of dark chocolate contains around 23 mg of caffeine. Compare this with 1 cup of coffee, which has around 100 mg of caffeine. However, 1 oz of dark chocolate does also contain 227 mg of theobromine.
So, what’s wrong with caffeine?
Caffeine has been linked to rises in cortisol levels and increased inflammation. While there’s no definitive science suggesting caffeine is good or bad for our general health, Sarah Ballantyne suggests limiting caffeine intake for those on AIP “mainly to support normalization of cortisol levels and rhythms.”
What’s wrong with theobromine?
Honestly, I don’t know because there’s been very little research done on it. Currently, it seems people think theobromine is a better version of caffeine.
4. Chocolate is high in Omega-6 fats.
1 oz of dark chocolate contains 402 mg of omega-6 fatty acids and 32.8 mg of omega-3 fatty acids. This skewed omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is probably not that great for you unless you’re eating plenty of high omega-3 foods to balance it out.
A Few Less Scientific Reasons To Not Eat Chocolate On AIP
Chocolate is easy to overeat
I probably don’t need to show you any science for this one – I’m sure you’ve experienced it yourself!
Chocolate just makes me feel bad
Ok, it doesn’t make me personally feel bad, but I have heard anecdotal stories about people feeling worse if they eat even dark chocolate. Jeremy is one of these people as is Sarah Ballantyne.
Chocolate contains lectins
Eileen suggests in this article that chocolate contains lectins, which can cause increased intestinal permeability as well as other issues. However, I have not found any scientific literature suggesting that the processed cacao we eat in chocolate contains lectins (the cacao plant and bean itself may contain lectins).
Most chocolate contains soy lecithin
If you look carefully at the ingredients list of most chocolate bars, you’ll find soy lecithin listed at the end. Soy lecithin is an emulsifier that is used to produce a smoother chocolate texture. While soy lecithin is not particularly healthy, it’s also not that unhealthy and you can find a fair number of chocolate brands or 100% chocolates that do not have soy lecithin as an ingredient if you want to avoid it.
So, as you can see, dark chocolate isn’t all that bad, and it definitely has a fair amount of beneficial properties (like antioxidants and minerals). However, since some people do feel better when they eliminate chocolate from their diet, it’s worth giving it a shot!
Substitutes for Chocolate on AIP
What can you eat instead of chocolate then when you’re on the Paleo autoimmune protocol and craving for a bar of delicious chocolate?
Carob is a great substitute for chocolate.
Carob doesn’t contain caffeine and has a fair amount of vitamins and minerals. However, when you buy carob, make sure to buy pure carob powder (check the ingredients list to make sure carob is the only ingredient). Carob chips will contain non- Paleo and non-AIP ingredients unfortunately.
This carob powder (which you can get on Amazon.com) is 100% pure carob.
Then use the carob powder to make your own AIP “Chocolate” treats like some of the recipes listed below.
AIP “Chocolate” Dessert Recipes with Carob
When you reintroduce chocolate into your diet…
Make sure to pick a good chocolate when you reintroduce chocolate into your diet.
Most chocolate is filled with non-Paleo (and obviously non-AIP) ingredients. For example, milk chocolate contains a ton of sugar and dairy products. So, you should avoid those regardless. Same goes for white chocolate – there’s usually a milk product as well as lots of sugar in them.
So, if you’re reintroducing chocolate into your diet, then pick a dark chocolate (over 85% if possible).
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