As the weather gets colder, few things are better than a steaming cup of hot chocolate. But when you’re expecting, it’s normal that you may be wondering if it is safe to drink hot chocolate in pregnancy? Chocolate (cocoa) is a natural source of caffeine, and you may be trying to avoid it if you’ve heard caffeine can be dangerous during pregnancy.
In this blog post, we’ll explore whether this is true, break down the pros and cons of drinking hot chocolate in pregnancy, and learn some tips to make your hot chocolate extra nutritious.
In short – yes! It is perfectly safe to drink hot chocolate in pregnancy, in moderation. In fact, it can be a great source of hydration, calories, and nutrients that support a healthy pregnancy.
Concerns about drinking hot chocolate during pregnancy
Caffeine is naturally-occuring in cocoa (chocolate). This is the most common concern we hear about drinking hot chocolate during pregnancy. Many expecting women are afraid to consume caffeine-containing beverages due to fear of harming their baby in the long run. But let’s break this down. There is evidence to support that consuming up to 200mg caffeine during pregnancy is safe for both mom and baby. One cup of hot chocolate has between 5-15mg caffeine. This is well under the 200mg limit, and also way less than a cup of coffee or tea.
Continue reading for some other common concerns about drinking hot chocolate during pregnancy.
When you think of hot chocolate, you inevitably think of a sweet, indulgent treat. While occasional sweet treats can be enjoyed as part of a balanced, nutritious diet, it is advisable to watch how much added sugar we are having, especially during pregnancy.
This is especially the case if you’ve had diabetes prior to your pregnancy, or are at risk of developing gestational diabetes. Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes diagnosed for the first time during pregnancy, and it affects how your body uses glucose, which can affect your baby. Some complications include a high birth weight, risk of having a preterm birth, stillbirth, and a predisposition to obesity and Type 2 diabetes later in life. Gestational diabetes can also put your health at risk, as it increases your chances of high blood pressure during pregnancy and having diabetes after your have given birth.
Preventing gestational diabetes, or keeping it under control if you have developed it, is crucial. Consuming a healthy, balanced diet where sweets like hot chocolate are included in moderation is the best way to ensure you don’t develop complications.
Have you been diagnosed with gestational diabetes? Check out our Guide to Managing Gestational Diabetes for nourishing recipes to enjoy and more!
You may already know that it’s important to gain a healthy weight during your pregnancy, to support the normal growth and development of your baby. And to do this you have to increase your intake!
However, as with all things, moderation is key. Drinking hot chocolate during pregnancy (especially when made with full-fat milk and other toppings) means you are adding a calorie-dense treat to your diet. This can contribute to excessive weight gain.
As with consuming excess sugar, excessive weight gain during pregnancy can also increase your pregnancy risk. Gaining weight far above the recommended range your doctor has suggested can increase the chances of developing gestational diabetes and high blood pressure, and of having a baby with a high birth weight.
You can balance this out by exercising moderation around sweet treats like hot chocolate, and staying active during your pregnancy.
Poor quality ingredients
Some pre-made hot cocoa mixes contain fillers, artificial sweeteners, and processed cocoa powder. Although research on individual ingredients and pregnancy is still needed, some evidence suggests that artificial ingredients may be associated with health impacts on your baby. This could be the case in relation to ingredients that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers “safe” during pregnancy.
For example, a 2016 study showed that mothers that consume artificial sweeteners daily have a two-fold risk of having an infant that develops obesity in their first year of life. What does this mean in practice? Well, it means that we don’t know the full effects of man-made ingredients, like artificial sweeteners, affect the development and metabolism of babies during pregnancy.
The good news is that you can address these concerns by making your hot chocolate from scratch at home, using natural ingredients. Also – it’s important to remember that occasional consumption of artificial ingredients likely poses little risk to you or your baby. It’s regular, daily consumption which may affect your pregnancy. Again – moderation is key!
Potential benefits of hot chocolate in pregnancy
During pregnancy, your water needs are a little higher than usual. Not by much – between 2 to 3 extra cups of liquid every day. The water content of hot chocolate can contribute to meeting this increased need.
Drinking water can often feel like a chore, so a warm tasty drink may help provide some of those fluids in a more enjoyable way.
Also, depending on the milk you use, you may also be adding electrolytes (sodium, potassium, calcium, etc.) which aid your hydration and can have additional benefits.
Source of calories
Some stages of pregnancy can make it difficult to keep food down – nausea and lack of appetite are common, especially between weeks 12 and 20. But consuming sufficient calories is crucial to a healthy pregnancy and baby.
If you’re struggling with eating enough, and hot chocolate is one of the few snacks that sounds good to you – then go for it! Use our tips below to make it as nutritious as you can.
Remember that the fact that something is high in calories doesn’t make it good or bad. It’s having it in the context of a balanced, healthy diet that matters most.
If you are struggling to find this balance, or are confused on how to eat to best support your pregnancy – you’re not alone! Please always reach out to your healthcare provider or women’s health Registered Dietitian.
One typically doesn’t think of good nutrition when drinking hot chocolate. But the truth is that cacao (the most unprocessed form of cocoa used in chocolate) is full of incredible nutrients for pregnancy!
- Iron (key for a healthy pregnancy and to prevent anemia!)
- Calcium and vitamin D (depending on your choice of milk)
Because cacao powder is less processed than cocoa powder, it also retains flavonoids better. These are phytonutrients which have been shown to lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation, improve blood flow to the heart and brain, and help prevent blood clots.
Including enough healthy sources of fat in your diet is key to a healthy pregnancy. In fact, healthy fats should make up between 20 and 35% of your diet! Fat plays key roles during pregnancy and beyond, as you move into breastfeeding:
- It is a transporter of certain vitamins you need for a healthy pregnancy, such as vitamin D.
- It helps regulate inflammation and anti-inflammatory processes in the body.
- It provides your body with energy for the normal growth of your baby
- It helps your baby’s brain and nervous system develop normally
- It’s necessary for hormone production before, during and after pregnancy
Did you know that cocoa is made up of over 50% fat? Most of these fats are saturated. It is recommended that less than 10% of your daily calories come from saturated fat. However – again – moderation is key. If you are making your hot chocolate using cacao or cocoa powder, the amount of saturated fat per serving is actually quite low, as most fat is removed in the process of making these powders from cocoa beans. For example, one serving of a leading cocoa powder contains 0g of saturated fat.
It’s mostly your choice of milk that will affect how much and what kinds of fats you’re getting with your hot chocolate. Full-fat dairy, and coconut milk, will add substantial amounts of saturated fat and calories to your hot chocolate. Other milk choices will add less. See the next section for more details!
Healthy ingredients to boost your hot chocolate in pregnancy
Organic cacao powder
Organic cacao powder that has been minimally processed is an amazing ingredient to add to your diet during pregnancy. This is great news! Pick this over traditional cocoa powder used for baking (such as Dutch-processed chocolate or cocoa powder). Bonus points – you can use cacao powder for baking as well!
Because cacao is less processed, it retains the micronutrients we talked about (iron, potassium, and flavonoids) better than cocoa powder.
You can find cacao powder easily online or at your local health store. Here are our favorite organic cacao powders:
- Navitas Organic Cacao Powder
- Viva Naturals Organic Cacao Powder
- Better Body Foods Organic Cacao Powder
- Zint Organic Cacao Powder
- Anthony’s Organic Raw Cacao Powder
- Thrive Market Cacao
Looking for an added boost of protein during pregnancy? Adding collagen peptides to your hot chocolate is a great way to get in that extra boost of protein needed throughout pregnancy, all while helping to balance blood sugars too!
There are so many milk options available that sometimes it can be confusing to find the one that’s most suited to your needs. We believe that there is no “better” milk – the best choice for you will depend on whether you have an allergy or intolerance (e.g. to dairy), whether you’re trying to limit your saturated fat or calories, and your taste preference.
Dairy milk is the most traditional choice for hot chocolate. Although dairy has gotten a bad rep lately, it’s our go-to choice for pregnant women without a dairy allergy or sensitivity! Dairy milk is a high-quality protein source, and also incredibly high in calcium, which is needed during pregnancy for your baby’s bone development. It is also high in vitamin B12, riboflavin, and phosphorus, which all play an important role in energy metabolism. Additionally, some dairy milk options are fortified with vitamin D – which is key to bone development, metabolism, and hormonal health. The type of dairy milk you choose will affect the amounts of saturated fats and calories in your drink. We recommend sticking to low-fat (2%) or non-fat dairy to keep saturated fat at bay. To make it extra nutritious, opt for pasture-raised milk where you can, as it is higher in omega-3 fatty acids than conventional dairy.
Coconut milk is another creamy, popular option for hot chocolate – especially appealing to those that can’t have dairy. It also contains modest amounts of sodium and magnesium – electrolytes with various important health functions. Coconut milk is very high in saturated fatty acids, however. Opting for a reduced fat version will cut down on some of these saturated fats and calories.
Unsweetened Almond Milk
Unsweetened almond milk is one of the lowest calorie options out there, with only 30 calories per serving. As such, it contains very small amounts of carbs, protein, and fat. If choosing almond milk, always look for options that are fortified with calcium and vitamin D to ensure you are getting the most nutritional benefits. These added vitamins and minerals are perfectly safe for you and your baby. And always ensure that your almond milk contains no added sugar, so that you can control the sugar content in your hot chocolate.
Oat milk is a creamy, plant-based option that can make a great hot chocolate. However, it is less nutritious than whole oats. For example, a cup of oat milk contains less fiber than a cup of whole oats – so bear that in mind. Oat milk is the highest in carbs, and relatively low in protein. But it’s also low in fat, and very low in saturated fat. Make sure you are choosing an option that’s fortified with calcium and vitamin D.
Soy milk is a pretty underrated choice due to misconceptions about soy and its effects on hormones. In fact, soy milk is a highly nutritious option for pregnant women. It is high in plant protein, with 7g per 1 cup serving. It’s high in sodium, potassium, and calcium. Most options are fortified with vitamin D. And it’s rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which your baby needs to grow and develop. Always ensure you pick an organic and unsweetened option.
Most people enjoy a sweet taste in their hot chocolate. There are two types of sweeteners to choose from: nutritive (will add calories) and non-nutritive (calorie-free).
Nutritive sweeteners include sugar and sugar alcohols. Sugars such as refined sugar, brown sugar, coconut sugar, honey, and maple syrup will all add calories and raise your blood sugar some. Choosing honey as a sweetener may change the flavor of your hot chocolate a bit, but because it is sweeter-tasting than sugar, you will likely need less of it to get a pleasant taste.
Sugar alcohols do not add substantial calories to your hot chocolate, but they have been associated with gastrointestinal distress (i.e. bloating) – not great during pregnancy! Erythritol may be an exception to this, and is considered generally safe during pregnancy because metabolites are not absorbed. Erythritol also doesn’t cause a blood sugar rise.
Non-nutritive sweeteners are usually chemical based (Splenda, Sweet’n’Low, and Equal are examples). We don’t have enough research to show if they are harmful during pregnancy, so we typically recommend that you stay clear of these in favor of more natural options.
More natural non-nutritive sweeteners are stevia and monk fruit. They are more expensive than sugar, and some people dislike the bitter aftertaste especially found in stevia. However, small amounts of these sweeteners have not been found harmful.
In summary – we recommend you use small amounts of natural sweeteners such as honey to sweeten your hot chocolate. But if you’re trying to limit your calories or are concerned about your blood sugar, choosing erythritol, stevia, or monk fruit are your best options.
Warm spices and toppings for hot chocolate in pregnancy
- Cinnamon will add a warm touch to your hot chocolate. Consuming cinnamon daily has been linked to reduced blood sugar, reduced LDL (bad) cholesterol, and triglycerides in the blood.
- Shaved 100% chocolate is a great, luxurious addition. Grab a bar of good quality 100% chocolate, and grate or shave some over your drink. It will melt and add extra-chocolate flavor without the sugar.
- Anything YOU like! Do you enjoy a few marshmallows or whipped cream on your hot chocolate? Feel free to add some on top. Again – as usual, moderation is key here. If you are having multiple hot chocolate cups per day, perhaps adding more variety to your diet may be a good idea. However, if a hot chocolate is an occasional treat, it’s important that you enjoy fully!
Healthy Hot Chocolate Recipe for Pregnancy
- 8 oz Whole Milk (or milk of choice)
- 1-2 tsp organic cacao powder
- 2 packets Whole Earth Stevia or Monkfruit packets
- 1 pinch salt (to taste)
- 1/8 tsp cinnamon
- 1 pinch allspice
- Whipped Cream to top with
- Cocoa Shavings to top with
- Heat up the milk until it is hot, but not boiling. You can do this over stovetop or microwave in a microwave-safe dish for about 90 seconds.
- Whisk in cacao powder, allspice, cinnamon, salt and sweetener until dissolved and not clumpy. An electric whisk is amazing for this.
- Pour into your favorite mug and top with whipped cream, chocolate shavings and a pinch of cinnamon. Enjoy!
Looking for more nourishing beverages you can enjoy throughout your pregnancy? Check out our 5 Smoothies for Pregnancy Nausea You Can Actually Tolerate.
“Hot Chocolate in Pregnancy, Is it Safe?” is written by Laura Sans Duran and reviewed/edited by Jamie Adams, MS RD LDN. Laura is a second-career nutrition student, currently completing her MS-DPD in Nutrition and Dietetics at Meredith College in Raleigh, NC who exhibits a huge passion for functional/integrative nutrition, women’s health, and mind-body approaches to wellness.“