The Truth About Alpha-Gal and Chocolate: Is It Safe to Eat?

An Assortment of Chocolate

Being diagnosed with alpha-gal syndrome changes your entire relationship with food, including your dessert options. Here’s what you need to know about alpha-gal and chocolate.

The information provided on this site is based on my personal experience living with alpha-gal syndrome. Because I have an MBA (and not an MD), nothing published on this site should be perceived as medical advice as I’m clearly lacking the letters required on my diploma to be a physician.

Made from cacao seed kernels, chocolate can range from deliciously bitter dark to creamy vanilla-flavored white. It can be blended with milk (or a milk alternative) and heated into hot chocolate, and it can put the finishing touches on an ice cream sundae. Home chefs can stir chocolate chips into cookies, and a one-ounce square of dark chocolate can satisfy an afternoon sugar craving while delivering surprise health benefits. But what does a chocoholic do when he or she discovers they have AGS? Is chocolate safe to eat, or can this beloved ingredient trigger a severe reaction?

    

What is Alpha-Gal Syndrome?

AGS is a food allergy caused by a lone star tick bite that can result in some people becoming allergic to mammalian meats, traditional dairy products, and items that contain animal-based ingredients (like gelatin or food fried in beef tallow). When someone with alpha-gal syndrome consumes one of these items, they can have an allergic reaction.

While many people living with AGS can tolerate traditional dairy products, some who are highly allergic cannot. So what about alpha gals who are craving chocolate? Let’s start by defining the three main categories of chocolate – dark chocolate, milk chocolate, and white chocolate – and how much milk is typically included in each.

Dark Chocolate Bar and Cocoa Beans

Dark Chocolate

Typically made by blending 50%-90% cocoa solids with cocoa butter (natural fat from the cocoa bean that is dairy free), and sugar, dark chocolate usually doesn’t contain any milk. However, some brands may be up to 12% milk, and there may be trace amounts of milk from cross-contamination if the same machinery is used to make milk chocolate. Dark chocolate can also be called bittersweet chocolate or semisweet chocolate based on how much sugar is added to the cocoa solids and cocoa butter.

If you experience alpha-gal reactions to dairy products, dark chocolate might be an option for you. However, you’ll want to read the ingredient list, looking for items like whole milk, milk powder, casein, and caseinates, especially if consuming dairy causes an anaphylactic reaction. It’s also important to read the fine print searching for statements like “may contain dairy” or “may contain traces of milk.” But be warned that a US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) test of dark chocolate bars and chips labeled as “dairy free” did not produce promising results. After testing more than 100 samples, the FDA found that nearly all items contained potentially hazardous levels of milk for folks living with a dairy allergy.

If you are able to consume milk products, dark chocolate has surprising health benefits. A one-ounce serving of dark chocolate contains 3.4 mg of iron, which is nearly 20% of the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for women and more than 40% of the RDA for men. It also contains magnesium, zinc, and plant chemicals called flavanols. Also found in tea, wine, cherries, and berries, flavonols help protect your heart by lowering your blood pressure. 

Can You Eat Dark Chocolate with Alpha-Gal Syndrome?

If you are living with alpha-gal and can tolerate dairy, then dark chocolate is a great way to satisfy your sweet tooth. And you’ll enjoy the health benefits provided by flavonols and a good source of iron at the same time. But if you are an alpha-gal patient that cannot tolerate dairy or if you are allergic to dairy, it’s best to avoid all chocolate – including dark chocolate – due to the likelihood that it may contain milk even if it’s marketed as dairy free.

Milk chocolate squares on top of milk chocolate shavings

Milk Chocolate

In the United States, milk chocolate must contain at least 10% cocoa, but in the European Union, the minimum cocoa content for milk chocolate is 30%. (So that’s why German chocolate, Dutch chocolate, and Belgian milk chocolate always taste so much better!)

With “milk” as its first name, it should be no surprise that milk chocolate contains at least 12% milk, and that can be in the form of liquid milk, condensed milk, or powdered milk. Milk chocolate also includes cocoa butter and sugar. 

Can You Eat Milk Chocolate with Alpha-Gal Syndrome?

If you are an alpha gal who is not sensitive to dairy products, it is fine to eat milk chocolate. One ounce of milk chocolate has 54 mg of calcium, which will provide you with 5% of the RDA for this bone-building mineral. But with far less cocoa than dark chocolate, one ounce of milk chocolate has five times less iron and many fewer flavanols. 

But if you have a dairy allergy or are an alpha gal that cannot tolerate dairy, you’ll obviously need to steer clear of this food product with your allergen as the first word on the ingredient list.

A stack of white chocolate squares surrounded by nuts

White Chocolate

Just like Rocky Mountain oysters have absolutely nothing to do with mollusks, and sweetbreads are neither sweet nor breadlike, white chocolate is another food full of what I consider false advertising. This category of chocolate contains absolutely no cocoa solids. Nada. Zip. Instead, it is a confection made of sugar, cocoa butter, milk, and sometimes vanilla. White chocolate usually contains at least 14% milk.

Can You Eat White Chocolate with Alpha-Gal Syndrome?

As with milk chocolate, if you are an alpha gal who is allergic to milk, you’ll certainly want to avoid white chocolate. And, even if you can tolerate dairy, I personally recommend opting for milk chocolate over white chocolate for the iron and flavanol benefits. Plus, milk chocolate just tastes better than sugary, cocoa-free white chocolate.

If You’re Craving Chocolate

If you’re an alpha gal who is craving chocolate but needs to steer clear of traditional dairy products, you still have some options.

Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth with Vegan Chocolate

If you are following a vegan diet to embrace a plant-based lifestyle, for animal welfare reasons, or because you believe it’s better for the environment, then you might be comfortable with any vegan chocolate option on the market. But if you have a life-threatening allergy to mammalian products, including traditional dairy, you will need to be selective when choosing a vegan chocolate bar.

There is currently no federal legal definition of “vegan” in the United States. The FDA hasn’t defined the term, and food manufacturers and restaurants are free to use the designation as they like. However, when you find products that have been certified by Vegan.org, The Vegan Society, or VegeCert, you can be sure they are completely free of animal and dairy ingredients. All products with those stamps of approval have been certified to not contain any animal products or by-products.

Vegan certification logos

Here are a few chocolate craving satisfiers that have been certified by a trusted third party:

You can also use these online resources to help you identify alternative chocolate products:

Make It Yourself

Another way for alpha gals with a dairy allergy to safely satisfy a chocolate craving is to make it at home. This option lets you control the ingredients and ensure there is no cross-contamination while crafting your chocolatey treat.

Here are a few delicious recipes that are sure to do the trick:

Are You an Alpha Gal Who Loves Chocolate?

Does your alpha-gal allergy allow you to consume traditional dairy, or do you limit yourself to certified vegan chocolate treats? What chocolate products do you recommend to fellow alpha gals? Any additional tips and tricks to pass along? Share your experiences in the comments section below.

More Tips for Living with Alpha-Gal

Carrageenan

What is Carrageenan? And why should alpha gals avoid it?

An assortment of non-dairy milk options

Guide to Non-Dairy Milks. Selecting the best milk alternative for alpha-gal syndeome.

Lessons learned sign on yellow background

Lessons Learned. 8 lessons learned (the hard way) about living with alpha-gal syndrome.

Thank you for sharing!

21 thoughts on “The Truth About Alpha-Gal and Chocolate: Is It Safe to Eat?”

  1. Very informative post on Alpha-Gal and chocolate. For those searching for alternatives to chocolate – you provide wonderful and helpful options. Great post!

  2. This is the first time I have heard of Alpha Gal Syndrome. What a great resource for those who have it. I am a chocolate lover with several friends with dairy allergies. I need to try some of your recipes. Your Bailey’s Chocolate Mousse looks amazing!

  3. Awesome post, thank you for sharing! I really enjoy your writing style, and found your article easy to understand. You’re the best!

  4. This is so interesting and very detailed. It’s good to hear that individuals living with alpha-gal syndrome can enjoy dark chocolate, which is nutritious and delicious!

    1. AGS doesn’t have near the same awareness as Lyme disease. But as the lone star tick expands its range across the US, more people are likely to contract it, unfortunately.

  5. I had never heard of AGS before so thanks for all the information! Some wonderful chocolate options here, I’m dairy-free so always looking for new ones!

  6. I find this fascinating. I am a chocolate lover and do not suffer from this allergy. However, it is nice to know there are safe options for those that do and this reminds us all to consider those who have allergies.

  7. This is a very interesting and educational post. Seems like Alpha Gal Syndrome is not common. Have heard of it until i read your blog. Like how you showcase its relationship with chocolate.

  8. Wow, I had never heard of this until reading your post. I am now wondering if this is what my friend may be suffering from, as she has recently become very sensitive to certain foods and has developed new allergies. I will share your post with her. Thank you so much for providing your knowledge and experience on Alpha-Gal Syndrome.

    1. I recommend she ask her doctor for a blood test to confirm or rule out alpha-gal syndrome. Many physicians aren’t too familiar with it, and can easily inadvertently request the wrong blood test. These are the correct codes:
      Quest Alpha-Gal IgE Test Code: 95241
      Labcorp Alpha-Gal IgE Test Code: 650001
      Good luck to your friend!

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