Chocolate syrup is a sweet, chocolate-flavored condiment that is commonly used to add flavor to drinks like milkshakes, hot chocolate, and coffee drinks. It’s made from cocoa powder, sugar, water, vanilla, and emulsifiers like soy lecithin.
Chocolate syrup became popular in the early 20th century and has been a staple ingredient in ice cream parlors and soda fountains ever since. Today, it’s found in many homes as a way to quickly prepare chocolate milk or flavor desserts.
But is chocolate syrup actually good for you? There are pros and cons to consider when it comes to the nutritional value and health effects of this popular condiment.
Nutritional Content of Chocolate Syrup
Here is the typical nutrition information for a 2 tablespoon (30ml) serving of chocolate syrup (1):
– Calories: 120
– Total fat: 2g
– Saturated fat: 1.5g
– Sodium: 25mg
– Total carbs: 24g
– Sugar: 21g
– Calcium: 2% Daily Value
– Iron: 0% Daily Value
As you can see, chocolate syrup is high in sugar. Just two tablespoons contains 21 grams of sugar, which is equivalent to over 5 teaspoons. The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugar to no more than 6 teaspoons per day for women and 9 teaspoons per day for men (2).
Chocolate syrup also provides very minimal nutrition. There are no significant amounts of protein, fiber, vitamins, or minerals.
So in terms of nutritional value, chocolate syrup is high in added sugar and low in overall nutrients.
Sugar Content and Health
The high sugar content is one of the biggest health concerns with chocolate syrup.
Eating too much added sugar has been linked to an increased risk of obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and fatty liver disease (3, 4, 5).
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting added sugars to less than 10% of total daily calories. For a 2000 calorie diet, that equates to about 50 grams or 12 teaspoons of added sugars per day (6).
Just two tablespoons of chocolate syrup delivers 35% of that recommended limit. Having chocolate syrup regularly could easily put someone over the recommended amount of added sugars in their diet.
Some research has found that high-sugar diets may also contribute to inflammatory bowel disease, dementia, kidney disease, and even cancer development (7, 8, 9, 10).
Additionally, the sugar in chocolate syrup is usually from high fructose corn syrup or plain white sugar. These specific types of sugars have been implicated in health issues:
– High fructose corn syrup – has been associated with increased belly fat and higher LDL (bad) cholesterol compared to regular sugar (11, 12).
– Plain white sugar – has a high glycemic index, which can spike blood sugar and insulin levels more dramatically compared to other sugars (13). These surges and crashes in blood sugar can increase appetite and lead to overeating (14).
So while sugar in moderation is fine for most people, getting too much from sources like chocolate syrup can potentially negatively impact health over time.
Effects on Weight
The high amount of sugar in chocolate syrup can also lead to weight gain if consumed frequently and in large amounts.
Sugar contains 4 calories per gram, and not many additional nutrients. So drinking high-calorie, sugary chocolate milk or desserts made with chocolate syrup can promote weight gain (15).
One study found that children who regularly consumed sugar-sweetened beverages like chocolate milk had a 60% greater chance of being overweight compared to those who did not drink sugary drinks (16).
However, in moderation, chocolate syrup may not significantly affect weight. Having one chocolate milk drink or the occasional dessert made with syrup is unlikely to cause weight gain if your overall diet is balanced.
But going overboard and having multiple high-calorie chocolate drinks or desserts each day could tip the scales. Keep your consumption of chocolate syrup moderate and be mindful of your total calorie intake to prevent overconsumption of sugar and calories.
Benefits of Cocoa
Although chocolate syrup is high in sugar, it does contain some beneficial cocoa.
Cocoa is rich in compounds called flavanols that have antioxidant effects and provide other benefits for heart health, blood pressure regulation, and cognitive function (17, 18).
However, chocolate syrup is not a highly concentrated source of cocoa. The cocoa percentage is usually 10-15%, compared to dark chocolate which can contain 85% or more (19).
Additionally, chocolate syrups undergo heavy processing that can deactivate a lot of the beneficial antioxidants in cocoa beans.
So while chocolate syrup provides a small dose of cocoa, you would get much more benefits from a high-percentage dark chocolate bar or cocoa powder in a smoothie for example. Don’t count on chocolate syrup as your main source of healthy cocoa.
Lack of Essential Nutrients
Beyond the high sugar content, chocolate syrup lacks most essential vitamins, minerals, fiber and protein.
A well-rounded, healthy diet provides a variety of whole foods that give your body the array of nutrients it needs.
Chocolate syrup is essentially a sugary treat – not a nutrition powerhouse. Relying on it too much could displace healthier foods in your diet and lead to nutrient deficiencies.
Make sure you get sufficient nutrients from whole foods like fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean proteins, nuts, seeds, beans and legumes. Use chocolate syrup sparingly as an occasional calorie indulgence if included at all.
Healthier Alternatives to Chocolate Syrup
If you want to incorporate chocolate into your diet while keeping added sugars under control, there are some healthier alternatives to chocolate syrup:
– Cocoa powder – Add a tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa powder to smoothies, oatmeal, yogurt, cottage cheese or milk for a chocolatey flavor with minimal added sugar. The powder also provides a good dose of antioxidants.
– Cacao nibs – These roasted cocoa bean chunks provide chocolate flavor and nutrients without adding sugar. Use them as a topping for yogurt, cereal, salads or trail mix.
– Dark chocolate chips or shavings – Sprinkle a small amount of dark chocolate chips or shaved dark chocolate over your favorite desserts for a chocolate boost with less sugar than syrups.
– avocado chocolate pudding – Blend avocado, cocoa powder and milk for a creamy, sugar-free chocolate pudding.
– Banana “ice cream” – Blend frozen bananas and cocoa powder for a chocolatey frozen dessert without needing syrup.
– Homemade syrup with honey or maple syrup – Try making your own healthier syrup using cocoa powder, milk and a touch of honey, maple syrup or date paste to sweeten instead of plain white sugar. This allows you to control the amount of added sweetener.
Risk of Artificial Ingredients
Store-bought chocolate syrup often contains preservatives, artificial flavors and coloring agents as well.
For example, popular Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup includes both artificial flavor and food coloring (Yellow #5 and Red #40) on its ingredient list (20).
Artificial food additives like these have come under scrutiny for potential health concerns:
– Artificial food coloring may increase hyperactivity in children (21).
– Preservatives like sodium benzoate may be linked to ADHD and other neurological conditions (22, 23)
– Artificial flavors on labels often indicate MSG, which some people are sensitive to (24).
The artificial additives in chocolate syrup are not harmful for most people in small amounts, but may be worth avoiding for children and those with food sensitivities. Check labels and choose organic, natural brands when possible.
Chocolate syrup is a tasty condiment, but high in sugar and should be consumed in moderation if at all due to potential health risks. The lack of fiber and nutrients also makes chocolate syrup more of a treat than a health food.
Limit your intake of syrups and sweets, and focus on a balanced diet with plenty of whole, minimally processed foods for the best health outcomes. But an occasional small indulgence of chocolate syrup is unlikely to be harmful if you have an overall nutritious diet.