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Does Chocolate Have Caffeine?

Does Chocolate Have Caffeine?

The short answer is yes. But, if you're in need of a jump-start to your morning or a pick me up from that mid-afternoon slump, then you shouldn’t be looking to a bar of chocolate for the answer.

The more in-depth answer requires a bit of a breakdown. Essentially, the answer remains the same: there is caffeine in chocolate. However, all chocolate is not created equally and, depending on the cacao content, the amount of caffeine varies.

According to the USDA, there is up to 230mg of caffeine in every 100g of dry, unsweetened cacao powder. The same source lists 100g of brewed coffee as having just 94mg of caffeine.

Do keep in mind, however, that 100g of raw cacao powder is not the same as 100g of chocolate.

Though most chocolate comes from cacao, the process of making chocolate modifies the nutrient content, so that the final outcome can be considered a different product entirely.

The higher the cacao content in chocolate, the more nutrients it retains, namely caffeine. For instance, dark chocolate has a higher caffeine content than milk chocolate.

How Much Caffeine is in Chocolate?

The following chart shows the level of caffeine in each type of chocolate treat (per 100g).

Cacao Powder

230mg

Dark Chocolate

43mg

Milk Chocolate

20mg

Chocolate Ice Cream

3mg

Chocolate Milk

< 2mg

White Chocolate

0mg

There's a significant difference in the amount of caffeine in cacao powder and in dark chocolate (with 45% to 59% of cacao solids).

Milk chocolate has half the caffeine content of dark chocolate and white chocolate has none. 

If you are worried about ingesting too much caffeine from chocolate, know that the largest dose is in raw cacao powder at 230mg for every 100g. To exceed the recommended daily dosage of caffeine, you would have to ingest about 200 grams of raw cacao powder in a day.

To put that in perspective, most bags of raw cacao powder come in packaging of 500g and many recipes call for only 1-6 teaspoons of raw cacao powder.

Theobromine

In your search for the relationship between caffeine and chocolate, you may have come across mentions of theobromine. It’s a naturally occurring compound in chocolate that is comparable to caffeine for its stimulant-like properties.

Theobromine is the main alkaloid compound of the cacao plant and is responsible for its bitter taste. The theobromine content of cacao beans is measured by weight and cacao beans typically contain around 1-2% of theobromine. This may not seem like much, but for every 100g of raw cacao, there is approximately 1000mg-2000mg (1 or 2 grams) of theobromine.

Considering the similarities between theobromine and caffeine, these numbers are notable.

How Much Theobromine is in Chocolate

Cacao Powder

2057mg

Dark Chocolate

493mg

Milk Chocolate

205mg

Chocolate Ice Cream

62mg

Chocolate Milk

23mg

White Chocolate

0mg

In some instances, the theobromine content of these chocolate products is tenfold the amount of caffeine. Those numbers may seem staggering if you're not aware of the effects of theobromine and caffeine and how they compare to each other.

Caffeine vs Theobromine

Both caffeine and theobromine act as diuretics and stimulants. Caffeine's effect, however, is on the central nervous system, while theobromine mostly targets muscles and the heart.

Studies show that caffeine's activity in the nervous system is much stronger than theobromine’s. Much like cocaine and amphetamines, caffeine is a psycho-stimulant with fast-acting influences on the brain which produces noticeable effects like alertness and increased motor activity. Due to its rapid response in the central nervous system, over time it is possible to develop a sort of addiction to or dependence on caffeine.

Caffeine dependence, though not as strong as illicit drug addiction, still comes with its own set of withdrawal symptoms (like headaches, irritability, and nausea).

Healthcare professionals suggest a maximum of 400mg of caffeine per day. In the event of exceeding this limit, some adverse effects can be jitters, headaches, dependence, heartburn and dehydration.

400mg may seem like a lot, but it's easy to outdo when you consider that an 8 oz cup of coffee has roughly 95 mg of caffeine. It would take less than 5 cups a day to surpass this daily limit.

However, even with dark chocolate having the highest caffeine content (43 mg per 100g), it would take almost 10 (100g) dark chocolate bars to reach the recommended daily caffeine limit.

Although theobromine and caffeine have similar effects on the body, the effectiveness of theobromine is about 10 times weaker than caffeine. Like coffee, theobromine has stimulant effects on the heart. It also has relaxing influences on muscles.

Where caffeine constricts blood vessels and can cause dramatic spikes in blood pressure, theobromine dilates blood vessels, leading to lower levels of blood pressure, improved blood flow and better circulation.

Since theobromine does not act directly on the central nervous system, it’s not addictive and comes without side effects like jitters and crashes.

Caffeine has a quick release onset with instant results. Theobromine's stimulating properties are released much slower. Instead of sudden alertness, the effects are akin to waking from a decent night's sleep.

Due to theobromine's slow release of stimulating qualities, the effects are longer-lasting and milder than caffeine.

To better show the comparison of benefits vs. symptoms and long term effects of both theobromine and caffeine, we've made a list of key health points and how each alkaloid affects the other.

Blood pressure

Theobromine – dilates the blood vessels and can be a therapeutic way to lower blood pressure. Especially since it has a half-life of 7.2 hours.

Caffeine – instantly constricts the blood vessels for a short period, causing a jump in blood pressure that can last for up to 4 hours. With repetitive ingestion, the effects are diminished.

Digestion

Theobromine - by dilating blood vessels and improving blood flow, it allows the blood to filter out toxins through increased urination.  Be careful, large doses (<800mg) may lead to nausea.

Caffeine - can suppress appetite which may lead to weight loss. Long-term use of high amounts of caffeine can develop or worsen bladder instability and cause increased urination. It also has stimulating effects on the GI tract and can cause more frequent bowel movements.

Airflow

Theobromine - can relax bronchial muscles in the lungs and can even be used as cough medicine. It may be beneficial to people with asthma by helping relax the airways and allowing more air to enter the lungs.

Caffeine - also has similar lung relaxing qualities by opening airways to allow for better airflow. However, too much caffeine can lead to increased heart rate which would have the opposite effect.

Cardiovascular

Theobromine - acts as a mild heart stimulant and improves focus. However, reports show that ingesting large amounts of theobromine can induce tachycardia (rapid heartbeat while resting).

Caffeine - can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and can increase stamina during exercise but, for those who do not ingest caffeine often, it can lead to a rise in your systolic blood pressure (the number on top). It can also be a cause of atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat).

Which One is Better?

It's not hard to see that theobromine wins out over caffeine when it comes to health benefits and lack of withdrawal symptoms or side effects.

Despite the large amounts of theobromine found in chocolate and cacao products, you would have to be a mega glutton to even reach close to the lethal dose of theobromine. According to the LD50 values, you would need to ingest 1000mg for every kilogram of your bodyweight for it to be considered fatal.

For an average-sized adult weighing in at 60 kg, that's about 292 (100g) bars of chocolate in one sitting!

Theobromine Poisoning

If you think you or someone else may have eaten too much chocolate or cacao products, look for signs of theobromine overdose. Such signs can include seizures, kidney damage, dehydration, and heart failure.

For those of us with furry companions, the fatal dosage of theobromine in pets is considerably lower. This is because animals metabolize theobromine much slower than humans and it can take as little as 50g of milk chocolate to be considered fatal to a small dog.

And since dark chocolate contains more than twice the amount theobromine, it can take half as much to render the same result.

With cats, the risk is less likely since most cats have no sweet taste receptors and are less likely to ingest sweet foods. However, there is still a possibility, and theobromine is just as toxic to cats as it is in dogs.

Theobromine High

Like caffeine, theobromine is a stimulant and may have euphoria-inducing capabilities. However, similar to the effort it would take to get theobromine poisoning, it would take nearly the same to receive any kind of euphoric 'high'.

Some sources report using the pure extract of theobromine in the form of a white powder that can be dissolved with water or snorted like cocaine to achieve euphoric effects.

Takeaway

Cacao and chocolate products with trace amounts of cacao do indeed contain caffeine. The levels of caffeine in chocolate are nothing significant compared to coffee. However, chocolate and cacao products have high amounts of theobromine (which has similar qualities to caffeine).

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