That little boost in energy and mood you get when you eat chocolate doesn’t just come from the sugar. In fact, chocolate is a mild stimulant in its own right. Among other properties that act on the central nervous system, chocolate naturally contains caffeine.
So exactly how much caffeine is in chocolate? Will replacing your daily cup of joe with hot cocoa do the trick? (Even if it did, your doctor might not be too happy!) Before you make any drastic changes to your morning routine, we’ll break down everything there is to know about the caffeine in chocolate.
How much caffeine is in chocolate?
The amount of caffeine in chocolate depends on the cocoa solid content of the chocolate. When cocoa beans are processed for chocolate production, they liquefy into two substances: cocoa solids and cocoa butter. Commercial chocolate contains both, but dark chocolate always contains a higher ratio of cocoa solids to cocoa butter.
Caffeine occurs naturally only in cocoa solids. That means the darker the chocolate, the higher the content of cocoa solids, and the higher the caffeine content.
White chocolate, on the other hand, contains no cocoa solids – only cocoa butter. As a result, you won’t get any caffeine boost from white chocolate.
How does the amount of caffeine in chocolate compare to other sources of caffeine?
The amount of caffeine in chocolate is virtually always less than the amount of caffeine in drinks like coffee or tea. Your average candy bar contains less than 10 milligrams of caffeine, while dark chocolate contains more (and white chocolate contains none).
The USDA National Nutrition Database lists a 1-ounce serving of dark chocolate as containing about 12 milligrams of caffeine. A 1.55-ounce serving of milk chocolate (about the size of a candy bar) has about 9 milligrams of caffeine.
For comparison, here’s the caffeine breakdown of the most popular caffeinated drinks:
- Coffee – About 65-150 milligrams of caffeine
- Espresso shot – About 63 milligrams of caffeine
- Black tea – About 47 milligrams of caffeine, depending on the brew strength
- Green tea – About 29 milligrams of caffeine, depending on the brew strength
- Cola – About 33 milligrams of caffeine
So if you’re hoping to make a switch to starting every morning with hot chocolate (about 3-13 milligrams of caffeine), you might not get exactly the kind of pick-me-up you’re looking for.
Other stimulatory properties of chocolate
Along with caffeine, chocolate also naturally contains theobromine, which acts on the central nervous system and can contribute to a light energy boost. While theobromine is a much milder stimulant than caffeine, it’s present in chocolate in higher amounts than caffeine. That means theobromine may be just as responsible as caffeine not just for the energy boost you get from chocolate, but also for the mood boost – i.e. how much you like eating it. There is also evidence that theobromine has health benefits, including anti-inflammatory properties and possibly the prevention of tumor growth.
Pro tip: Theobromine – named after the scientific name for chocolate, “Theobroma Cacao,” meaning “food of the gods” – is what makes chocolate toxic to pets, since cats and dogs don’t metabolize theobromine as quickly as humans do.
Chocolate, caffeine, and your health
Moderate chocolate consumption isn’t just okay – it can possibly even provide health benefits, like protecting you from heart disease (similar to the effects of red wine). This is especially true for dark chocolate. Just make sure you’re not piling on the dark chocolate with lots of caffeinated drinks throughout the day. The Mayo Clinic recommends no more than 400 milligrams of caffeine per day – which could be as few as three or four very strong cups of coffee. If you’re feeling jittery, nauseous, or experiencing headaches or heart irregularity, it’s time to lay off the caffeine.
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