Obviously here at LoveChocolateLife, we love chocolate. Like, a lot. One of the best things about chocolate is that there is something for everyone. Whether you like dark and bitter or milk and sweet, or spicy, crunchy or smooth… there is a type of chocolate to match your mood.
One thing we know is that chocolate is often used as a mood booster — a little pick-me-up in the middle of the day. Who doesn’t use chocolate as a cure for that 2 p.m. slump we know all too well?
Many of us crave chocolate, especially dark chocolate, for its flavor and for its caffeine content — that jolt of wakefulness that comes after we eat a few squares of chocolate. And while we often brush over the effects of caffeine because it is such a pervasive part of our lives, it is a good idea to understand how much we are consuming and what side effects can come along with it.
So let’s look at some questions: How much caffeine is there in dark chocolate? And what are the side effects?
Sometimes our language around chocolate is a little confusing, so let’s clear that up first.
To really understand how chocolate is made, we should know that chocolate is derived from seeds that come from the fruit of cacao trees. We often refer to these seeds as beans, as in cocoa beans.
Cacao trees grow near the equator and the fruit seeds (beans) are harvested by removing them from their shells, then fermenting, drying and liquifying them. Other ingredients are then added and they are formed into the variations we buy in the stores.
In other words, it’s a long and complicated to go from cacao tree to tasty treat!
Now that that’s cleared up, let’s get back to our original question. What role does caffeine play in all this?
Caffeine naturally occurs in chocolate and the basic rule of thumb is this: the darker the chocolate, the higher caffeine content.
We mentioned earlier that cocoa beans are liquefied in order to make chocolate. When that happens, the liquid results in two components — cocoa butter and cocoa solids. Both are needed to make chocolate, and the different ratios used determines what kind of chocolate is created.
This is where caffeine comes into play — it is found in cocoa solids, not in cocoa butter. So, the darker the chocolate, the more cocoa solids is has and the higher the caffeine content. Extra, extra dark chocolate is extra high in cocoa solids and extra high in caffeine. White chocolate, on the other hand, contains no cocoa solids (but lots of cocoa butter), and therefore has zero caffeine. Fascinating, right?!
Here’s a breakdown from the US Department of Agriculture that might help you visualize caffeine content:
• Dark chocolate contains 12 milligrams of caffeine per ounce.
• Milk chocolate contains 9 milligrams of caffeine per 1.55 ounces.
• White chocolate contains zero caffeine.
The US Food and Drug Administration recommends a maximum intake of 400 milligrams of caffeine per day.
Now let’s talk about caffeine — how does it affect your health?
As we all know, caffeine is daily part of most people’s lives. Caffeine is more commonly associated with coffee, which is the most popular beverage in the world! In fact, more than 400 billion cups of coffee are consumed each year, and in the US, more than 450 million cups of coffee are consumed every day! That’s staggering to think about.
So caffeine drives more than half of us. We need it to get our day going, and if we don’t get our fix, we literally go through a painful withdrawal process.
Even if we consume so much caffeine every day that we are one of those people who say, “caffeine doesn’t affect me.” Actually yes, it does.
Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant. When taken in reasonable doses, it can help restore mental alertness, help with weight control and weight loss, improve sports and athletic performance, increase brain function and memory recall, and help our organs function.
However, too much caffeine and these benefits disappear and are replaced with negative side effects.
Consume too much caffeine and your body can begin to suffer. Symptoms of depression and anxiety can get worse, blood sugar is affected, it can cause insomnia, which sets off a long chain reaction of poor health consequences.
High caffeine intake is also linked to the jitters, headaches, irritability, heartburn, stomach pain, irregular heartbeat and high blood pressure.
So you see, it’s a fine line to walk. While caffeine can have some serious benefits, it can also have some seriously negative consequences, too.
Luckily, the caffeine in dark chocolate comes in much lower doses than a cup of coffee so the effects are not as drastic. But it is still helpful to monitor your intake and see if there are any immediate reactions in your body after consuming chocolate.
For example, does your heart start beating faster after you eat chocolate? Do you notice you have the shakes? Have you ever considered that the reason you are having trouble falling asleep is because you just ate half of that bar of dark chocolate at 10 p.m.?
The best thing you can do when thinking about dark chocolate, caffeine, and the effects of your body and mind is to practice mindfulness about your eating habits. If you are mindlessly reaching for that chocolate, ask yourself why? Is it because you are wanting to enjoy a delicious treat that you will savor? Or it it because you are feeling bored or emotional or sad?
Some good advice we once received is to pause and take a moment before you reach for that next square of chocolate. Don’t not do it, but pause so that you can really enjoy it. And if you notice that it is not serving you because it is causing your heart to race and your hands to shake… maybe it’s time to rethink that relationship.
In the meantime, savor every bite!