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There is a persistent urban legend that Chocolate contains lots of caffeine. It seems that this rumor is based primarily on a confusion between two similar alkaloids: Caffeine and Theobromine. Theobromine is the active ingredient in Chocolate and it occurs only in Cacao. The two stimulants are related and have a similar structures, but are very different chemicals with different properties, effects and origins. There are of course, some Chocolate products that have added caffeine, but it does not occur naturally in Chocolate.1
In laboratories, all methylxanthines (the family which both caffeine and theobromine are in) are often not differentiated in tests - which may be a reason for these rumors. Theobromine has diuretic, stimulant and relaxing effects, and can lower the blood pressure by dilating the blood vessels. Theobromine has stimulant properties, similar to caffeine. However unlike caffeine, theobromine does not affect the central nervous system but instead stimulates the cardiovascular system. Theobromine can also relax bronchi muscles in the lungs and can be used as cough medicine - studies indicate that theobromine acts on the vagus nerve, which runs from the lungs to the brain.
A typical sample of cacao nibs or cacao beans will yield anywhere from zero caffeine to 1,000 parts per million of caffeine (less than 1/20th of the caffeine present in coffee). In February 2008, Dr. Gabriel Cousens discovered in clinical tests on healthy people that Cacao does not elevate blood sugar in the same way as a caffeine-containing food or beverage. In fact, Dr. Cousens found that cacao has less of an effect on blood sugar than nearly any other food.2 A whole bar of Gnosis Chocolate contains about the same caffeine as a whole cup of decaf coffee!
Last updated on July 31, 2012 by Vanessa Barg