Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Chocolate Touch

I was recently asked some Word of Wisdom-related questions. We covered some of the basics regarding alcohol and smoking but then I was asked about caffeine and chocolate. Over the years, I have come across Mormons who choose not to eat chocolate because of the caffeine and also people who aren't Mormon that test the validity of the Word of Wisdom by asking why we eat chocolate but don't drink coffee.

Whenever this topic comes up, for soley technical reasons, I often wonder how much caffeine really is in chocolate. I decided to do some investigating and see what kind of numbers I can find on the actual chemical make up of chocolate. Numbers really aren't my forte but chocolate luckily is. I support any research that depicts chocolate in a positive light, regardless of all the math I had to dig out of my brain to construct this post.

The chemicals in chocolate that typically cause any side effects in the human body are due to theobromine and caffeine, both from the caffeine family. But unlike caffeine, theobromine is weaker overall and does not act as a stimulate to the central nervous system (CNS). The basic negative side effects of caffeine are: stimulant of CNS, increase heartbeat, increase urination, drowsiness. The most extreme effects being: nervousness, irritability, anxiety, tremulousness, muscle twitching, insomnia, headaches, nausea, "jitters", and heart palpitations.

Since our main issue is chocolate as a caffeine carrier, I shall explain the relative content of caffeine in chocolate using the standard 1.5 oz Hershey's bar (not the mini). The standard Hershey's bar is 43g total weight and contains 74 mg of theobromine and 10mg of caffeine. Meaning... [carry the 1...], a Hershey's bar contains less than .0003% caffeine.

Caffeine starts to affect the human body rather quickly (less than an hour), but the amount of caffeine consumed to begin feeling side effects is probably more than you think. For example, caffeine intoxication, aka "the jitters" or the typical overly stimulated behavior we tend to associate with lots of caffeine, on average does usually not occur with less than 300mg of caffeine consumed within a limited time-frame. Since caffeine also wears off quickly (3ish hours), let's assume you'd have a 3 hour window of it staying in your system. Using our Hershey's bar again, that means you'd need to consume 30 bars within 3 hours to start to feel the caffeine jitters.

In rare circumstances, there is a possibility of consuming enough caffeine that it can lead to death. The average amount of caffeine required for such drastic effects is about 200mg per kg of body mass. That means in order to cause true death by chocolate, a person weighing 150 lbs would need to consume more than 150,000 Hershey's bars in less than 3 hours. Or if you are Jesse Spano, 75 caffeine pills.

But chocolate is addictive because caffeine is addictive, right? First to become addicted to anything you consume, you must build up a tolerance (I feel the same way about reality TV). [To be clear, when I say "tolerance", I mean, consuming enough caffeine that you no longer feel the effects and therefore increase the amount of consumption which eventually leads to addiction. And "addiction" meaning that when not consuming, you feel actual withdrawal symptoms, not just a mere hissy fit or chocolate craving.] Tolerance to caffeine builds quickly when consumed quickly. Partial tolerance could build in about a week if you were drinking roughly 4 cups of regular coffee, 3 times a day, for 7 days straight. This may also lead to decrease in work productivity as you would spend about 25% of your day peeing.

To build up partial tolerance to caffeine through chocolate only, at the same rate of one week, one would need to have 120 Hershey's bars per day for 7 days straight.To build complete tolerance (all side effects) to caffeine by consuming chocolate would require 90 Hershey's bars per day for approximately 18 days straight.

The effects of having that much caffeine in one day, typically by the coffee drinkers, are very drastic. That is very clear. But the reason why I used the Hershey's bar as the caffeine intake model is to show that the same side effects, tolerance, addiction, withdraw, etc, would take significantly longer to build up in the human body by consuming chocolate rather than by drinking coffee. In fact, if you had one Hershey's bar per day, it would take you almost 4 and a half years to consume the same amount of caffeine as drinking coffee for 18 days. But that's only consumption. It is necessary to factor in that building tolerance also requires a certain amount to be consumed at a certain rate, therefore complete tolerance to caffeine cannot occur with only 10mg per day (one Hershey's bar), even if it was every day for the rest of your life.

From my vast research and mostly accurate calculations, with regular chocolate consumption, the human body is more at risk for packing on pounds and rotting teeth than suffering from the side effects of caffeine. After all, the same Hershey's chocolate bar is about 55% sugar versus .0003% caffeine.

So the point of all these silly numbers is, that much like anything we consume, whether healthy or unhealthy, it must be in moderation. But even with chocolate, the level of the caffeine content is not enough to produce the same side effects anywhere close to those of coffee. Whew! Did you make it to the end?! Congrats! There are probably only a few of you that made it to this point. You have my permission to reward yourself with a piece of chocolate.



  1. Okay, wow. Lot's of info. I wasn't able to follow everything 100%. But here's my take on chocolate. I don't eat it(chocolate free for 6 years now, okay minus white chocolate but I don't eat that very often...it just doesn't call to me), but I don't care if other people do,in fact I bake things w/chocolate in them for my family. I don't eat it for a couple of reasons: 1. when I do, I can't seem to control the amount that I consume(meaning, I eat way too much) and 2. chocolate, makes me very emotional. Maybe it's the caffeine or the theobromine , I don't know. But what I do know is that when I eat it, I tend to cry, overreact, etc. So, I've decided to take chocolate out of my life...and I really haven't suffered from it. Though, I still eat lots of other sweets.

  2. Well the gist of the numbers is that no matter if chocolate is consumed in very small or massive quantities, there isn't medical evidence that it effects the human body because the caffeine (and theobromine) content is so low. There is actually more caffeine in many common OTC medications than in chocolate.
    Congrats on going 6 years! Although if you encountered a dementor you'd be in serious trouble ;)

  3. Get this! CVS has Lindt (sp) truffles 2 bags for $5.00 (with your CVS card, or course)! I went around the office one morning and gave one to everybody. Now that's the way to win friends and influence enemies:)

    I think I'll pick up more tomorrow...sale ends March 31:)

    Good to know that no matter how much chocolate I eat, I won't get the jitters, maybe sick to my stomach, but not the jitters:) Nice research, Kelley!

  4. Hmmmm...chocolate. I just polished off a chocolate glazed Krispy Kreme. On to number dos.

  5. Best blog ever. I'm severely impressed with all your research. I've never liked how people compare chocolate to coffee in their discussions of the word of Wisdom. They're just not the same. You could even throw soda in there for comparison because it even has a higher content of caffiene than chocolate.

  6. Portia Says: Chocolate is a food group.

  7. Lachlan: That's a lot of research and number crunching. Good job. I think that the important thing is to teach people with questions that the Word of Wisdom is a minimum standard, and 'worthiness' is dependent upon following the letter of the law; however, the spirit of the law is take care of your body, and there are plenty of things above and beyond the "4 don'ts" that you can choose to do to make your body happy.


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