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Will dessert keep you up all night?

Two frequent scenarios:

1. We're out for dinner and salivating over the dessert menu when one of the group exclaims that, while they would love to indulge in the flourless chocolate cake (what menu does not offer this?), the chocolate's caffeine will keep them up all night.

2. My husband suffers a bad night's sleep and blames the chocolate dessert of which he only ate 1/2 of and it was small to begin with.

We know chocolate contains some caffeine, but is it enough to throw asunder one's sleep? And, if you simply have a few bites of the dessert, is this a solution?

First a few facts:

  • Chocolate contains a very SMALL amount of caffeine
  • 1 oz of bitterweet chocolate yields a paltry 5 to 10mg of caffeine. An entire chocolate bar yields about 30mg as compared to 115-200mg for a cup of coffee, 40mg or more for a can of soda and 3mg for decaf coffee.
  • One piece of flourless chocolate cake will typically contain 1oz of semisweet chocolate (45-50% cocoa)--5 to 10mg of caffeine. The same goes for chocolate lava cake, chocolate mousse cake, chocolate souffle, and chocolate muffins. One cup of chocolate ice cream has approx. 6mg--less because a sweeter chocolate is used.
  • So why all the fuss about chocolate keeping people up at night? Answer: Theobromine.

    This bitter alkaloid of the cacao plant can stimulate the heart, act as a diuretic, a smooth muscle relaxant and a vasodilator. There is disagreement whether, like caffeine, theobromine acts as a central nervous system stimulant. Research also states that theobromine has about 1/10th the stimulating effect as caffeine.

    Theobromine is the substance that can kill the family dog, which is why every pet owner cautions, "Don't let Filbert have any chocolate!" (It has to do with a dog's inability to metabolize it.)

    Theobromine is only found in cocoa products, tea and kola nuts...NOT in coffee. It occurs naturally. From a comparison standpoint, unsweetened chocolate contains 1.2% theobromine versus .2% caffeine--.5% and .07% for sweetened and .15% and .02% for milk chocolate--i.e., the less pure the chocolate, the less there is of theobromine.

    Getting back to the dessert menu. There is about 150mg of theobromine in a 100 gram chocolate bar--significantly more in unsweetened chocolate. The tasty treats mentioned above will contain approximately 150-200mg. This site provides a nice comparsion between the effects of theobromine and caffeine.

    So YES, that chocolate dessert just may in fact keep you up at night, but it is not due to the caffeine! And, I believe, having a few bites is the solution--not just for one's sleep but for one's waistline as well.

    Stay Athletic-Minded!

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