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2023 March Newsletter – The Dark Side of Chocolate

The Dark Side of Chocolate

The health benefits of dark chocolate have been well touted. When information about the antioxidant properties of the tasty treat became known, chocolate lovers proudly embraced their former guilty pleasure as their new, tasty health kick. But recent reports seem to indicate that dark chocolate has a dark side too.

The February 2023 issue of Consumer Reports (CR) magazine published an article on lead and cadmium contamination in dark chocolate. Cadmium and lead are heavy metals that are linked to a variety of health problems. Although consuming heavy metals is unhealthy for anyone, pregnant women and young children would be particularly at risk because of how metals can affect brain development. A total of 28 chocolate bars were tested, and the article states that they “detected cadmium and lead in all of them.” ALL of them!

CR tested a variety of brands including hugely popular ones like Hershey’s, Dove, and Ghirardelli as well as smaller, lesser-known brands. The CR article states, “For 23 of the bars, eating just an ounce a day would put an adult over a level that public health authorities and CR’s experts say may be harmful for at least one of those heavy metals. Five of the bars were above those levels for both cadmium and lead.”

So how is this happening? How are these heavy metals getting into our beloved chocolate? CR notes that there are two different ways this contamination occurs. The cadmium is actually in the soil that the cacao beans are grown in and as the soil nourishes the plant, cadmium is taken up as well. Lead, however, is present on the outside of the shell, and after the beans are removed, the ambient lead particles collect on the beans along with the dust in the air.

CR states that “Because of the different ways that cadmium and lead get into chocolate, addressing the contamination requires different solutions.”

Between 2019 and 2022, researchers studied heavy metal contamination in chocolate as part of a settlement in a lawsuit against chocolate manufacturers brought by As You Sow. The research was funded by The National Confectioners Association as part of the As You Sow settlement, says “lead reductions can be expected within the first year of implementing new handling practices,” though it says lowering cadmium may take longer.

To measure risk levels of various chocolate brands, CR’s test used California’s maximum allowable dose levels (MADLs) for lead (0.5 micrograms) and cadmium (4.1mcg).

Among the bars tested, two with the lowest levels of cadmium and lead were:

MastOrganic Dark Chocolate 80% Cocoa 

  • Lead – 14% of the MADL
  • Cadmium – 40% of the MADL

GhirardelliIntense Dark Chocolate 86% Cacao 

  • Lead – 36% of the MADL
  • Cadmium – 39% of the MADL

Some bars tested were only high in cadmium, and others were only high in lead. One bar had a cadmium result as high as 253% of the MADL, and another bar had a lead result of 265% of the MADL.

However, CR lists five bars that had results above the MADL for both cadmium and lead:

  • Theo – Organic Pure Dark 70% Cocoa
  • Trader Joe’s – The Dark Chocolate Lover’s Chocolate 85% Cacao
  • Theo – Organic Extra Dark Pure Dark 85% Cocoa
  • Lily’s – Extremely Dark Chocolate 85% Cocoa
  • Green & Black’s – Organic Dark Chocolate 70% Cacao

Hopefully, the industry will find ways to reduce these metals in dark chocolate sooner rather than later, so chocolate lovers can go back to enjoying those “healthy treats” without guilt and without risk. But in the meantime, you may want to check out the CR article to see if your favorite chocolate bar was tested and take a peek at the results.