Lead and cadmium: The ‘dark side’ of dark chocolate

It’s been a while since I’ve written here about the dangers of the heavy metals lead and cadmium.

But something’s come to my attention recently, and it needs sharing.

In a recent issue of Consumer Reports, I found out that one of my favorite healthy treats — and likely one of yours, too — isn’t as safe as I thought it was.

And, based on what I’ve read, I may have to start taking some precautions when it comes to my dark chocolate habit…

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The “dark side” of dark chocolate

If you love chocolate like I do, you’re probably already aware that dark chocolate is a better choice than milk chocolate.

If you have a taste for it, dark chocolate offers some advantages over milk chocolate. It has less sugar, and also contains flavonols that are known for controlling arterial inflammation and blood pressure.

Besides the benefits mentioned above, dark chocolate has the advantage of being higher in fiber, magnesium, and potassium than milk chocolate.

And of course, dark chocolate, rich in resveratrol, was a favorite of the oldest living (verified) supercentenarian, Jeanne Louise Calment, who often consumed up to two pounds a day!

But dark chocolate has its “dark side” when it comes to your health.

You see, all chocolate is made from the cacao bean, which has two main components: cocoa solids and cocoa butter. Together, these are called cacao or cocoa. 

The cocoa solids in dark chocolate are packed with flavonols. Unfortunately, cocoa solids are where heavy metals, especially lead and cadmium, gather.

Frequent exposure to lead in adults can lead to nervous system problems, hypertension, immune system suppression, kidney damage, and reproductive issues. Cadmium can build up in the kidneys and is considered a carcinogen.

How much is in your favorite bar?

Dark chocolate generally tends to be higher in heavy metals than milk chocolate, most likely because of its higher cacao content (most dark chocolates are at least 65 percent cacao by weight).

Consumer Reports scientists recently measured the amounts of heavy metals in 28 dark chocolate bars. Bad news: they detected cadmium and lead in allof them.

The five with the lowest concentrations of lead and cadmium were:

  • Mast Organic Dark Chocolate 80% Cocoa
  • Taza Organic Dark Chocolate 70% Cacao
  • Ghirardelli Intense Dark Chocolate 86% Cacao
  • Ghirardelli Intense Dark Chocolate Twilight Delight 72% Cacao
  • Valrhona Abinao Dark Chocolate 85% Cacao

Mast had the lowest percentages of lead (14%) and cadmium (40%), while Valrhona had the highest (63% lead, 73% cadmium).

You may be thinking, “That’s a huge amount! And these are the safer ones?”

Compare these to, for example, Green & Black’s Organic Dark Chocolate 70% Cacao (a brand I’ve favored in the past), which weighs in at 143% lead and 181% cadmium, or Trader Joe’s 85% Cacao Dark Chocolate (“The Dark Chocolate Lover’s Chocolate”), with 127% lead and 229% cadmium!

If you still want to eat dark chocolate, the five brands listed above are your safest choices.

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Safer ways to eat dark chocolate

Treat chocolate as a treat. Eating an ounce of dark chocolate with the highest cadmium and lead levels is unlikely to hurt you in the short term. The risk comes with frequent consumption over time.

Also, heavy metals hide in many of the fruits and vegetables you eat, since they come from the soil. So adding dark chocolate to your diet only occasionally is wise.

Go for dark chocolate with a lower cacao percentage. Cadmium levels seem to increase with the percentage of cacao. So if you’re not sure, pick the one with the lower cacao percentage.

Alternate with milk chocolate. Milk chocolate has less cacao, but more sugar and fat, so it’s a trade-off. But if you’re only eating chocolate occasionally, you don’t have too much to worry about.

Don’t assume organic means safe. In Consumer Reports’ tests, organic dark chocolate was just as likely to have high levels of cadmium and lead.

Consider your total chocolate consumption. Cocoa powder, hot cocoa mixes, and chocolate desserts also contain cocoa solids, so they, too, could be contributing to your heavy metal intake.

Detox. There are natural, gentle ways to remove lead, cadmium and other heavy metals from your body. Chelation therapyis probably the best-known method. It’s approved by the FDA to remove lead, for example.

Also, it’s come to light that eating probiotic foods may help remove heavy metals. Fermented foods like sauerkraut and yogurt contain probiotics.


Lead and Cadmium Could Be in Your Dark Chocolate — Consumer Reports

Heavy metals in chocolate bars test methodology — Consumer Reports

Joyce Hollman

By Joyce Hollman

Joyce Hollman is a writer based in Kennebunk, Maine, specializing in the medical/healthcare and natural/alternative health space. Health challenges of her own led Joyce on a journey to discover ways to feel better through organic living, utilizing natural health strategies. Now, practicing yoga and meditation, and working towards living in a chemical-free home, her experiences make her the perfect conduit to help others live and feel better naturally.