Dark chocolate is a rare treat with health benefits, potentially helping to reduce inflammation and support heart health with its powerful antioxidants, nutritionists say.
But dark chocolate can also contain two heavy metals harmful to health, warns Consumer Reports in a survey published Thursday, December 15.
When the organization tested 28 dark chocolate bars from different brands, it found cadmium and lead in each of them, according to the report. The products didn’t have extremely high levels of heavy metals, but most had levels high enough to be a health concern, says James Rogers, director of food safety research and testing at Consumer Reports.
The National Association of Confectioners, the industry trade group, counters that chocolate and cocoa are safe to eat.
“(They) can be enjoyed as treats as they have been for centuries,” Christopher Gindlesperger, spokesperson for the association, said in a statement to TODAY.com.
“The products cited in this study comply with strict quality and safety requirements.
Cadmium is a natural element present in the soil. It is considered a carcinogen, with exposure to low levels over time also being able to cause kidney disease and brittle bones, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Lead, also a naturally occurring element, can seriously harm a child’s health and even lead to brain damage, the CDC has warned. Adults exposed over time may be at risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, and kidney disease.
Rogers says he was surprised that every brand tested had detectable levels of both heavy metals.
“There is a health halo, so there are people who eat dark chocolate every day for its health benefits, and we thought it was important to take a look at it to say : Is Eating Dark Chocolate Every Day Healthy? Rogers tells TODAY.com.
“On the one hand, it comes from the antioxidants that are said to be in dark chocolate. But on the other hand, if you eat this dark chocolate which contains heavy metals, our results suggest that no, you should not eat it every day.
Using a standard set by California, the survey found that for 23 of the bars tested, eating 1 ounce a day would put an adult above the level Consumer Reports experts considered potentially harmful for at least one of the metals. heavy.
Five of the bars tested were above those levels for cadmium and lead, according to Consumer Reports. They included:
- Theo Bio Pure Dark 70% Cocoa
- Théo Pure Extra Dark Dark Chocolate 85% Cocoa
- Trader Joe’s The Dark Chocolate Lover’s Chocolate 85% Cocoa
- Lily’s Extremely Dark Chocolate 85% Cacao
- Green & Black’s Organic Dark Chocolate 70% Cocoa
TODAY.com has contacted these manufacturers for comment. Mondelēz Global, the parent company of Green & Black’s, has sent inquiries to the National Association of Confectioners.
The Hershey Company, whose brands include Lily’s, said food safety is paramount to the company. “We source our ingredients and manufacture our products under a robust food safety plan,” spokesman Todd Scott said in a statement.
The other companies did not immediately react.
The full survey results are available on the Consumer Reports website.
When rating the chocolate bars, Consumer Reports used the maximum allowable dose level for lead and cadmium set by California “because we don’t have an FDA level,” says Rogers.
The FDA tells TODAY.com in an email that “the US food supply is among the safest in the world. The FDA has not seen the test data…however…environmental contaminants may be present in foods because they are in the environments where foods are grown, raised or processed.The presence of cadmium and lead in chocolate is well documented, as are geographic differences in cadmium levels in soil where cocoa beans are grown.
“The FDA’s goal is to limit consumer exposure to environmental contaminants, with an emphasis on protecting the very young, by developing regulations, action levels, and consumer guidance. , the agency considers the health effects of the “whole food,” which includes the potential adverse health effects of specific contaminants that may be present, as well as the nutrients in foods that help promote health and prevent diseases throughout our lives The FDA recommends that consumers eat a variety of healthy foods for nutrition and food safety.
“The FDA monitors and regulates the levels of environmental contaminants, including lead and cadmium, in foods. To determine whether detected levels in foods are a potential health concern, we consider the toxicity of the contaminant and the exposure based on measured level and consumption. We may also consider specific population groups (e.g. very young children). By law, food manufacturers and processors are responsible for implementing preventive controls to minimize or significantly prevent exposure to chemical hazards, including lead and cadmium.If the agency finds that the level of a contaminant makes food unsafe, we take action, which may include working with the manufacturer to resolve the issue and take action to prevent the product from entering or remaining in the U.S. market Cain. For example, the FDA has several chocolate products on our Import Alert for Heavy Metals in Foods. (Please see: Import Alert 99-42).”
The FDA tests for environmental contaminants, including lead and cadmium, through the Total Diet Study; the FDA’s Toxic Elements in Foods and Food Utensils and Radionuclides in Foods Compliance Program; and other surveys, which may be conducted annually or in response to reports of high levels of contaminants in certain products or to focus on a specific food or food group. Testing can take place at FDA labs or at state labs under our cooperative agreement with the states. We recently selected dark chocolate as one of the matrices in our validation of method 4.7 of the Elemental Analysis Handbook. This is the method used by the FDA to analyze lead, cadmium, and other elements in all foods.”
“The FDA monitors lead and cadmium levels in foods to enforce FDA regulations and inform the agency’s advice to industry and advice to consumers,” the statement explains before listing three examples. lead and cadmium tests in chocolate products:
The statement concludes by saying that FDA experts participate in CODEX, an “international standards body” with the goal of “protecting consumer health and promoting fair business practices by adopting standards, guidelines and codes of scientifically based practice in all fields”. food safety and quality”, including a code of practice to prevent and reduce cadmium in cocoa beans.
Also, the National Confectioners Association says California’s food safety standards are not a definitive standard.
“Food safety and product quality remain our top priorities and we remain committed to being transparent and socially responsible,” notes Christopher Gindlesperger, spokesperson for the association.
A positive result of the survey is that Consumer Reports also found five products considered safer, Rogers says. They understand:
- Mast Organic Dark Chocolate 80% Cocoa
- Taza Organic Chocolate Deliciously Dark Chocolate 70% Cocoa
- Ghirardelli Intense Dark Chocolate 86% Cocoa
- Ghirardelli Intense Dark Chocolate Twilight Delight 72% Cocoa
- Valrhona Abinao Dark Chocolate 85% Cocoa
“Manufacturers can make dark chocolate with fewer heavy metals,” says Rogers. “It may not be easy, but we believe there are things manufacturers can do.”
The cadmium appears to come from soil contaminated with the heavy metal, which is then sucked up by the roots of the plant and ends up in the cocoa beans, so manufacturers could grow their chocolate factories in soil whose cadmium is low, notes Rogers.
Lead, on the other hand, contaminates the cocoa beans through the environment when it is possibly blown by the wind from the surrounding area as the beans air dry, so one solution would be to relocate the facility from transformation elsewhere, he adds.
What to do if you like dark chocolate:
“Don’t panic, it’s a manageable risk,” says Rogers. He offered the following advice:
Use the survey results to buy dark chocolate wisely.
Look for dark chocolate products with lower cocoa percentages. Since the presence of heavy metals is the result of contaminated beans, try a bar containing 70% cocoa versus 85%.
Don’t assume organic chocolate is safer, because that’s not what Consumer Reports analysis found.
Alternate dark chocolate with milk chocolate and use it as a treat – not something you eat daily.
There may be other sources of chocolate in your diet that you should be aware of, such as hot chocolate or cocoa powder.
Heavy metal exposure is most dangerous for children and pregnant women, so they may want to avoid dark chocolate.