I love a good cup of hot cocoa or a large square of almond-laden dark chocolate bark this time of year. And I wouldn’t turn down double chocolate brownies or Christmas cookies dotted with chocolate chips. I’m a chocolate aficionado, so what’s not to love? But what I didn’t realize is that I will be contributing to my body’s burden of heavy metals. That’s right. Chocolate contains heavy metals, and some brands have more contamination than others.
A Consumer’s Report article from October 25, 2023, by Kevin Loria, A Third of Chocolate Products are High in Heavy Metals, CR’s Tests Find was surprising. Cadmium and lead were found in several brands. These heavy metals are concentrated in the cocoa. The more cocoa, such as in dark chocolate, the greater the chance for heavy metal exposure. While cadmium is absorbed by the plant from the soil, lead is likely deposited on the cacao beans after the harvest.
The CR article lists specific brand results for dark chocolate and milk chocolate bars, chocolate chips, cocoa powder, hot chocolate mixes, and finally, brownie and cake mixes. For their assessment, CR examined a serving of each product to determine if the California standard maximum allowable dose level (MADL) for lead (0.5 micrograms per day) and cadmium (4.1 micrograms per day) was exceeded. Remarkably, several brands exceeded these limits. It’s worth a look at the original article to see if your favorite product is one to worry about. Dark chocolate was the most problematic, while milk chocolate did much better. That makes sense, given that milk chocolate has less cocoa solids.
Lead is particularly worrisome (see my blog on lead, Stained Glass Windows, from April 2023.) As I wrote then, “lead poisoning causes severe neurological (both brain and peripheral nervous system) impairment and kidney, liver, and bone damage. Children are especially vulnerable as these organs are still developing, and lead accumulates in the body since it is primarily deposited in the bones.” There’s really no safe limit for lead.
Cadmium is found in the soil and, therefore, in food products. We are exposed to cadmium by eating contaminated food, including fish and shellfish from polluted waters, and from smoking (smoking a pack of cigarettes a day can increase the body’s burden of cadmium by a factor of two). Cadmium is used industrially in electroplating and galvanizing and is monitored by the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) since exposure to cadmium has been linked with lung and prostate cancers.
Getting back to chocolate. Everything in moderation, and for growing children and pregnant women, avoid altogether or consider products with lower amounts of heavy metals, and products with milk chocolate rather than dark chocolate. Remember, too, that other foods such as rice, carrots, and sweet potatoes contain heavy metals, so rather than having everything everywhere, all at once, a balanced diet limiting these foods is a good idea.
Now I’m going to have a nice cup of hot cocoa and a square of dark chocolate with almonds and cranberries for my occasional treat. Happy Holidays!