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Many chocolate products have concerning levels of lead and cadmium, Consumer Reports says
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Should you limit your chocolate consumption since recent tests show high levels of toxins in some products?

Hot-chocolate-1058197_640On Thursday, I wrote about recent tests by Consumer Reports on high levels of lead and cadmium found in some milk chocolate products.

Earlier tests last year by the advocacy organization found that a number of Hershey’s dark chocolate bars had some of the highest levels of lead or cadmium of all brands it tested. 

For milk chocolate, Consumer Reports’ scientists tested 48 different products in seven categories and 16 had amounts above the organization’s levels of concern for at least one of the heavy metals – in some cases more than twice the organization’s limit.

Consumer Reports said there were safer options in each category of chocolate products.

I got to thinking about that. How can you tell which chocolate products have the high levels of toxins?

I looked through the testing organizations report on milk chocolate. It said:

Heavy metals can be found in many foods – such as arsenic in rice, mercury in some types of fish, cadmium in spinach, and lead in carrots and sweet potatoes. And you can also be exposed through drinking water or your environment (such as lead paint in your house). All these sources can add up, so it is important to be aware of different pathways that contribute to your overall heavy metal intake. Chocolate may just be one of a number of contributing factors to overall heavy metal levels, but it’s a popular treat eaten by children and adults and not an essential part of a someone’s diet. So it makes sense to try to limit the amount of heavy metals people get from chocolate. 

Lead and cadmium are the two heavy metals that CR’s tests have found to be the most problematic in chocolate. Research indicates that lead and cadmium get into cocoa in different ways. For cadmium, it appears that the cocoa plant takes it up from the soil. Lead, however, can be deposited on the cocoa beans after harvest, potentially from dust and soil as beans dry outdoors. These metals are both found in the cocoa solids – which, along with cocoa butter, make up cacao. That’s why products rich in cocoa solids, such as dark chocolate and cocoa powder, tend to be higher in heavy metals.

As I looked through the results from the various milk chocolate categories – bars, chocolate chips, cocoa powder, hot chocolate mixes, and brownie and cake mixes – there didn’t seem to be a pattern of which companies were consistently the worst.

Brian Ronholm, director of food policy at Consumer Reports, said:

Since the metals occur naturally in soil, it may seem that it would be difficult to reduce contamination, but there are some steps that chocolate makers can take to make their products safer. These include sourcing from areas with lower levels and mixing beans from different areas to ensure that the final product has lower levels. Producers could also test lots of cocoa to identify problem areas and reject particularly contaminated lots.

As for making healthier chocolate choices, Consumer Reports recommends:

  • As much as possible, it makes sense to try to avoid heavy metals in your diet – but that doesn’t mean you should never eat chocolate.
  • Kids and pregnant people should consume dark chocolate sparingly, if at all, because heavy metals pose the highest risk to young children and developing babies. And if you do eat it, pick products that our tests showed to have lower levels of heavy metals. When consuming other cocoa-containing items – like hot chocolate or brownies – it may be best to limit these to not every day, and also choose products lower in heavy metals. And, of course, you should limit how much you eat other foods that tend to be high in heavy metals, such as rice and rice products, carrots, and sweet potatoes.
  • Milk chocolate can be a fine alternative for those who want to limit heavy metal exposure, but don’t treat it as a health food – it’s packed with more sugar than dark chocolate, and should still be consumed in moderation.
  • For other adults who want to eat dark chocolate, occasional consumption won’t necessarily expose you to extremely high levels of heavy metals. But as much as possible, try to be aware of potential metal exposure from multiple sources.
  • When consuming hot chocolate, brownies, chocolate cake, and other cocoa-containing products, know that they can contribute to your overall heavy metal burden. As with other types of chocolate, these are best consumed in moderation.

Darn. Consuming chocolate in moderation. Not good.  


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My chocolate consumption is way, way, way down from years ago. VERY bad for my waistline, wherever it may be hiding. Only on special occasions. And dark chocolate is my favorite. When I indulge in a chocolate high I don't worry about the metals, sugar, etc. poisoning my body.


What Consumer Reports recommends is consuming chocolate in moderation, so you're doing it.

Carol Cassara

Wow. This is pretty big news for choco lovers.


Yes, moderation for chocolate consumption is unfortunate news.


Particularly since there's little information on which brands are lowest. Consumers tested only a few of the many different brands of chocolate.


Yes, the limited testing is a problem. Moderate consumption, which means not eating chocolate every day like rice, seems like a good approach.

In addition, as I was writing the article, I thought about using the information from what Consumer Reports did test. It's possible that those products could change -- for better or worse -- over time.


I was reading up on this because my husband is a chocolatier and we were talking about it the other day. I did learn that the EU has strict regulations on the amount of cadmium that can be in foods for children. So if you're concerned about what you're eating, find European chocolate.


Good tip. Thanks.

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