Health ViewpointsA recent analysis reveals you must choose your chocolate carefully to avoid exposure to toxic lead and cadmium. Dark chocolate has health benefits but may increase your risk.
Story at a Glance
- Testing by Consumer Reports found one-third of chocolate products tested were high in heavy metals, and the percentage of contaminated products rose when it was dark chocolate.
- Of the 28 dark chocolate bars tested in 2022, only five had levels below 100 percent of the maximum allowable dose, and only two had levels below 50 percent. In the 46 products tested in 2023, they found detectable levels in every product and 539 percent of the maximum allowed dose of lead in Perugina 85% Premium Dark Chocolate.
- Chocolate is not the only source of heavy metal and it bioaccumulates, so it's important to be aware of your overall intake. Cadmium can be absorbed from the soil and is found in the highest levels in grains and vegetables.
- Exposure to lead and cadmium poses the highest risk to the brains and neurological systems of infants and children. Since cadmium crosses the placental barrier, exposure during pregnancy can have serious health consequences, including increased mortality from heart and kidney disease and cancer.
- Dark chocolate has many health benefits, but your source should be chosen wisely to avoid exposure to heavy metals. Consider incorporating strategies for heavy metal detox to protect your mitochondrial function.
However, wide usage has raised concerns over the health effects heavy metals have on humans and the environment. Lead, chromium, cadmium, arsenic, and mercury are among the metals identified as having public health significance since they are known to trigger organ damage even at low levels of exposure. These same heavy metals are also “known” or “probable” human carcinogens.
Several Types of Chocolate High in Lead and CadmiumConsumer Reports5 tested a variety of chocolate candies and powders, including dark chocolate, milk chocolate, chocolate chips, cocoa powder, brownies, cake, and hot chocolate mixes. This was a follow-up from testing in 2022 on dark chocolate,6 in which they tested 28 bars from different companies for lead and cadmium.
Consumer Reports notes that the tests were not an assessment of whether a particular chocolate exceeded California's legal standards, but the California standards were used to indicate products that had a comparatively higher level of heavy metals.
There are two main components in chocolate from the cacao bean. These are cocoa solids and cocoa butter, which together are called cacao or cocoa. Dark chocolate tends to be higher in heavy metal contamination than milk chocolate because it has a higher cacao content, which is more likely to be contaminated with cadmium and lead.
As in the previous tests, the dark chocolate had higher levels of heavy metals than the milk chocolate. However, James E. Rogers, the director and acting head of product safety testing who has a doctorate in microbiology and immunology, also noted that every product had detectable amounts of lead and cadmium, and 16 had concerning levels of at least one metal, and in some cases, more than twice the limit.
Heavy Metal Can Accumulate From Several SourcesAs Consumer Reports noted,11 high levels of cadmium get into the chocolate as the plant absorbs it from the soil. Lead also may be deposited on the beans after harvest as they dry outdoors. However, chocolate is not the only food or beverage that contains heavy metals and since the metals can bioaccumulate, it's important to be aware of your overall intake.
The tests show that the concentration of cadmium and lead was present in all types of fruits and vegetables, but the amount varied substantially. The highest concentrations were found in dried products, and several samples exceeded the maximum permissible concentrations.
Exposure in Childhood Can Damage the Nervous SystemExposure to cadmium and lead in infants and children pose a higher risk to their brains and neurological system than in adults. Unfortunately, these heavy metals can make their way into the food supply as contaminants. For example, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned parents [on] Oct. 30, 2023, that after testing food pouches by Wanabana, “extremely high” concentrations of lead were found that could lead to “acute toxicity.”16
Damage to the brain and nervous system can also trigger behavior problems and cause lower IQ with a decreased ability to pay attention and poor performance in school. Exposure at younger ages is more harmful because children's bodies and brains are still developing and growing.
Use Dark Chocolate JudiciouslyThe health benefits of eating dark chocolate are well established. It is the cacao content that makes a difference in terms of benefit as it contains large amounts of polyphenols, including epicatechin, resveratrol, phenylethylamine, and theobromine. However, as the Consumer Reports studies demonstrated, chocolate with higher levels of cacao also has higher levels of cadmium and lead.
"While it is well-known that cacao is a major source of flavonoids, this is the first time the effect has been studied in human subjects to determine how it can support cognitive, endocrine and cardiovascular health. … These studies show us that the higher the concentration of cacao, the more positive the impact on cognition, memory, mood, immunity and other beneficial effects."Several studies have also confirmed cacao can benefit your heart, blood vessels, brain, and nervous system, and help combat diabetes and other conditions rooted in inflammation. As noted in a paper23 published in the journal Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity:
"Cocoa contains about 380 known chemicals, 10 of which are psychoactive compounds. … Cocoa has more phenolics and higher antioxidant capacity than green tea, black tea, or red wine. … The phenolics from cocoa may thus protect against diseases in which oxidative stress is implicated as a causal or contributing factor, such as cancer.
"They also have antiproliferative, antimutagenic, and chemoprotective effects, in addition to their anticariogenic effects.”There is significant evidence that dark chocolate has health benefits, but it's important to realize that these benefits are not transferred to milk chocolate and it's important to judiciously choose your source of dark chocolate.
Heavy Metal DetoxificationAs Dr. Frank Shallenberger, author of “Bursting With Energy: The Breakthrough Method to Renew Youthful Energy and Restore Health” and a natural medicine physician for nearly five decades, discussed in our 2022 interview,25 a decrease in mitochondrial function is a hallmark of the aging process and many chronic diseases.
Even asymptomatic people in their 30s can have a significant decline in mitochondrial function, which is indicative of premature aging and future health problems.
Heavy metal toxicity can take a toll on your mitochondrial function, and to address this, Dr. Shallenberger typically combines chelation therapy with colonics and sauna use. While many people use far-infrared saunas, I prefer near-infrared saunas for several reasons.
For starters, near-infrared penetrates much deeper into your tissues, releasing toxins. Importantly, 95 percent of melatonin is also produced in your mitochondria in response to near-infrared light. Melatonin is a very powerful antioxidant that helps mop up ROS (reactive oxygen species) in the mitochondria. Melatonin also helps increase glutathione, which is a major detoxification agent. For tips on how to create an EMF-free sauna, listen to our interview, as we go into more detail than what I’ve summarized here.
- 1, 5, 10, 11 Consumer Reports, October 25, 2023
- 2 EXS, 2012; 101
- 3, 4 Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Toxic Metals
- 6, 24 Consumer Reports, December 15, 2022
- 7 Consumer Reports, October 25, 2023, Subhead 2 para 2, 3
- 8 Consumer Reports, December 15, 2022, Subhead Test Results—pictures
- 9 Consumer Reports, October 25, 2023, para 4, 5
- 12 Scientific Reports, 2021; 11(11913)
- 13 Nutrients, 2022; 14(8)
- 14 Environmental Working Group, March 16, 2016
- 15 Eat This, Not That! February 16, 2023
- 16 AP, October 30, 2023
- 17 Food Additives and Contaminants, 2019; 36(6)
- 18 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Health Effects of Lead Exposure
- 19 Environmental Analysis Health and Toxicity, 2021; 36(1)
- 20 Environmental Health Perspectives, 2012;120(5)
- 21 Scientific American, February 10, 2012
- 22 Loma Linda University Health, April 24, 2018
- 23 Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, 2012;906252
- 25 BitChute, February 17, 2022