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Your Chocolate May Contain Heavy Metals — How Worried Should You Be?

Consumer Reports set out to test lead and cadmium levels in 28 different dark chocolate bars. Even organic chocolate showed high levels.
Dark chocolate bars.
Posted at 3:34 PM, Dec 21, 2022

Well, this isn’t the sort of thing you like to hear during the holidays: Researchers have discovered that some dark chocolate bars may contain cadmium and lead, two heavy metals that may cause health troubles over time.

To get a better understanding of the issue, Consumer Reports recently tested 28 readily available dark chocolate bars and found both metals in every single bar, though some had higher levels than others.

The dangers of lead are well-known: According to the CDC, prolonged exposure can lead to cardiovascular problems, kidney disease and reduced fertility. In young, growing children, the effects can be even more troublesome, including damage to the nervous system and brain.

With all of that in mind, Consumer Reports set out to test lead and cadmium levels in 28 different dark chocolate bars. Testing included samples from major brands, like Hershey’s and Dove, plus a selection of smaller producers.

CR tested the lead and cadmium levels of one ounce of each brand — about a serving size’s worth. Then, testers compared the levels to a safety standard, adopted by California, called the “maximum allowable dose level,” or MADL.

Some brands were higher in one of the metals than the other, and some (yikes) had high levels of both. For example, the Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Lover’s Chocolate 85% Cacao bar contained 127% of the MADL for lead and a whopping 229% for cadmium.

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Other brands with high levels of cadmium and lead: Theo Organic Pure Dark 70% Cocoa and Extra Dark Pure Dark Chocolate 85% Cocoa; Green & Black’s Organic Dark Chocolate 70% Cacao; and Lily’s Extremely Dark 85% Cocoa.

Brands with higher-than-recommended amounts of lead include certain types of Tony’s Chocolonely, Chocolove, Godiva, Lindt and Hershey’s. Cadmium was over the limit in dark versions of Dove, Scharffen Berger, Pascha, Equal Exchange and others.Now for the good news: Of the 28 bars surveyed, five had acceptable amounts of cadmium and lead. 

Two smaller brands — Mast and Taza — lead the pack, and well-known chocolatiers Ghirardelli and Valrhona joined them.

More good news: You don’t have to cut dark chocolate out of your diet. 

The dose makes the poison — eating in normal amounts is fine. Plus, according to Johns Hopkins toxicologist Andrew Stolbach, the acceptable levels are deliberately strict to protect the most vulnerable consumers.

"The safety levels for lead and cadmium are set to be very protective, and going above them by a modest amount isn’t something to be concerned about,” Stolbach told NPR.

Even better, industry groups are devising ways to reduce lead and cadmium levels in chocolate. According to NPR, drying cacao beans off of exposed ground can reduce lead, while mixing low-cadmium beans with higher-cadmium beans can mitigate the metal.

So don’t throw away that gift box of truffles or special bar you’ve been saving — enjoy! As with most things, moderation is the key.