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Lead and Cadmium in Chocolate

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 someone’s diet.

Exposure to heavy metals is of greatest concern in children and during pregnancy, because they can damage the brain and nervous system, causing developmental delays, learning and behavior problems, and more. But adults can also experience negative effects. For example, frequent lead exposure has been linked to immune system suppression, reproductive issues, kidney damage, and hypertension.

Lead and cadmium are the two heavy metals that Consumer Reports 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.

Two bars—Divine 70% Deliciously Smooth Dark Chocolate and Sam’s Choice (Walmart) Dark Chocolate 85% Cocoa—fell below testing levels for both lead and cadmium, based on a serving of about 1 ounce. (The following bars also came in below  thresholds when tested last year: Ghirardelli Intense Dark Chocolate 86% Cacao, Ghirardelli Intense Dark Chocolate Twilight Delight 72% Cacao, Mast Organic Dark Chocolate 80% Cocoa, Taza Chocolate Organic Deliciously Dark Chocolate 70% Cacao, and Valrhona Abinao Dark Chocolate 85% Cacao.)  

Eating an ounce of four others would put you over our limit for lead. The Perugina (owned by Nestlé) Premium Dark Chocolate bars had the highest amounts. One of the four, Evolved Signature Dark 72% Cacao Chocolate Bar was high in both lead and cadmium. Another bar, Sam’s Choice Dark Chocolate 72% Cocoa, was high in cadmium only.

Milk chocolate tends to be lower in heavy metals than dark chocolate because it has less cocoa solids. And in fact none of the five milk chocolate bars in our tests were over limit for either heavy metal. Hershey’s Milk Chocolate bar had the most lead, reaching 67 percent of limit. Feastables Mr. Beast Bar Milk Chocolate, with 80 percent of limit, had the most cadmium per serving. Lindt Classic Recipe Milk Chocolate Bar was the lowest overall, with one serving (about 1 ounce) containing 11 percent of the daily maximum amount of lead and 13 percent of the daily cadmium limit.


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