Dark Chocolate Bars Test Positive for Heavy Metals in New Research: Should You Stop Eating It?

Sophie Hirsh - Author

Dec. 16 2022, Published 3:36 p.m. ET

Heavy Metals Found in Dark Chocolate
Source: Getty Images

If you're a fan of dark chocolate, you’ve probably come across articles or studies about the health benefits of the delicious dessert, leading you to feeling triumphant and vindicated about your favorite sweet treat. Well sadly, the latest news on dark chocolate may have you feeling a bit worried, as new research has found heavy metals in dark chocolate made by a few popular brands.

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For all the details, including what brands are affected, which heavy metals were found in the dark chocolate tested, and if you need to worry about this, keep reading.

Dark Chocolate, Lead and Cadmium
Source: iStock
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Heavy metals were found in dark chocolate made by Hershey's, Trader Joe's, and other brands.

On Dec. 15, 2022, Consumer Reports (CR) scientists released a report analyzing heavy metals in 28 different dark chocolate bars. They decided to conduct this research in response to the already-existing body of research that has detected two heavy metals in some dark chocolate bars: cadmium and lead.

After conducting the testing, the CR researchers found both cadmium and lead in all 28 bars, which are made by a variety of different brands.

They then organized all 28 bars into a list based on their lead and cadmium content, using California's maximum allowable dose level (MADL) for lead (0.5 micrograms) and cadmium (4.1 micrograms). CR believes California’s MADL is the most protective methodology available.

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Which dark chocolate bars contain heavy metals?

CR determined that these eight dark chocolate bars were high in cadmium, but not lead:

  • Beyond Good Organic Pure Dark Chocolate, 70% Cocoa
  • Beyond Good Organic Pure Dark Chocolate, 80% Cocoa
  • Equal Exchange Organic Extra Dark Chocolate, 80% Cacao
  • Lindt Excellence Dark Chocolate, 70% Cocoa
  • Scharffen Berger Extra Dark Chocolate, 82% Cacao
  • Alter Eco Organic Dark Chocolate Classic Blackout, 85% Cacao
  • Pascha Organic Very Dark Dark Chocolate, 85% Cacao
  • Dove Promises Deeper Dark Chocolate, 70% Cacao
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These 10 dark chocolate bars were high in lead, but not cadmium:

  • Tony's Chocolonely Dark Chocolate, 70% Cocoa
  • Lily's Extra Dark Chocolate, 70% Cocoa
  • Godiva Signature Dark Chocolate, 72% Cacao
  • Chocolove Strong Dark Chocolate, 70% Cocoa
  • Lindt Excellence Dark Chocolate, 85% Cocoa
  • Endangered Species Bold + Silky Dark Chocolate, 72% Cocoa
  • Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate, 72% Cacao
  • Hu Organic Simple Dark Chocolate, 70% Cacao
  • Chocolove Extreme Dark Chocolate, 88% Cocoa
  • Hershey's Special Dark Mildly Sweet Chocolate

And finally, the researchers detected high levels of both lead and cadmium in these remaining five dark chocolate bars:

  • Theo Organic Pure Dark, 70% Cocoa
  • Trader Joe's The Dark Chocolate Lover's Chocolate, 85% Cacao
  • Theo Organic Extra Dark Pure Dark Chocolate, 85% Cocoa
  • Lily's Extremely Dark Chocolate, 85% Cocoa
  • Green & Black's Organic Dark Chocolate, 70% Cacao
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Dark chocolate without lead and cadmium:

As per CR, these five dark chocolate bars represented the “safer choices,” since they had the lowest lead and cadmium concentrations:

  • Mast Organic Dark Chocolate, 80% Cocoa
  • Taza Chocolate Organic Deliciously Dark Chocolate, 70% Cacao
  • Ghirardelli Intense Dark Chocolate, 86% Cacao
  • Ghirardelli Intense Dark Chocolate Twilight Delight, 72% Cacao
  • Valrhona Abinao Dark Chocolate, 85% Cacao

That said, these options do still contain some lead and cadmium. For more suggestions of chocolates without lead and cadmium, check out this guide from ConsumerLab.com.

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How do lead and cadmium get into chocolate?

Cadmium primarily gets into dark chocolate via the soil that cacao trees are grown in, as per research published in February 2022.

On the contrary, lead typically contaminates dark chocolate after the cacao beans are picked, via lead-filled dirt and dust collecting on the beans as they dry in the sun, as per CR.

Heavy Metals Found in Dark Chocolate
Source: iStock
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Excessive lead and cadmium exposure poses several health risks — but most people need not stop eating chocolate.

Overall, CR’s experts found that for 23 of the above bars, an adult who eats just 1 ounce each day would be consuming a “harmful” level of heavy metals. But what about lead and cadmium can be potentially harmful?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), exposure to significant levels of lead can lead to a number of serious issues, including anemia, weakness, kidney damage, brain damage, and even death, when lead levels are extremely high. For pregnant people, the risks associated with lead exposure is even higher, since lead can go through the and damage a developing baby’s nervous system.

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CR adds that “no amount of [lead] is considered safe,” though cadmium cadmium exposure is considered safe below certain levels.

However, significant exposure to cadmium (which typically happens via occupational exposure) can actually cause cancer, flu-like symptoms, lung damage, and disease of the kidneys, bones, and lungs, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Fortunately, there’s no reason to renounce your taste for dark chocolate, Tunde Akinleye, a food safety researcher who led the CR report, asserts. CR recommends “choosing your dark chocolates wisely” — perhaps that means eating ones that were found to have lower levels of heavy metals.

Toxicologist Michael J. DiBartolomeis, PhD, who has also done research on this topic, agrees; however, he told CR that he does warn children and pregnant people that they should stay away from dark chocolate.

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