For some people, there’s no sweet indulgence in the world that compares to sinking your teeth into a piece of chocolate. Unlike other decadent desserts, research has even found that savoring a few squares can have some serious health benefits, including lowering the risk of heart disease or stroke. But before tackling another craving, you may want to check which brand you’re biting into. That’s because a new report just found there are high levels of lead in several popular chocolate bars—and authorities say even just one ounce could hurt you. Read on to see what experts say you should do about your next cocoa craving.
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Some people with a serious sweet tooth joke that it can be “dangerous” to keep chocolate around. But according to new research, your go-to bar might also be loaded with potentially harmful components.
In a report published by Consumer Reports on Dec. 15, a team of scientists tested the amount of dangerous heavy metals lead and cadmium in different brands of dark chocolate bars. The researchers chose to use California’s maximum allowable dose level (MADL) to determine potential risk as there are currently no federal limits in place, which are set at .5 micrograms for lead and 4.1 micrograms for cadmium. These levels were established by Proposition 65, which requires businesses in the state to provide warnings about exposure to chemicals that could cause serious health issues.
After analysis, results showed that 23 out of 28 brands tested contained more than the daily MADL of either of the dangerous heavy metals in just one ounce of chocolate—including five that were found to surpass the daily recommended limits of both.
The Consumer Reports study found that 11 of the bars analyzed contained high lead levels. They include Tony’s Chocolonely Dark Chocolate 70 Percent Cocoa with 134 percent of California’s MADL; Lily’s Extra Dark Chocolate 70 Percent Cocoa at 144 percent; Godiva Signature Dark Chocolate 72 Percent Cacao at 146 percent; Chocolove Strong Dark Chocolate 70 Percent Cocoa at 152 percent; Lindt Excellence Dark Chocolate 85 Percent Cocoa at 166 percent; Endangered Species Bold + Silky Dark Chocolate 72 Percent Cocoa at 181 percent; Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate 72 Percent Cacao at 192 percent; Hu Organic Simple Dark Chocolate 70 Percent Cacao at 210 percent; Chocolove Extreme Dark Chocolate 88 Percent Cocoa at 240 percent; and Hershey’s Special Dark Mildly Sweet Chocolate at 265 percent.
Nearly half a dozen of the other brands tested were found to have high levels of both lead and cadmium. They include Theo Organic Pure Dark 70 Percent Cocoa at 120 percent and 142 percent of the MADL for lead and cadmium, respectively; Trader Joe’s The Dark Chocolate Lover’s Chocolate 85 Percent Cacao at 127 percent and 229 percent; Theo Organic Extra Dark Pure Dark Chocolate 85 Percent Cocoa at 140 percent and 189 percent; Lily’s Extremely Dark Chocolate 85 Percent Cocoa at 143 percent and 101 percent; and Green & Black’s Organic Dark Chocolate 70 Percent Cacao at 143 percent and 181 percent.
California’s current MADLs were established as part of a settlement in 2018 between the National Confectioners Association—which represents companies including Godiva, Hershey’s, and Lindt—and As You Sow, a nonprofit organization advocating for enforcement of Proposition 65, NPR reports. The association responded to the latest study by reaffirming the chocolate bars’ quality and adherence to standards.
“The products cited in this study are in compliance with strict quality and safety requirements, and the levels provided to us by Consumer Reports testing are well under the limits established by our settlement,” Christopher Gindlesperger, a spokesperson for the National Confectioners Association, said in a statement to NPR. “Food safety and product quality remain our highest priorities, and we remain dedicated to being transparent and socially responsible.”
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The presence of these heavy metals in chocolate raises concern due to the potential health problems long-term exposure to them can cause. They pose an especially high risk for children and pregnant people, as lead and cadmium can lead to developmental complications that can damage the brain and affect development, according to the study’s lead researcher Tunde Akinleye. But lead and cadmium can still cause issues for adults, including high blood pressure, immune system suppression, neurological problems, kidney damage, and reproductive issues.
And dark chocolate isn’t the only potential source of lead and cadmium in your diet. They can also be found in items like spinach, carrots, and sweet potatoes, according to Consumer Reports. Experts warn this can make it harder to cut back on foods that could be exposing you to the dangerous heavy metals.
Even though the study’s findings may come as a shock, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have to ditch your dark chocolate stash just yet. Health experts say that so long as the product is consumed in moderation and as part of a healthy diet, the sweet treats can still be considered OK.
“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,” Andrew Stolbach, MD, a toxicologist with Johns Hopkins Medicine, told NPR. “If you make sure that the rest of your diet is good and sufficient in calcium and iron, you protect yourself even more by preventing absorption of some lead and cadmium in your diet.”
The Consumer Reports team also concluded that since five of the bars they tested were within the MADL safe range, it was proof that dark chocolates could make their way to the market without potentially harmful levels of heavy metals. The team suggests seeking out brands shown to have lower levels of cadmium and lead, while avoiding giving kids or pregnant people too much dark chocolate and occasionally soothing your craving with milk chocolate.