Chocolate is hard to hate. While it is true that 10 percent of the population does not particularly like it, the rest love it so much that the average American eats 12 pounds of chocolate a year, and a European eats 15 pounds.
When consumed in moderation and in its purest form, chocolate is packed with antioxidants; it lowers blood pressure and keeps cholesterol levels low. It can help you lose weight by reducing your appetite, and it improves serotonin and dopamine – brain chemicals that make us happy.
Unfortunately, chocolate is not so easy to find pure anymore, and recent lab results have revealed surprisingly high levels of toxic heavy metals in some of the world’s most popular brands. If you want to avoid this nasty surprise in your next chocolate bar, make sure you know what you’re buying before your next purchase.
Sources and negative health effects of lead and cadmium
Recently, a study by As You Sow released results showing that 45 of 70 chocolate bar samples tested, including some organic brands, expose consumers to lead and cadmium above levels considered to be safe in drinking water.
Both lead and cadmium are toxic metals that are unhealthy even at the lowest of doses (even though the World Health Organization (WHO) permits 0.3 mcg of lead per gram of cocoa).
Lead is located in many places in our environment: air and drinking water, soil, dust, paint, cosmetics, contaminated herbal products from China, children’s toys, jewelry, ceramics, imported canned food, and many other sources.
Chronic exposure to this metal leads to anemia, weakness, kidney damage, and even brain damage. Its presence in our environments may be one of the causes for the rising numbers of autoimmune diseases, dementia, kidney problems, and cardiovascular diseases.
Children are most at risk due to their still developing and growing bodies and sensitive nervous systems. Lead can alter their brains and damage many organs. It can put them at risk for lower IQ, behavior problems, hyperactivity, and slowed growth.
Cadmium is not much better but less common in the environment. Chronic exposure to cadmium can create serious problems in kidneys, lungs and bones; leading to heart diseases, osteoporosis, and potentially even cancers.
Why lead and cadmium is in chocolate
So why do many chocolate brands contain lead and cadmium? A study by As You Sow, an environmental and social advocacy organization, determined that lead and cadmium contaminates chocolate through the following routes:
- Soil contamination due to man-made pollution
- Direct application of pesticides (lead and cadmium), fertilizers (cadmium) and sewage sludge disposal (lead and cadmium)
- Processing: Fermentation, drying the beans, manufacturing (drying, refining, cinching), shipping, handing, packaging.
The European Union has developed guidelines for cadmium exposure: no more than 0.10 mg/kg of cadmium for milk chocolate, and no more than 0.30 mg/kg of cadmium for darker chocolates.
In the US, there is still no limit set for these metals in chocolate. However, in California, chocolate makers are required to put a warning label on their products if they contain more than 4.1 mg of cadmium per daily serving.
Also, the FDA has placed a limit of no more than 0.1 ppm of lead in children’s candy. However, the US has a long way to go to make chocolate safer.
Until it is, it is important to know which brands are best to buy and which to avoid.
Brands of chocolate to avoid
As You Sow laboratory-tested 70 chocolate products, and the results were unsettling: 45 of them contained higher levels of lead and cadmium that would be safe in our drinking water. The brands that tested unsafe included:
- Earth Circle Organics
- Endangered Species
- Equal Exchange
- Newman’s Own Organics
- Ritter Sport
- Trader Joe’s
- Whole Foods
Finding lead-free and cadmium-free chocolate
Keep in mind that dark chocolate has higher amounts of lead and cadmium because it has higher percentages of cocoa than milk chocolate. This can be an issue for true chocolate lovers, but it is not an unsolvable problem.
As seen from many studies, the majority of lead and cadmium make their way into chocolate products during processing. Therefore, raw chocolate has the best chance of being lead and cadmium-free.
Some of the chocolates that tested free of metals by As You Sow are:
- Green & Black’s Organic Milk Chocolate (34% Cacao)
- Toblerone of Switzerland Milk Chocolate with Honey and Almond Nougat
- Wild Harvest Organic Rich Chocolate Hot Cocoa Mix
- HNINA Raw, Vegan Chocolates With Unpasteurized, Sprouted Nuts