March 2023

Safety Alert: Heavy Metals in Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate has long been touted for its heart health benefits. But a recent Consumer Reports analysis on dark chocolate products is muddying its image as a healthy treat. Here’s what you should know.

One ounce of most dark chocolate products tested contain lead and cadmium in amounts above the maximum allowable levels for California. And cadmium levels specifically seem to increase as the percentage of cocoa increases – so the darker the chocolate, the more likely it contains higher levels of heavy metals. This isn’t limited to dark chocolate products in the US – it appears to be an issue worldwide. The heavy metals are absorbed from the soil, so the amount varies by geographic location.

Heavy metal exposure is concerning for all patients, but particularly for children and during pregnancy and breast-feeding. Consuming any amount of dark chocolate might be unsafe for kids. Kids are at an increased risk for adverse effects from these heavy metals. Large amounts of cocoa should be avoided while pregnant or breast-feeding due to both the caffeine and heavy metal content.

Confusing this matter further is that the FDA just approved a qualified health claim stating that cocoa flavanols may reduce the risk of heart disease. This claim is reserved for products that contain at least 4% of natural antioxidants called flavanols, which are found in the actual cocoa. The higher the percentage of cocoa, or the darker the chocolate, the more flavanols. These new concerns about heavy metals raise questions about whether the risks may outweigh potential benefits for some patients.

We’ll continue to update you as more data come out. For now, kids should skip the dark chocolate. And advise caution during pregnancy and breast-feeding. Remind everyone else that moderation is key with all foods, but especially in cases like this. Check out our recently updated monograph to learn more.

The information in this brief report is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions. Copyright © 2024 NatMed. Commercial distribution or reproduction prohibited. NatMed is the leading provider of high-quality, evidence-based, clinically-relevant information on natural medicine, dietary supplements, herbs, vitamins, minerals, functional foods, diets, complementary practices, CAM modalities, exercises and medical conditions. Monograph sections include interactions with herbs, drugs, foods and labs, contraindications, depletions, dosing, toxicology, adverse effects, pregnancy and lactation data, synonyms, safety and effectiveness.