Chocolate has been one of the most popular gifts for the holiday season.
However, in recent years, there has been an increased concern over the
levels of cadmium and lead found in some commercial chocolate products.
While these metals in chocolate are small, they can still pose a health
risk, particularly to children.
Do you know what cadmium and lead are and their relationship to Chocolate?
Cadmium, a heavy metal, is a highly toxic metal that can pose serious health risks. However, some sources suggest that it can be found in chocolate. This can produce serious effects on the children that consume it. Some of the symptoms of cadmium poisoning in children are described below.
How can cadmium and lead end up in my chocolate?
Cadmium and lead can end up in chocolate in a few different ways.
The first is through the soil in which the cacao plants are grown. These metals can be naturally occurring in the soil, or they can come from industrial pollution. The second way is through manufacturing, where the metals can be introduced through contaminated equipment.
After harvest, lead entered the cacao, largely on the cocoa bean's shell, according to Consumer Reports' study. In terms of cadmium, cacao trees absorb the metal from the soil, and as the tree ages, it builds up in the cacao beans.
Several soils in various geographical areas have been found to contain these metals in varying quantities. According to a 2018 FDA research, South American chocolate has greater cadmium than chocolate from Africa. As this data from Clima-LoCa points out, there is significant regional diversity in the production of chocolate in Latin America, with hotspots producing higher volumes. Hence, not all chocolate from Latin America will necessarily have higher levels than chocolate from Africa, but it is still important to note.
Both the Consumer Reports research and the FDA analysis from 2018 state that milk chocolate has less heavy metal contamination because it contains less cacao. While there isn't a set line between dark and milk chocolate, black chocolates are typically thought to start around 65% cacao, according to Dr. Michael J. DiBartolomeis, a toxicologist who has studied the presence of heavy metals in chocolate for Consumer Reports.
How can I make chocolate without cadmium and lead?
The best way to avoid giving chocolate contaminated with cadmium and lead is to buy products certified by a third-party organization like the Rainforest Alliance or UTZ. These organizations have strict standards for cadmium and lead levels in cacao products. You can also check the labels of chocolate products to see if they list the concentrations of these metals.
While small amounts of cadmium and lead are not harmful, exposure to high levels can lead to serious health problems. Children are especially vulnerable to the effects of heavy metals, as their bodies are still developing.
The good news is that steps can be taken to reduce exposure to cadmium and lead. Here are some tips on how to keep these heavy metals out of chocolate:
Choose dark chocolate that has little or no heavy metals.
Consumer Reports examined 28 dark chocolate bars; only five were deemed safe for consumption. Appreciate those and stay away from the others. (In case you were curious, the investigation found no change in the amounts of heavy metals in organic chocolate.) The cadmium and lead levels in various chocolate brands are measured by As You Sow's chocolate tracker, a fantastic tool for finding safe chocolates.
Consider chocolate a delight.
Remember that harmful levels of these heavy metals might accumulate in your body due to repeated use. Thus, if you can't imagine not eating dark chocolate, only consume a small amount. Melough advises limiting your daily intake to no more than one ounce to avoid saturated fat and heavy metals. According to a 2022 study, all you need to consume daily is one-third of an ounce of dark chocolate to get its health benefits.
Consume dark chocolate that has a lower cacao content.
As previously indicated, testing conducted by Consumer Reports and the FDA indicate that chocolate bars it tested included cadmium levels tend to be lower on chocolates with lower cacao percentages. Decide for 65% if you choose between 65% and 80%. Regrettably, the percentage of cacao does not appear to be affected by lead levels.
Purchase the milk chocolate.
Since milk chocolate normally refers to anything with a cocoa content lower than 65%, it will often contain fewer heavy metals. Just be aware that you might not receive the same health advantages as you would from dark chocolate and that you would be consuming significantly more added sugars.
Reduce your intake of food if you're a child or pregnant.
Melough advised the New York Times that due to the higher risk of injury from heavy metals during the early phases of human development, women who are pregnant or nursing should think about consuming dark chocolate just once or twice a week. Since milk chocolate is generally preferred by children, this shouldn't be too problematic.
What dosage of lead and cadmium is considered safe?
Heavy metals like lead and cadmium are both present in nature, but that doesn't imply they're healthy substances to consume. Certain heavy metals genuinely have no purpose in the human body. Dr. Katarzyna Kordas, associate professor of environmental health at the University at Buffalo School, told WebMD's Nourish that they shouldn't be there and that some of them accumulate.
Yet, because the majority of us can't (or don't want to) give up dark chocolate overnight, here are some statistics for you: According to the New York Times, the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry advises a "minimum risk limit" of around six micrograms of cadmium per day for a 130-pound person and 21 micrograms per day for the same person under European safety guidelines. To put that into perspective, the 2018 FDA report estimates that a one ounce portion of dark chocolate has roughly 7.6 micrograms of cadmi.