Dark Chocolate Gets A Valentine’s Day Massacre, Thanks to CR:
In general, we like to think that the things we buy at the store are safe.
And every day we put a lot of trust in producers to that effect.
But once in awhile, a piece of research comes out to call that into question.
Not that this one is as crazy as the work showing most chemicals we use are not thoroughly-tested.
But it’s close, as an investigation in the recent past by Consumer Reports put a real spectre over this year’s Valentine’s Day.
Because the dark chocolate a lot of people were going to exchange turned out to have unsafe levels of heavy metals in it.
The story gets still worse because even though CR’s print article just went out, these investigations have been going on for years…
The Short Answer:
- We tend to assume everything for sale in stores (except quad-bikes) is safe.
- That goes double for supermarkets.
- But it may not be as true as we thought.
- Consumer Reports found there are contamination problems with dark chocolate.
- They tested 28 different bars from many different brands.
- Only 5 had levels of cadmium & lead low-enough to be considered moderately-safe under California limits.
- Even expensive chocolates had the same problems.
- What’s even more striking for chocolate lovers is tests results like these have been coming in since at least 2014.
- Before the industry reaches out and pays farmers to implement the cleanup, there are only a few solutions.
- Eat less chocolate, with lower cocoa content, from the list of brands & products with the best ratings.
- As You Sow’s testing results can guide these decisions even better.
- Problem levels of lead & cadmium are not isolated to one brand, product, or concentration, so it’s better to go granular and re-check their tables often.
- Although heavy metal contamination is not limited just to chocolate, there are still other foods that have similar helpful compounds in them to chocolate and can be good substitutes.
Read on to find out the details…
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So one of the problems that comes with researching in the Health & Wellness space is that despite how much you go on,
Many times common themes and ideas repeat, along with similar recommendations.
This can make for great lateral-exploration at times, but on the other side of that, old favorites are returned-to a lot.
And dark chocolate is certainly one of them.
Even wellness buddha Dr. Andrew Weil himself has been recommending dark chocolate for at least a few decades.
So imagine a lot of people’s surprise when CR’s bombshell dropped.
And when you dig into the resources, it turns out they go a lot farther back than Februrary 2023 or December 2022.
For the record, Consumer Reports tested 28 different dark chocolate bars across a host of different brands.
Twenty-three of those would put you over every advisable consumption limit for heavy metals, no matter how much you love Iron Maiden.
What’s worse, is that’s just for a 1 ounce serving of the stuff and the metal could be either lead, cadmium, or both.
Take that, Bruce Dickinson!
CR ran their tests using California’s maximum allowable dosage levels for the two metals, because shockingly there are no Federal standards written so far for what’s safe and what’s not.
I can’t believe we’re having a discussion in this way, but CR found the 5 “safe” dark chocolate bars had anywhere from:
1) 14-63% the CA MADL for Lead
2) 40-96% the CA MADL for Cadmium
And as wild as it sounds to be thinking about how much heavy metals you might like in your snack food,
The other test results were even worse.
Even classy stuff like Beyond Good, Sharfen Berger, Lindt, and Alter Eco had cadmium levels from 112%-253% of California’s limits.
And Tony’s, Lily’s, Godiva, Chocolove, Trader Joe’s, (you’ll need a certified check for that first, sir) Hü, and Hershey’s all had lead levels from 134%-265% of the scale too.
Notably, Hershey’s came in lead-dead-last at 265% when let’s face it their “dark” chocolate isn’t all that freaking dark.
Then to deliver the coup de grace, bars from Lily’s, Theo, Trader Joe’s and Green&Black were high in both contaminants.
Lead levels there ranged from 120%-143% and cadmium from 101%-229%.
So to answer the most strident question you might have first, only a basic rule of thumb would be to reduce exposure.
Start off by going for lower cocoa content, and fewer times a week.
Terrible news for chocoholics, I know, but apparently a necessary fix.
But there is a really unfortunate footnote to this advice I’ll get to just a bit later on.
You can also increase your diet variety and eat other foods that are high in the antioxidants, polyphenols, etc. that were in the chocolate.
The other part of what can be done about it comes from the details in As You Sow’s research on cacao production.
It boils down to:
1) Planting new trees that will take up less cadmium from the soil than older ones.
2) Shielding extracted cacao pods from dust in the air that carries the lead.
2a) Rinsing or cleaning cacao pods in the receiving areas of candy factories.
Hopefully, the industry will catch up to the recommendations of researchers and extend funding to the farmers so this can all happen ASAP.
But wait, it gets worse.
Because using the basic rule of thumb for consumption really doesn’t work as well as you’d hope.
The key lies a little bit hidden in the Consumer Reports piece.
What it shows is dispersion across several brands, no matter how fancy.
That little bit of insight leads us over to the real MVPs of the story, a non-profit food safety group called, “As You Sow”.
And if you look at their chocolate toxicity test results page, you can clearly see a more expanded version of what was only hinted-at in CR’s report.
There are problems all over the place, and also within single brands.
So buying a bar from expensive brands like Mast (hand over the bearer-bonds first, please) is not a unilateral guarantee.
Even Ghirardelli, which got some of the best overall results in AYS’s tests had a few bad ones in bars that were lower in percentage than the top end.
On the other side of that, it would seem the same testing revealed not much is safe from Trader Joe’s at all.
So in short, you really might consider applying all three filters:
1) Rule of thumb
2) Brand selection
3) Brand>Product selection from AYS’s results page
To broaden things out a bit more, these types of problems are not restricted to just dark chocolate.
All kinds of foods grown & pre-processed (esp. in third world countries) have problems with contamination, too.
Instant coffee turns out to be a little bit higher in lead than it should be, specifically the stuff that originates from Colombia, which is also the source of one of Trader Joe’s worst-offending chocolate bars).
But on the other hand, it would seem for now that standard ground & brewed coffee is fairly low in heavy metals, especially if it’s brewed with a paper filter.
The Clean Label Project put out a study showing almost all plant-based protein powders were contaminated with lead and cadmium also,
Even though the process to extract the protein from the plants can be blamed for the concentration of those contaminants.
On the other side of the world, coffee’s arch-nemesis Tea is also the subject of concern in the same type of studies as CR & AYS.
Depending on where it comes from, it can be high in Lead (Japan), Cadmium (India), and due to large-scale industrial contamination, tea from China might have anything in it, starting with Manganese & Aluminum.
There is however a chance that the filter-paper from tea bags may catch some of the heavy metals just as it does with coffee during the brewing process.
So in closing, it’s a huge bummer to see something so beloved turn out to be such a sketchy proposition.
It may be only a small comfort that the antioxidant benefits for it can be had for just 1/3oz/day.
But thanks to research groups like Consumer Reports, at least we have both consumer ratings info.
Thanks to As You Sow, we have real test data and also some kind of industry watchdog and recommendations for fixing the problems, too.
But until the big producers reach out and help the farmers do better where they are,
I think we all have to be a lot more careful about the things we eat,
Including children and pregnant women who should not be eating dark chocolate at all.
PS: Good luck telling your Exorcist-level rage-hungry wife she’s not allowed to have dark chocolate while she’s pregnant, though!
• Source(s): Consumer Reports | As You Sow
• More Coverage: AYS Fixing The Problem | AYS Chocolate Toxicity Tables
• Other Studies:
•FDA – Contaminants in US Food
•Clima Loca Cadmium Cocoa
•FoodAddCont – Cadmium and lead in cocoa powder and chocolate products in the US Market
•EnvHlthPers – Lead Contamination in Cocoa and Cocoa Products: Isotopic Evidence of Global Contamination