Consumer Reports (CR) found heavy metals in dark chocolate bars from various brands. Although dark chocolate can contain health benefits, these products can potentially cause many health issues. The Consumer Reports researchers tested 28 dark chocolate bars and found cadmium and lead in all of them. These included products from five of the most well-known chocolate brands in the U.S.: Hershey, Trader Joe’s, Godiva, Lindt, and Dove.
Heavy Metals Found in 28 Dark Chocolate Bars
Experts explain that for twenty-three of the bars, even an ounce a day could put a person at risk. Five of the bars had high levels for both cadmium and lead, while others were high in only one, and five had lower levels of both. But consistent exposure to even small amounts of heavy metals for an extended period of time could lead to various health problems. These include developmental issues in young children and fetuses, hypertension, kidney damage, and problems with the nervous system, reproductive system, and immune system.
Unfortunately, heavy metals in chocolate are not a new discovery. Chocolate is made from the cacao bean, which is made of cocoa butter and solids. Cocoa solids contain flavanols, the antioxidants linked to lower cholesterol and inflammation, the basis behind dark chocolate’s healthy reputation. However, cocoa solids also are where the heavy metals are found, meaning cadmium and lead may also be found in products with cocoa powder, like cake mixes or hot chocolate mixes.
But dark chocolate has higher levels of heavy metals opposed to milk chocolate because of its higher cacao content. So previous research found that cadmium can enter the cacao plants through the soil, and lead-filled dust can settle onto the beans after they are harvested and are drying out. Therefore, experts call upon chocolate manufacturers to implement changes to avoid or minimize this kind of contamination.
The Dark Chocolate Bars With the Most Heavy Metals
There are no federal limits to heavy metals levels in food, so the researchers based their results on California’s stated maximum allowable doses. These five products showed high levels for both lead and cadmium:
- Theo organic pure dark 70% cacao
- Theo organic pure dark chocolate 85% cacao,
- Trader Joe’s dark chocolate 85% cacao,
- Lily’s extremely dark chocolate 85% cacao
- Green & Black’s organic dark chocolate 70% cacao.
Additionally, there are 10 bars high in lead, including:
- Hershey’s Special Dark Mildly Sweet Chocolate
- Lindt Excellence Dark Chocolate 85% Cocoa
- Godiva Signature Dark Chocolate 72% Cacao
And there were 8 high in cadmium, including:
- Dove Promises Deeper Dark Chocolate 70% Cacao
- Beyond Good Organic Pure Dark Chocolate 70% Cocoa
- Pascha Organic Very Dark Dark Chocolate 85% Cacao
Since these legal limits for heavy metal were exceeded, the products should’ve come with warning labels. “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,” said the association. “Food safety and product quality remain our highest priorities and we remain dedicated to being transparent and socially responsible.” 
Soon after the report’s release, Trader Joe’s got two proposed class-action lawsuits for failing to warn its consumers about the heavy metals in two of their products. The lawsuits allege that the company was aware of the content and was deliberately deceptive since consumers would want to pay less if they knew about the heavy metals. Furthermore, one plaintiff, New York City resident Tamakia Herd, alleged that by selling the products, Trader Joe’s “chose to ignore the health of the consuming public in pursuit of profit.” 
Hershey also received a class-action lawsuit from customer Christopher Lazazzaro, who said the metals posed a “serious health risk” and sought at least $5 million in damages. He called their marketing “deceptive and misleading” for not disclosing the lead and cadmium on the packaging. 
Soon after, CNBC Make It contacted Hershey and received a statement on the matter: “We do not add cadmium or lead to our products, and we work closely with our suppliers to minimize their presence in our products. Consumers can rest assured that they may continue to enjoy Hershey products safely.” 
How to Consume Dark Chocolate Safely
As a result, Michael DiBartolomeis, Ph.D., a toxicologist and former official at the California Department of Public Health, cautions pregnant women and young children from eating dark chocolate. However, he doesn’t say everyone should avoid it entirely; just be aware of the risks and eat smaller amounts. Firstly, chose dark chocolate with the lowest levels of heavy metals, and CR found five chocolates with relatively low levels of lead and cadmium. These include:
- Mast Organic Dark Chocolate 80% Cocoa
- Ghirardelli Intense Dark Chocolate 86% Cacao
- Valrhona Abinao Dark Chocolate 85% Cacao
- Taza Chocolate Organic Deliciously Dark Chocolate 70% Cacao
- Ghirardelli Intense Dark Chocolate Twilight Delight 72% Cacao
Secondly, think of dark chocolate as a treat instead of a snack. After all, heavy metals appear in other important foods like spinach, sweet potatoes, and carrots. Health issues tend to arise when consuming heavy metals over a long period of time. So eat dark chocolate on occasion. “Having a serving a few days a week, especially with a product that has lower levels, means you can eat dark chocolate without worrying unduly,” says CR’s Tunde Akinleye, who oversaw the chocolate tests.
Moreover, opt for a more sweet version for untested chocolate bars, like 70% dark chocolate over 80%. It’s not a perfect solution, but cadmium levels often correlate with the cacao percentage. And while you’re at it, have milk chocolate instead occasionally; it has a lot more dairy and sugar, but it’s more likely to have fewer heavy metals. Remember, CR found that organic chocolate was just as likely to contain lead and cadmium as other bars. 
Keep Reading: It’s time to put cancer warning labels on alcohol, experts say
- “Study Finds High Levels of Heavy Metals in Dark Chocolate.” Everyday Health. Lisa Rapaport. December 20, 2022
- “Trader Joe’s is being sued after tests suggested some of its dark chocolate contains potentially unsafe levels of lead and cadmium.” Insider. Grace Dean. January 6, 2023
- “Hershey is being sued after tests showed its dark chocolate contained ‘dangerous and harmful’ lead and cadmium.” Insider. Grace Dean. December 30, 2022
- “5 brands—including Trader Joe’s—whose dark chocolate tested high for lead, cadmium.” CNBC Make It. Renée Onque. January 19, 2023
- “Lead and Cadmium Could Be in Your Dark Chocolate.” Consumer Reports. Kevin Loria. December 15, 2022