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Lead and Cadmium in Dark Chocolate? Who Should Be Concerned and Why

March 10, 2023

Once the candy store’s healthier option, dark chocolate’s reputation suffered a hit from news it contains lead and cadmium.

“This is certainly a concerning finding and something consumers should take seriously,” notes Mariam Syed, DO, a family medicine provider with the Hartford HealthCare Medical Group in Westport.

Is it time to rethink your candy choices? Dr. Syed explains the risks of ingesting lead and cadmium and who should be concerned.

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It’s not one specific brand of chocolate that’s affected.

Consumer Reports tested 28 popular dark chocolate brands, and found that all of them contained some level of lead and cadmium. Eating just one ounce a day of 23 of those bars would raise an adult’s level of lead and cadmium to a harmful level.

The metals are found in dark chocolate due to the harvesting of cocoa, one of its main ingredients, from fields near contaminated soil.

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Chronic exposure to these metals can impact your health.

While finding bits of fruit, nuts or caramel inside chocolate can be a treat, Dr. Syed says ingesting cadmium and lead is “detrimental to the human body,” especially for young children and pregnant women.

“Chronic exposure to both of these heavy metals, even at low doses, can accumulate over time and lead to significant adverse effects on the person’s health,” she explains.

Toxicity from lead and cadmium can lead to dysfunction of the:

  • Kidneys
  • Heart
  • Lungs
  • Brain

“Research also shows an increase in mortality in people with significant exposure to these heavy metals,” Dr. Syed says.

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Pregnant women are particularly at risk

The metals can cross the placenta during pregnancy and be toxic to a developing fetus, potentially leading to birth defects,” she continues. This can happen with even mild elevations in blood lead levels in the pregnant woman.

In children, ingesting dark chocolate containing cadmium or lead can affect their cognitive function. It can also cause:

  • Seizures
  • Altered mental status
  • Kidney dysfunction

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Advice for parents

In general, Dr. Syed says parents should limit their children’s chocolate consumption, encouraging them to choose fruit, yogurt or homemade smoothies instead.

“Not only does that decrease exposure to potentially harmful toxins, but it also encourages healthy lifestyle choices that can impact their future health,” she explains.

It’s a similar conversation she has with patients regularly to help them avoid obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

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