The Little-Known Downside To Dark Chocolate
By Fiona Riddle
Chocolate is undeniably delicious and a staple in many diets, especially dark chocolate as it is lower in sugar and has many health benefits as well as the potential to boost mood through its serotonin content and provide a source of stable energy during physical exercise. The main ingredient, cacao, is extremely nutrient dense. Among the many different minerals and nutrients in cacao, there is a rich concentration of flavanols, which are essentially plant nutrient compounds. The consumption of these cocoa flavanols has been shown to reduce age-related cognitive decline.
Research also suggests that adding these flavanols to your diet by enjoying cocoa products might reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and premature cognitive decline. These benefits are most likely due to its positive effects on the vascular endothelium, the protective barrier in the interior lining of blood vessels. In other words, eating chocolate may protect your arteries and help to keep your brain sharp as you age.
“…many popular dark chocolate brands contain lead and cadmium, heavy metals that are toxic when ingested.”
A recent investigation by Consumer Reports, however, discovered that many popular dark chocolate brands contain lead and cadmium, heavy metals that are toxic when ingested and that can lead to a host of health problems. Among the 28 bars tested, all contained heavy metals, and 23 were found to have dangerously high levels that exceed the daily limit of heavy metals from food by public health officials, specifically in California. These popular brands include Hershey-owned Lily’s, Trader Joe’s, and Theo Chocolate.
“Children are at an even greater risk for negative consequences of these heavy metals because their bodies and brains are still developing.”
Studies have found any amount of lead exposure to pose numerous health risks ranging from more benign gastrointestinal distress to more severe neurological issues and even a “risk of premature birth or of babies with a low birth weight” in pregnant women with elevated blood levels. Similarly, exposure to cadmium over an extended period of time, either from inhalation or ingestion, “leads to cancer and organ system toxicity such as skeletal, urinary, reproductive, cardiovascular, central and peripheral nervous, and respiratory systems.” Children are at an even greater risk for negative consequences of these heavy metals because they are much smaller, and their bodies and brains are still developing.
While lead and cadmium are both toxic for humans through ingestion or exposure, they are naturally occurring minerals in the earth’s crust. People are often exposed to these compounds through contaminated food and water and by inhaling polluted air. Since cadmium is present in the soil, it works its way into the actual cacao plant through the root system. Lead, while also present in soil and water, may also contaminate the cacao beans through polluted air and dust after they’ve been picked.
“As long as you do not eat massive amounts of these dark chocolates frequently, you should be fine.”
So should you give up dark chocolate for good? As long as you do not eat massive amounts of these dark chocolates frequently, you should be fine, but it is important to continue to be an informed consumer and demand better from these companies. Consumer Reports, for example, has called for these brands to reduce the amounts of lead and cadmium in their dark chocolate products by Valentine’s Day of 2023. Unfortunately, many other common and healthy food products contain heavy metals as well including rice, fish, leafy greens and protein powders.
It is possible that many chronic health conditions may be linked to or exacerbated by heavy metal toxicity after years of consuming and using contaminated products and living in polluted environments. These heavy metals tend to accumulate in our bodies and not all of them are easily expelled without focused efforts.
“Luckily, sweating has been found to be an effective method for excreting toxins, like heavy metals, from the body.”
If you are concerned about heavy metal toxicity, rather than making assumptions, it is always wise to test your levels and work with a expert who can help. Luckily, sweating has been found to be an effective method for excreting toxins, like heavy metals, from the body. Making sure you sweat more frequently, either through exercise or sauna usage, can help to prevent the negative consequences of chronically ingesting these heavy metals. Additionally, if you choose to continue consuming dark chocolate, minimize possible health risks by opting for options that were not found to have heightened levels of lead and cadmium such as Mast, Taza Chocolate and Ghirardelli.
Fiona Riddle is a Certified Health Coach with a degree in Psychology from UCLA. She is passionate about a holistic approach to health when working with her private coaching clients. She is an avid cook, constantly creating and sharing new recipes on her Instagram (@feelgoodwithfi) to showcase simple clean home cooking. She has helped clients take their health into their own hands and successfully boost their energy and confidence through sustainable lifestyle changes. www.feelgoodwithfi.com