Like many other people on this planet, I absolutely love chocolate. Hot chocolate, chocolate bars, chocolate drizzle, chocolate fondue — you name it, and I’m likely interested in it. After all, it’s delicious, and in some cases even nutritious if it’s organic and raw cacao.
Although not listed among the ingredients, many chocolate bars actually contain the heavy metals lead and cadmium. Despite the fact that they’re naturally occurring elements that are absorbed by the cacao plant, they pose some serious threats to the human body.
The Study That Discovered Heavy Metals in Popular Chocolate
California-based health advocacy group As You Sow tested 50 cocoa products by an independent lab, discovering that tons of them contain concerning amounts of lead and cadmium. Some of the products that tested positive for these heavy metals, moreover, had quantities above the state’s limits, though their guidelines are stricter than federal ones.
To be exact, the group found lead levels in chocolate to be nine times the daily amount the state of California considers “safe” to avoid reproductive damage. The group also discovered cadmium up to seven times California’s recommended maximum daily exposure levels. However, keep in mind that these “guidelines” are just that; they’re only guidelines, they’re not actually enforceable by law per se.
As You Sow’s findings read as follows:
We found that 45 of the 70 chocolate products contain lead and/or cadmium above the safe harbor threshold of California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986 (Proposition 65). Based on these results, we have filed notices with 18 manufacturers, including Trader Joe’s, Hershey’s, Mondelēz, Lindt, Whole Foods, Kroger, Godiva, See’s Candies, Mars, Theo Chocolate, Equal Exchange, Ghirardelli, Earth Circle Organics, and more, for failing to provide the legally required warning to consumers that the products contain cadmium or lead, or both.
California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, otherwise known as Proposition 65, states that consumer products need to specifically state on the label that they contain chemicals in amounts that can significantly increase risk of cancer or result in birth or reproductive issues.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maintains that there is no safe level of lead for children. Many scientists maintain the same recommendation that there is no safe level of lead exposure for adults either, which you can read more about in the following studies here and here. It’s been found to impair IQ as well as affect one’s ability to focus. And unfortunately, these heavy metals don’t just pass right through your body; about 50% gets absorbed into the bloodstream.
The U.S. government maintains that small children should not ingest more than 6 micrograms of lead per day from candy; however, the Environmental Protection Agency classifies it as a probable human carcinogen and even small amounts of cadmium can result in kidney damage over time. Do you really want to be risking ingesting any cadmium at all?
A statement by As You Sow reads: “Lead is linked to a variety of neurological impairments, including learning disabilities, seizures, and a lower IQ. Developing fetuses and children are especially vulnerable to lead exposure because their brains are in critical growth and development stages.”
In response to As You Sow’s publication, the FDA stated: “FDA monitors lead levels in the U.S. food supply and has established guidance levels for lead in some foods, such as candy.”
Again, these are only guidance levels, which are not enforced by law. Some of the companies implicated in the study also replied, with perhaps the most disheartening response coming from Hershey, who stated: “People have been eating cocoa and chocolate safely for centuries. Consumers can rest assured that our products are safe, and that our industry adheres to all government regulations.”
Yes, cocoa and chocolate products are not always damaging to the body, and in some cases are very healthy, but we’re not talking about products like Hershey’s Kisses. Just because these are naturally occurring elements doesn’t make them healthy. This is an irresponsible argument to make.
You may not think these small quantities of heavy metals are a big deal, but what happens when it all adds up? Are you really willing to risk something as important as your health for a conventional chocolate bar? The choice is yours!
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