Why you should think twice before eating dark chocolate



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Has someone gifted you dark chocolate this festive season? You may need to check the amount of metals contained in it.

A new report shows that some of the dark chocolates available in the market globally have excess lead and cadmium metals which may be harmful to your health.

The report was released by a US-based research organisation called Consumer Reports after testing 28 types of dark chocolate and found 23 of the samples had high levels of the two heavy metals.

Dr Michael DiBartolomeis, a toxicologist, told Consumer Reports that children and pregnant women should be warned against taking dark chocolate but other people need to be aware of the risks and only take in moderation.

“Calculating the exact amount of dark chocolate that’s risky to eat is complicated. That’s because heavy metal levels can vary, people have different risk levels, and chocolate is just one potential source of heavy metal exposure. But experts say that by being mindful of the risks, you can still enjoy dark chocolate while minimising the potential harms,” explains Consumer Reports.

This finding is contrary to what experts have always said — that dark chocolate, compared to milk chocolate, is believed to have better health benefits.

“Dark chocolate’s reputation as a relatively healthy treat stems mostly from the cocoa solids. These are packed with flavanols, which are antioxidants linked to improved blood vessel function, reduced inflammation, and lower cholesterol,” explains Consumer Reports.

“Dark chocolate is also lower in sugar and higher in fibre than milk chocolate, and it has magnesium and potassium. Unfortunately, cocoa solids are also where heavy metals, especially cadmium, lurk. That makes it tricky to balance dark chocolate’s risks and benefits,” they add.

The new report states that dark chocolate, despite its previous ‘good reputation’, seems to have higher amounts of metals which, they say, is because it contains high amounts of cacao.

The two metals find their way into cacao in different ways.

A study conducted by US-based organisation As You Sow showed that for cadmium to find its way to cacao, and finally the dark chocolate, it starts from the soil and then accumulates in the cacao plant as it grows. Lead, on the other hand, finds its way to cacao during harvesting since it is found at the surface of the cacao beans.

“Chocolate makers should survey cacao-growing areas to determine cadmium levels, and favour beans from places with lower levels. If necessary, they should blend beans from higher-cadmium areas with beans with lower levels, as some manufacturers do now,” said the report.

According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), exposure to lead affects children more than adults. Children are likely to have slower brain development which leads to an even lower Intelligence Quotient (IQ). It can also cause speech and hearing problems in children.

On the other hand, the CDC says that cadmium is a cancer-causing agent and it mostly affects the lungs. It can also cause stomach problems and make one nauseated leading to unprecedented vomiting.

Reacting to the report, some of the manufacturers have pledged to reduce the metals in their chocolates while others said their chocolates have acceptable levels of metals in them.