Dark Truth About Dark Chocolate

Investigation finds dangerous levels of lead and cadmium in multiple branded dark chocolate bars


June 17, 2023: Do you often give dark chocolate to your child or to someone you love? If the answer is yes, there’s a high chance you’re giving them gift-wrapped poison. You heard me right. It sounds shocking. It’s a dark secret about the dark chocolate industry. Eating delicious dark chocolate bars made by some of your favourite brands can be toxic for you.

An investigation has found that branded dark chocolates may be harmful for our health, if taken frequently. That’s because many of them have traces of lead and cadmium.


Lead and cadmium are heavy metals that can be extremely poisonous for humans if taken regularly. Their presence in dark chocolates in high quantities can cause several health issues. They can be particularly dangerous for children and pregnant women, if taken frequently.

Lead, cadmium in dark chocolate

The investigation was done by Consumer Reports, a US-based watchdog. They work with consumer bodies that campaign for transparency and fairness of businesses. Their scientists found that traces of lead and cadmium in easily available dark chocolate bars are higher than permissible limits. Many of these dark chocolates are sold worldwide. During the investigation, the scientists measured the amount of lead and cadmium in 28 dark chocolate bars. It found their traces in all of them.

It’s not just dark chocolates where you’ll find traces of lead and cadmium. Low doses can sometimes be found in sweet potatoes, spinach, and carrots. So, the problem is, tiny proportions of these toxic elements can enter the body from multiple sources, and add up to dangerous levels.

In 23 of the dark chocolate bars that were tested, it was found that eating one ounce of chocolate per day would bring an adult in the harmful zone for at least one of the two metals. And in five of these 23 bars, the levels of both cadmium and lead were above permissible limits.

Impact of toxic metals

The food safety research team of Consumer Reports says frequent exposure to the toxic metals can hamper brain development and cause lower IQ among children. Grown-ups who are frequently exposed to lead can get nervous system disorders, high BP, kidney problems, and reproductive issues. 

The only good news from the investigation is that five of the 28 bars tested had lower levels of lead and cadmium. That means, chocolate companies can easily make safer dark chocolates, if they want to, and still do good business.

In 2014, an activism group called As You Sow (AYS) started pushing for corporate accountability among chocolate companies. It conducted an eight-year-long marathon investigation in collaboration with the chocolate industry. Finally, it came up with a report in August last year. It found that there are clear, low-cost solutions to remove lead found in the raw form of chocolates. But the investigation also found that cadmium is sucked up by the roots of cacao trees and deposited in its fruits. That’s why it is inseparable from dark chocolates.

Road ahead for chocolate companies

The investigation team has an interesting solution. It says chocolate companies should stop buying beans from places with high cadmium. It also says farmers should avoid planting new cacao orchards in places with high cadmium.

The whole point is, companies can produce dark chocolate bars with low and harmless traces of lead and cadmium, if they want to. But the confectionery industry is too busy making profits. Even if they can fix the problem, it doesn’t look like they are keen on doing it.

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