A December 2022 report from the nonprofit consumer-advocacy group Consumer Reports renewed worries about heavy metals in dark chocolate. Tests found that 23 of 28 dark chocolate bars from 21 brands contained harmful levels of lead, cadmium, or both.

Such heavy metals are common in the soil of cacao-­producing regions. Food scientists have long known about the concentration in dark chocolate as well as cocoa powder, and chocolatiers have wrestled with ways to reduce it.

“Consistent, long-term exposure to even small amounts of heavy ­metals can lead to a variety of health problems,” the report states. The danger is greatest for those who are pregnant and for children, but frequent exposure in adults brings risks of nervous-system problems, hypertension, immune-system suppression, kidney damage, reproductive issues, and certain types of cancer.

To have your chocolate and eat it too, consider these recommendations.

  • Do your research. Look online for test reports specifying which dark chocolates have the lowest heavy-metal levels. And don’t assume organic is safer: Consumer ­Reports’ tests found some organic bars were just as likely to contain high levels.
  • Consider milk chocolate. Cacao levels are lower, so milk chocolate tends to harbor fewer heavy metals, the report notes. But it also contains more added sugar, so check the label.
  • Treat chocolate as a treat. Chocolate has long been touted as a healthy superfood in headline-grabbing studies — many of which are funded by candy makers. But chocolate truly is candy and best consumed in moderation. (For more on chocolate’s purported health benefits, see “Is Dark Chocolate Actually Good for Us?“)

This article was originally written by Michael Dregni and appeared as “Heavy Metals in Dark Chocolates” in the July/August 2023 issue.

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