“Lead and Cadmium Could Be in Your Dark Chocolate” -CR

Sounds Scary! Until you look at the Data


“Should I be worried?”

No. Now let’s dive into, “Why?”

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Where is this coming from?

CR: A Recipe for Chocolate Consumer Panic

In December 2022, Consumer Reports (CR) published an article indicating 28 chocolate bars were tested, and many had “high” levels of cadmium and/or lead.

Some points to know, which will be covered in further detail below:

  • CR is using California’s maximum allowable dose levels (MADL) as their baseline
    • They do not explain this threshold, nor is this level based in science
  • CR only focuses on chocolate
    • There is no context of how other foods are common sources of dietary cadmium uptake
  • CR does not cover how the human body removes toxic elements from your system
    • Nor do they mention how chocolate supports these mechanisms

CR neglects to include any “big picture” relative view – merely chocolate + cadmium & lead. Plus, we need to interpret these results with data & science:

First, we need to cover “MADL” vs. “NOEL”

CR uses California’s maximum allowable dose levels (MADL) as their baseline for lead & cadmium uptake. The levels are 0.5mg & 4.1mg daily, respectively. Now, these seem like rock-solid figures that we need to keep an eye on, right?

Wrong. Enter, “NOEL.”

NOEL is the no-observed-effect level of a test substance by the safety factor. NOEL is the highest dose level that results in no observable reproductive effect and is scientifically established with science and lab tests.

MADL is arbitrarily set 1000x lower than NOEL. MADL and the 1000x reduction is a ‘public policy decision’ and guideline, not a scientific one.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) studied cadmium uptake, which resulted in the findings which found the average dietary intake of cadmium in the US is 4.6 micrograms per day – this works out to be 112% of MADL – thus, this should not be the baseline figure that CR uses for the baseline in their reports.

MADL is also quite a bit lower than legal thresholds placed on food manufacturers (via Prop 65 in California & EU Regulations) as there are no federal regulations on this.

If you even look deeper into Prop 65, the thresholds have actually been increased over time, as the thresholds were initially set arbitrarily – yet this is still the “baseline” used.

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CR Targets Dark Chocolate Arbitrarily

The segments in both the news and online appear to be maliciously targeting dark chocolate – but nothing is mentioned in the report regarding how the overarching food system as a whole faces this problem.

NIH posted an article “Dietary Cadmium Intake and Sources in the US” which does not solely target chocolate but discussed the food industry as a whole. “The food groups that contributed most to [cadmium] intake were cereals and bread (34%), leafy vegetables (20%), potatoes (11%), legumes and nuts (7%), and stem/root vegetables (6%). The foods that contributed most to total Cd intake were lettuce (14%), spaghetti (8%), bread (7%), and potatoes (6%)”

But this article specifically targets chocolate – we cannot speak specifically as to why, however we can speculate: Chocolate is a beloved product with a passionate following that will certainly generate more “buzz” on the topic than the other items listed above.

However, rest assured that chocolate continues to be a decadent, luxurious treat with known health benefits when enjoyed in moderation. Like all dietary decisions, learn the facts and decide what is best for you.

Chocolate can and should remain safely on your list of specialty foods for culinary and snacking enjoyment!

The Human Body & its Built-In Tools

Now, we are not saying cadmium does not have an ill-effect in high doses.

The NIH states, “Due to the chronic nature of dietary Cd exposure, combined with the long half-life of Cd in the human body, Cd can accumulate in multiple tissue types, contributing to the development of cancer, kidney dysfunction, cardiovascular disease, reproductive dysfunction, diabetes, osteoporosis, and increased mortality.”

However, the human body would have to surpass NOEL-defined intake, of which MADL is 1000x less than, of which CR is basing their “report” on.

CR also fails to mention the human body’s natural cleansing agents to assist in the body expelling cadmium.

Zinc, Magnesium and Selenium are minerals of which help reduce the toxicity of cadmium in the human body, and these are substantially present in cocoa.

This report in no way should affect your perception of or your actual consumption of chocolate.

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Closing Notes

The NIH links in this post are the same which are used in the CR piece – but CR cherry-picked specific quotes which work for their anti-chocolate argument.

Why is CR using MADL as their baseline instead of NOEL? This is a good question – if they used NOEL in the report, all levels in their baseline would be 900x+ higher than what they used, and there would be no article to write, as all detected levels are 900x or less than the NOEL baseline.

If you multiply the levels of cadmium and lead in CR’s findings by 1,000x, the majority bars in the “report” are still below acceptable NOEL levels (which are levels that show no ill effects).

What does this translate to?

A consumer could [try to] eat 900x of any chocolate bar listed in the CR report, in one sitting, and still have no ill-effect from cadmium or lead (but you may feel sick afterwards from all the sugar!)

We even saw Prop 65 increase their MADL baseline levels in the past, as they are arbitrarily set, who is to say this won’t happen again?

NOEL is the baseline to actually use in analyzing findings, and there is no concern despite the “scare for sport” content being posted about chocolate.

To keep in mind: writing this, we are not food scientists, but the folks coming up with NOEL data are NIH and the FDA, who are food scientists (all sources linked below). The folks coming up with MADL take NOEL and divide it by 1,000, arbitrarily. 

Trust data – not agenda-driven report findings.

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