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The Margin: Pregnant women and young kids may want to avoid dark chocolate, new study warns

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Here’s some not-so-sweet news for candy lovers: A new study by Consumer Reports (CR) found that several dark-chocolate bars on the market contain levels of heavy metals — specifically, lead and cadmium — that could pose health risks.

Among the products cited for their high levels of lead and/or cadmium metals are ones manufactured by such brands and retailers as Hershey’s
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Godiva, Lindt, Theo Chocolate and Trader Joe’s, according to Consumer Reports, which used California’s maximum allowable dose level (MADL) for lead and cadmium as the basis for its report.

Consumer Reports stated, “We used those levels because there are no federal limits for the amount of lead and cadmium most foods can contain, and CR’s scientists believe that California’s levels are the most protective available.” 

So for example, the Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Lover’s Chocolate bar had 127% of the maximum allowable dose level of lead and 229% of the level of cadmium. In a similar range, Theo Chocolate’s Organic Extra Dark Pure Dark Chocolate had 140% of the level of lead and 189% of the level of cadmium.

While dark chocolate has been hailed in recent years for its healthy attributes, stemming from the fact that it’s rich in antioxidants, there’s also been concern about its metal content. CR noted that, “Consistent, long-term exposure to even small amounts of heavy metals can lead to a variety of health problems. The danger is greatest for pregnant people and young because the metals can cause developmental problems, affect brain development, and lead to lower IQ.”

CR explained that there’s less of an issue with milk chocolate because dark chocolate, by nature, has a higher cacao content — and the presence of the metals is connected with cacao.

In response to MarketWatch queries to a few of its member organizations, including Theo Chocolate, the National Confectioners Association said, “Chocolate and cocoa are safe to eat and can be enjoyed as treats as they have been for centuries.” The association also said that the California standards cited by CR are not considered food-safety standards.

“Food safety and product quality remain our highest priorities and we remain dedicated to being transparent and socially responsible,” the association added.

Godiva responded to MarketWatch with the following statement: “Consumers can be assured that all Godiva products are safe, and that our products follow all relevant government regulations.” Similarly, Lindt said, “Food safety and high quality are paramount” for the company.

And Hershey’s said, “We source our ingredients and manufacture our products in accordance with a robust food safety plan that is employed across the full breadth of our portfolio, including our chocolate products.”

Trader Joe’s didn’t immediately respond to a MarketWatch request for comment.

The CR study did find some of the 28 bars it tested were “safer choices” based on the fact they had lower levels of lead and cadmium. Those included bars from Ghirardelli, Valrhona, Taza Chocolate and Mast.

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