Cadmium in cocoa, you ask? Is nothing safe anymore? Can we not even trust CHOCOLATE?
Well, there is good news and bad news to this whole “cadmium in cocoa” issue.
How Much Cadmium is Too Much?
- The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests a maximum of 0.3 micrograms per gram in dried plants.
- California requires a warning label on products that have more than 4.1 micrograms of cadmium per daily serving of a single product.
- Healthy levels of iron and zinc in your diet will limit the amount of cadmium your body absorbs from the foods you eat.
The Good News
- Cadmium is naturally found in soil—a result, for example, of volcanic activity, forest fires, and weathering of rocks—and is taken up by many plants, including cocoa plants. Soil can also be contaminated with man-made sources of cadmium. So trace amounts of metals like cadmium will naturally end up in our food. It’s not the fact that there’s cadmium in cocoa powder that’s the problem, it’s how much cadmium there is in cocoa powder that’s the problem.
- The Canadian government and the European Union have set limits on the amount of cadmium that can be in foods and supplements.
The Bad News
- Cadmium accumulates in the body and can have detrimental effects on the kidneys, lungs, bones, and possibly fetal development; it’s also classified as a probable human carcinogen.
- The FDA has NOT set cadmium limits in foods or supplements.
- Cadmium accumulates in the body over time.
- Coffee also tends to accumulate cadmium.
The Test Results
In June 2015, Consumerlab.com ran some tests on the cadmium levels in 21 cocoa products, including chocolate bars, cocoa powders, and cocoa supplements.
- All 7 dark chocolate bars fell before the WHO limits for cadmium.
- The cocoa supplements all fell below the cadmium levels, but they varied widely in flavanol content (that’s the good stuff that’s in cocoa) and most didn’t have the levels claimed on the packaging.
- 6 out of 8 cocoa powders failed because of excess cadmium levels. 2 of them had 3x the California limit, and 1 had 5x the limit!
- These included popular brands like Nestle, Trader Joe’s, and Hershey.
- “Dutch” (alkali) processing of cocoa powders – which most undergo – destroys most of the flavonols in cocoa, rendering it fairly useless to the body (and dangerous, if the cadmium levels are high).
The Moral of the Story
- Dark chocolate is a better choice than cocoa powders or cocoa supplements for getting the antioxidant benefits of cocoa, EXCEPT if you can find safe (low heavy metal concentration) unprocessed and organic cacao powders.
- Raw, unprocessed, and organic cocoa powders and supplements have much higher flavonol and antioxidant levels, but organic doesn’t necessarily mean low heavy metal concentration.
The Best Cocoa Powders
LowHeavyMetals.org offers a grading system of A++ (excellent) to F (fail) that ranks foods and supplements according to their heavy metal content.
- Earth Circle Organics (Cacao Nibs) A++
- Essential Living Foods (Cacao Nibs) A++
- Pure Natural Minerals Cacao Powder B
- Navitas Cacao Powder B
- Sunfood Cacao Powder B
- Essential Living Foods Cacao Powder (Indonesia) B
- Pecari Cacao Powder C
- Kiva Cacao Powder C
- Essential Living Foods Cacao Powder (Ecuador) C
For more on cadmium levels in cocoa and how to avoid them, see Berkeley Wellness and Natural News.