Good Idea or Not?
Chocolate, acclaimed aphrodisiac and iconic Valentine’s Day gift, the beloved treat that raises our spirits and brings joy to the mouth with its meltingly sensuous feeling and utter deliciousness.
But, as with so much of life, chocolate has a dark side as well as a bright side. Definitions first Chocolate comes from the cacao bean which has two major components: cocoa solids and cocoa butter. Together we refer to cacao or cocoa. Cocoa powder is 100% cacao solids, as is dark chocolate labeled 100% cacao or cocoa. Other chocolates contain different amounts of cocoa solids, cocoa butter, milk, sugar and flavoring ingredients. Although there is no standard, chocolate labeled dark is usually defined as 65% or more cacao (cocoa) , bittersweet chocolate as 50%-65% cocoa solids, milk chocolate as below 50% while white chocolate contains no cocoa solids, only cocoa butter, milk and, perhaps, other flavoring.
Cocoa solids contain flavanols (GOOD!), the darker the chocolate the more flavanols. White chocolate has no flavanols. The flavanols in cocoa solids are great for cardio-vascular issues and making us feel good. That’s why dark chocolate is said to be healthy. Unfortunately, cacao also contains heavy metals, lead and cadmium (BAD!) The bright side of dark chocolate: It’s an amazing aphrodisiac. Named for Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, aphrodisiacs such as chocolate can raise libido quite directly by increasing sensitivity to stimulation or activating the pleasure centers of the brain. No wonder chocolate is THE gift on Valentine’s Day. It’s the flavanols. They elevate mood, reduce depression and anxiety, and may improve memory and cognition. Many of the physiological effects of dark chocolate are beneficial to health. It contains a fair amount of fiber and good minerals such as iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium, phosphorous, zinc and selenium. Its fats are mostly healthy, the same fatty acids as in olive oil. Dark chocolate is loaded with organic compounds that function as antioxidants. The flavonoids (chemically, a bit different from flavanols) may increase blood flow and lower blood pressure. Dark chocolate may raise HDL (the good one) and protects LDL (the bad one) from oxidation which makes LDL capable of damaging tissues such as the arteries from the heart. Some studies showed that dark chocolate lowered the risk of heart disease. The flavanols can improve blood flow to the skin and protect it from sun damage. Its stimulant effects make us feel good. So what’s not to like about dark chocolate? The dark side of dark chocolate. It’s its heavy metals, lead and cadmium. Consumer Reports tested 28 dark chocolate bars: https://www.consumerreports.org/health/food-safety/lead-and-cadmium-in-dark-chocolate-a8480295550/.
The results are scary. All 28 contained lead and cadmium. In 23 of the 28 there was enough lead and/or cadmium that eating just an ounce a day would give an adult an amount considered harmful. For a child, dark chocolate would be even more dangerous. Five of the bars were above those levels for both cadmium and lead. I’ll bet you have chocoholic friends who exult in being able to eat a treat that is HEALTHY. SORRY!!! 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 women and young children because the metals can cause developmental problems, affect brain development, and lead to lower IQ. As an adult, you will not escape danger. Frequent exposure to lead in adults can lead to nervous system problems, hypertension, immune system suppression, kidney damage, and reproductive issues. Are you crying, like me? I’m especially sorry because my favorite chocolate is:
Unfortunately, Consumer Reports lists Lindt’s dark chocolate among the worst offenders containing heavy metals. I also adore Lindt’s chocolate truffles that come in an amazing variety of flavors (see their website), all wonderfully delicious, although local stores typically carry only dark, milk and white chocolate.
But there is hope. Cacao plants acquire cadmium from their soil, with the metal accumulating in cacao beans as the tree grows. So companies that grow cacao should test cadmium levels in the soil and choose areas with lower cadmium levels. Possibly, too, manufacturers of dark chocolate may blend chocolates from a mix of higher cadmium soil levels with lower cadmium soil levels. That’s what Taza, a company with low levels of cadmium and lead in its dark chocolate, does. Apparently, lead enters chocolate after harvesting, in the shipping and processing of cacao beans. Changing those aspects should help or solve the problem. What to do now? Should you eliminate dark chocolate from your diet? I think the answer is “yes” for children. For adults, treat dark chocolate as a special treat to be eaten only occasionally. Valentine’s Day? Sure! And choose the safer ones. The article in Consumer Reports lists five. The lower the percentage given, the better as the percentage refers to % below 100% of the level considered dangerous. I know that’s confusing; just remember the lower the percentage, the better. Mast Organic Dark Chocolate 80% Cocoa LEAD 14% CADMIUM 40% Taza Chocolate Organic Deliciously Dark Chocolate 70% Cacao LEAD 33% CADMIUM 74% Ghirardelli Intense Dark Chocolate 86% Cacao LEAD 36% CADMIUM 39% Ghirardelli Intense Dark Chocolate Twilight Delight 72% Cacao LEAD 61% CADMIUM 96% Valrhona Abinao Dark Chocolate 85% Cacao LEAD 63% CADMIUM 73% Consumer Reports also lists the worst chocolate bars for amount of cadmium and lead. The list is extensive, so please read the article for that information: https://www.consumerreports.org/health/food-safety/lead-and-cadmium-in-dark-chocolate-a8480295550/. For more information see: Do I Need to Avoid Dark Chocolate Now?