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Of Discontent and Dark Chocolate

Updated: Feb 13, 2023

Now we have to be selective about a healthy, enjoyable treat

I am someone who struggles with weight. So, I’m always interested in learning about healthy eating habits. From my training in integrative medicine, I know what diet lifestyles are associated with better mental and physical health. Mediterranean Diet and Dr. Weil’s Anti-Inflammatory Diet are two great examples of healthy eating. Their food pyramids emphasize plants — vegetables, fruits, whole grains. I like all of those things. And, I also like chocolate. So, I especially like the Anti-Inflammatory Diet because it touts an ounce of dark chocolate daily as a good thing.

Dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa is good for you and can make you feel better quickly. Cocoa is rich in anti-oxidants, flavonoids, and polyphenols that can protect the heart, benefit metabolism, reduce stress, and improve mood and cognition. Sorry, but milk chocolate does not do the same thing. It typically has a lot of refined sugar and poor-quality dairy ingredients. Dark chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa also contains three to five grams of fiber, about the same as a small apple. It also contains a good amount of magnesium — a calming mineral — as much as a half-cup of cooked broccoli. (Which would you rather eat?)

So, I have been quenching my chocolate craves by enjoying a piece of dark chocolate after dinner in the evenings several times a week. I savor it by just letting it melt in my mouth. You can imagine my dismay when Consumer Reports recently reported that some brands of dark chocolate have unsafe levels of heavy metals — cadmium and lead. Seriously??

The risk in exposure to heavy metals is primarily an issue for young children and pregnant women. It can cause developmental problems and affect brain development in these groups. However, excessive exposure can be a problem at any age due to kidney damage, high blood pressure and other issues. This contamination problem is not unique to dark chocolate, however; heavy metals can be found in other foods such as spinach, carrots and sweet potatoes. So, it makes sense to limit risk.

It turns out that cacao and other plant foods can take up cadmium from the soil. Lead accumulation, however, occurs after cacao beans are harvested. It probably occurs from lead in dust and dirt that the cacao beans are exposed to as they dry in the sun. Obviously, limiting these exposures will involve changes in growing and manufacturing practices.

Take heart, however. Some manufacturers, as noted in the report, have found ways to limit heavy lead exposures to safer levels. With this kind of press, other manufacturers may get on board soon.

In the meantime, instead of wallowing in discontent at this report, I’m planning to enjoy my safer dark chocolate choices in moderation and signing the petition for other candy makers to reduce heavy metals. Hopefully, they will listen. Now, where is my bag of 72% Ghirardelli squares?

For more information about nutrition, breathwork, movement, and spirit as ways to cope with life’s difficulties, check out my book, Breath for the Soul: Self-Care Steps to Wellness

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