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Your Guide to Choosing the Best Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate usually gets a pretty good reputation. It’s delicious, contains less sugar than milk chocolate, and contains some powerful anti-oxidants. However, when choosing your dark chocolate treats, you must choose carefully.

Unfortunately, according to several studies, most chocolate contains a toxic heavy metal called cadmium. Keep reading to learn more about which dark chocolates contain cadmium, and which ones you can binge guilt-free.

Dark chocolate 101:

Dark chocolate differs from milk chocolate because little to no milk solids have been added to the original cocoa. However, it still contains some sugar and added fats.

Dark chocolate contains so many benefits due to the powerful effects of the cocoa bean. It has actually been found to be higher in antioxidants, polyphenols, and flavanols than any other fruit.

The benefits of dark chocolate:

When buying dark chocolate, keep in mind that the higher the cocoa percentage, the more benefits you will receive. This is because more cocoa = more flavanols. Flavonols are the source of the many, many benefits of dark chocolate. And, dark chocolate contains up to 2-3 times more flavanol-rich cocoa solids than milk chocolate.

Consuming dark chocolate with a high cocoa content has been linked to multiple benefits. These include:

Ingredients to look for when buying dark chocolate:

When you’re shopping for dark chocolate, look for cocoa content at 70% or higher. The best dark chocolate will have cocoa or chocolate liquor listed as the first ingredient. However, they may also be other forms of cocoa listed, such as cocoa nibs, cocoa powder, and cocoa butter.

Most dark chocolate contains extra ingredients to improve its appearance, shelf life, and flavor. While most of these ingredients are harmless, some can come with negative health effects (like cadmium). Here are the most common dark chocolate ingredients:


Most dark chocolate contains some amount of sugar to cut the bitter taste of pure cocoa. A good rule of thumb is to avoid dark chocolate with sugar listed as the first ingredient. Also, the higher the cocoa content, the lower the amount of sugar will be.

Trans fat

If you see dark chocolate with trans fats in it, leave it on the shelf. Too many trans fats in your diet has been linked to heart disease. It is sometimes added to chocolate to help increase shelf life and improve consistency. Look for hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil on your chocolate ingredients list, as those mean trans fats have been added.


The best quality dark chocolate shouldn’t have any milk in it at all. The one exception could be milk fat, which is butter without moisture and non-fat solids.


Some dark chocolate is flavored with spices, oils, and extracts in order to improve the taste. Vanilla likely the flavoring you will see most often. Unfortunately, it’s hard to know which flavorings are artificial and which are natural. But, if you stick to organic chocolate, it will only contain natural flavors.


Lecithin is an emulsifier that is often added to dark chocolate to help blend the flavors and keep the cocoa and cocoa butter from separating. It is most often derived from soybeans, so it often is depicted as soy lecithin on the label.

So, how does cadmium get into chocolate?

Many dark chocolate products are contaminated with high levels of the toxic metal cadmium. Cadmium is an element that cannot be processed by the body and is a probable carcinogen. It is also toxic to the kidneys and has been found to soften bones. Cadmium is a byproduct of battery production and can accumulate in the air, soil, and water. This is how it gets into cocoa beans.

The concentration of cadmium in cocoa is 10-20 times higher than other “high” plant-based foods such as peanuts and sunflower seeds. One study by Consumer Labs found that organic chocolate grown in Central and South America contains the most cadmium. The researchers found that the least cadmium is present in chocolate from Africa.

This graph shows how much cadmium and flavanols the type of chocolate contains. (The chocolate with the least red and most blue is best!)

As you can see Montezuma’s Dark Chocolate Absolute Black, had the best ratio of Flavonoids to Cadmium. This product contains 14mg/g of flavanols and just 0.06 mcg of cadmium per/gm of chocolate. Trader Joe's The Dark Chocolate Lover's Chocolate Bar had the highest level of cadmium at 29mcg/gm

Below is a similar graph made for chocolate chips and cocoa powders.

All cocoa powders had high concentrations of cadmium except for Ghirardelli Chocolate Premium Baking Powder. Healthworks Cocoa Powder and Hershey’s Cocoa Special Dark had the worst.

If you don’t see a delicious-looking chocolate bar or cocoa powder on the chart, find one that sources the cocoa from Africa instead of Central or South America. This way, you'll still be able to enjoy your dark chocolate with no guilt.

For more information about reaching optimal health with the Johnson Center, click here to contact us. Or call 276-235-3205 to schedule your complimentary discovery call.

The Johnson Center for Health services patients in-person in our Blacksburg and Virginia Beach / Norfolk locations. We also offer telemedicine for residents of Virginia and North Carolina!


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