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Checking Cocoa and Cacao for Metal

Question:
I asked the distributor of my cacao powder how it checks for metals. They say they do "foreign material detection" to capture "metal fragments." Is this adequate for checking cacao and cocoa for heavy metals, like cadmium, which you've found in other products?
Reviewed and edited by Tod Cooperman, M.D. Tod Cooperman, M.D.
Initial Posting: 8/28/2018    Last Update: 8/28/2018
Flavanols in Cocoa, Cacoa, and Chocolate Products Reviewed by ConsumerLab.com
Answer:
No. What that company is describing has nothing to do with detecting elemental metal contamination (as we do) or removing that contamination. The company is describing the way they detect relatively large metal fragments that may be introduced during processing. Such fragments would then, typically, be removed by sifting.

As shown in our Dark Chocolate, Cocoa Powder and Nibs Review, heavy metal contamination is very common in cocoa and cacao powders and some dark chocolates. This contamination (typically with cadmium and/or lead) is not due to metal fragments but, most likely, the absorption by cocoa plants of metals in their environment (likely from pesticides and/or volcanic soil). Unfortunately, the levels of cadmium found are often very high -- suggesting that intake should be limited, and it does not seem possible to selectively remove these metals.

For information about how to choose the best quality cocoa powder and dark chocolate with the least contamination see Getting cocoa flavanols without contaminants and our Top Picks among products in the Dark Chocolate, Cocoa Powder and Nibs Review.

Learn more about cocoa and dark chocolate:



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COMMENTS

Beverly18768   December 28, 2019
Thank you for testing the two chocolate products I consume regularly. Alarmed by the cadmium content of both, I did some research and found the following.

-From the US CDC 2012 statement about cadmium:

Most of the cadmium that enters your body goes to your kidney and liver and can remain there for many years. A small portion of the cadmium that enters your body leaves slowly in urine and feces.
Your body can change most cadmium to a form that is not harmful, but too much cadmium can overload the ability of your liver and kidney to change the cadmium to a harmless form.

-From the article “Zinc and multi-mineral supplementation should mitigate the pathogenic impact of cadmium exposure” (PubMed):

Fortunately, iron sufficiency and ample dietary intakes of calcium, magnesium, and zinc can impede absorption of dietary Cd, both by down-regulating intestinal expression of mineral transporters, and by directly competing with Cd for access to these transporters. Correction of iron deficiency appears to be of particular importance for controlling Cd absorption.
Moreover, zinc supplementation can counteract the toxicity of Cd already in the body via induction of metallothionein, which binds Cd avidly via its sulfhydryl groups; so long as it remains sequestered in this form, Cd is innocuous.

Although I'm moderating my consumption out of an abundance of caution, I feel better knowing that my iron status is fine and my intake of the minerals mentioned is adequate.

Natalie17120   September 1, 2018
I contacted various manufacturers of cacao nibs to ask for the heavy metal content. One company sent me the 'certificate of analysis & data sheet' which included info about heavy metals, and also mold / bacteria / pesticides. The analysis showed low levels of heavy metals and that is now the brand I buy. (I can supply the name of the company if that is allowed). I suggest you shop around and the manufacturers may get the message that they need to test their product and provide the information to consumers.

ConsumerLab.com   September 1, 2018
Thank you for sharing this, Natalie. You are welcome to identify the company so long as you do not have not have any financial interest.

Natalie17122   September 1, 2018
The company is Sunfood

ConsumerLab.com   September 2, 2018
Although the product certainly may have changed in recent years, you may want to check what we found in Sunfood Raw Cocoa Powder when we tested it in 2014.

Glenn17116   August 29, 2018
Nickel is another problematic ingredient in some of these cacao powders and nibs. At least, personally for me it has been. In fact, my first huge outbreak of Allergic Contact Dermatitis (that ended up being allergy against certain metals like nickel and chromium), happened during a period in which I was mixing cacoa powder into my morning yogurt.

ConsumerLab.com   August 29, 2018
Hi Glenn - Thank you for sharing this. You can find information about nickel in chocolate and cocoa in the "Concerns and Cautions" section of the Dark Chocolate and Cocoa Review: https://www.consumerlab.com/reviews/Cocoa_Powders_and_Chocolates_Sources_of_Flavanols/cocoa-flavanols/#nickel


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This CL Answer initially posted on 8/28/2018.
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