Summary: What You Need to Know About Dark Chocolates, Cocoa & Cacao Powders, Nibs and Supplements
What are the health benefits? Cocoa-based products contain flavanols which are associated with modest potential benefits regarding blood flow, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, exercise, memory/cognition, skin wrinkles, and blood sugar control (see What It Does).
Which product is best?Be careful! Our tests show that many popular cocoa powders and cacao nibs, as well as some dark chocolates, are contaminated with high levels of cadmium, a toxic heavy metal (see What CL Found). Fortunately, we were able to identify a few great products that minimize cadmium exposure, maximize flavanols, offer superior value, and even minimize calories without sacrificing flavor. See CL's Top Picks.
How much do I need? Clinical studies suggest the following total daily intakes of flavanols for the purposes noted below, although further research is needed to confirm benefits and optimal dosing:
To get these amounts look at the 3rd column in the Results Table below. It will show you the amount of flavanols in a serving of each product.
Is it safe? Although cocoa and chocolate products are generally safe, it may be best to limit consumption of products due to contaminants, as well as calories (See How much of a danger is cadmium and lead from cocoa and chocolate?) Be aware that the caffeine and theobromine in cocoa products may cause side effects as well as interfere with the actions of certain drugs. Cocoa and chocolate products may also trigger migraines in some people and may trigger allergic contact dermatitis in nickel-sensitive individuals. People with milk allergies should be aware that dark chocolate bars may contain milk (see Concerns and Cautions).
You must be a ConsumerLab.com member to get the full test results along with ConsumerLab.com's Top Picks among products. You'll get immediate access to the amounts of flavanols and cadmium that we discovered in 42 dark chocolate bars and chips, cocoa powders, cacao nibs, and cocoa supplements, including 37 selected by ConsumerLab.com and five products tested through our voluntary Quality Certification Program.
If you are sensitive to caffeine or theobromine, you'll also want to see how much we found in each dark chocolate bar and supplement — something not typically listed on labels.
In this comprehensive review, you'll discover:
Which cocoa, cacao, and dark chocolate products failed testing and which passed
ConsumerLab.com's Top Picks among the best cocoa and dark chocolate products
Direct comparisons and quality ratings of cocoa, cacao, and chocolate products
Cost comparisons, showing you which cocoa, cacao, and chocolate products provide the most flavanols at lowest cost
Dosage information for using cocoa-based products -- and what clinical studies have shown
Side-effects, cautions, and potential drug interactions with cocoa and dark chocolate, including concerns about allergies, acne, acrylamide, migraine, ochratoxin A, blood sugar control, and kidney stones