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Question: Do any supplements help prevent sunburn or skin damage from sun exposure?
Answer: Supplements containing beta-carotene, cocoa, vitamin C, and/or vitamin E may provide modest protection from sun damage to the skin, according to small studies. There is also some preliminary evidence that a branded fern extract (Fernblock/Heliocare) may be helpful. Certain herbal supplements, however, may actually increase photosensitivity. Get the Full Answer >>
Question: How much cocoa or chocolate do I need to consume in order to get a benefit?
Answer: Several studies have shown that the consumption of cocoa flavanols can improve vascular function, blood-pressure, and raise levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol. Positive results have been seen with 50 mg to 200 mg of flavanols per day, and, in Europe, products with at least 200 mg may legally claim they "promote normal blood flow" (the U.S. has not yet permitted such a claim).
The flavanol content of cocoa and chocolate products can vary tremendously and most do not list their flavanol levels on their labels. But ConsumerLab.com tested a wide variety of cocoa, cacao, and chocolate products and you can find their flavanol levels (as well as amounts of contamination with the toxic metals cadmium and lead) in the Review of Cocoa Powders, Extracts, Nibs, Supplements and Chocolate >>
Question: Why does dark chocolate have iron in it? Is it, or cocoa, a good dietary source of iron?
Answer: Cacao plants absorb iron from the soil as they grow, so cocoa powder and dark chocolate made from these plants will provide moderate amounts of iron. However, this iron may not be well absorbed. More about this can be found in the Cocoa Powder, Chocolate, Nibs and Supplements Review >>
Question: Which dark chocolate bar has the most flavanols with the least calories?
This is a great question, and we've answered it in a chart in the Cocoas and Dark Chocolates Review. The chart shows the number of calories in popular dark chocolate bars needed to get an equivalent amount of flavanols (200 mg). The results are based on our laboratory tests of these bars -- and they are surprising. They show that, depending on the bar you eat, you may be consuming 3 to 4 times as many calories as you really need to.
Unfortunately, labels typically don't tell you the amount of flavanols in a product, so you can't figure this out on your own. We have found that the % cocoa (or cacao) listed on labels is not a reliable indicator of flavanol concentrations. For example, we found a product claiming "72% cacao" to have more flavanols per gram than one claiming "90% cocoa," and among bars claiming about the same amount of cocoa, one had twice the amount of flavanols as the other.
Question: Why is there so much cadmium, a toxin, in cocoa powders but not in dark chocolate?
Answer: It's true that we found most cocoa powders to have high concentrations of cadmium -- around 1 to 1.5 mcg per gram -- which is much higher than the World Health Organization limit of 0.3 mcg per gram. The dark chocolate bars we tested had concentrations which were about 1/10th the amount found in cocoa.
The main reason why there is less cadmium per gram in dark chocolate than cocoa powder, is that cadmium is in the cocoa solids, which, when dried, is cocoa powder. Dark chocolate contains these cocoa solids, but also includes cocoa butter and sugar, which can make up a substantial portion of the chocolate, reducing the concentration of cadmium. However, this does not fully explain the higher cadmium in cocoa powders. In fact, on average you ingest about 4 times as much cadmium from cocoa powder as you do as from dark chocolate to get an equivalent amount of flavanols. Of course, this ratio depends on the specific products (see our report for details).
The other factor at play is that cadmium levels vary based on where the cocoa was grown and how it was processed. Most of the cocoa powders we tested (representing many of the most popular brands) were labeled as coming from Latin America. It has been found that cocoa products from Latin America generally have a higher cadmium concentration than those from West Africa, although there is considerable regional variation. The dark chocolates did not identify the sources of their cocoa solids, but if many were from West Africa, this may help explain their lower cadmium levels.
Keep in mind that the typical serving size of a chocolate bar is about 40 grams, while its 5 grams for a cup of hot cocoa. So due to the larger serving size, you can still get a lot cadmium from dark chocolate -- although typically still less than from cocoa powder. In fact, we identified one bar which exceeded the daily limits for adults and children in Canada, as well as the limit in California -- above which a warning label is required. Most of the cocoa powders also exceeded these limits.
The bottom line is that it's probably best to limit your average daily intake to no more than one serving of cocoa or dark chocolate, and stick with products found to have lowest the concentrations of cadmium and other potentially dangerous contaminants.
Question: I heard somewhere to avoid chocolate with "processed with alkali" in the ingredients. Is that true?
Answer: Cocoa processed with alkali, commonly called "dutched" cocoa, is not unsafe, but may offer less health benefit due to a reduction in flavanols. However, ConsumerLab has identified at least one product with alkalized cocoa that is high in flavanols. Details about this, as well as our tests of popular products, are found in the Cocoa Powders, Dark Chocolate, and Cocoa Supplements Review >>
Question: How much fat is there in chocolate? Is it saturated fat?
Answer: In dark chocolate, fat comes from cocoa butter and most of that fat (about 65%) is saturated. However, since the amount of cocoa butter in dark chocolate bars varies widely by brand, so does the amount of saturated fat. For example, based on a 40 gram serving (one medium-sized bar) of the dark chocolates tested by ConsumerLab.com in 2014, the amount of saturated fat ranged from 8 grams to about 11 grams (see the 2nd column of the results table in the review). Dark chocolates also vary considerably in terms of flavanols and calories. You can get those comparisons in the Cocoa Powders, Dark Chocolate, and Cocoa Supplements Review >>
Milk chocolate generally contains about the same amount of fat and saturated fat as dark chocolate, as they are typically made with skim milk.
See other questions we've answered about cocoa and chocolate here.
Question: How much caffeine is really in dark chocolate bars?
Answer: Most dark chocolate bars don't list the amounts of caffeine they contain. The same holds true for the amounts of cocoa flavanols.
However, our tests of popular dark chocolates showed that, other than one bar which provides 7 mg of caffeine, the others provide about 40 to 50 mg of caffeine per listed serving (about 40 grams of chocolate). This is about how much you would get from a can of cola or a cup of green tea and about half the amount in a cup of regular, brewed coffee.
We found cocoa powders provided 8 to 20 mg of caffeine per tablespoon. Among cocoa supplements however, the amount of caffeine per suggested serving ranged from less than 1 mg to a whopping 142.5 mg.
Question: Can chocolate and cocoa powder cause eczema?
Answer: Yes. They are both relatively high in nickel and can cause allergic contact dermatitis in people who are nickel-sensitive or have a nickel allergy. (If you are allergic to milk, also be aware that even some dark chocolates contain milk). In fact, in response to this question, ConsumerLab.com checked the nickel content of several cocoa and dark chocolate products and found much higher levels of nickel than known to exist in milk chocolate and other foods. Just one serving of dark chocolate, for example, contained about as much nickel as an adult gets per day from all other foods and beverages combined. More about this and other concerns are found in the Concerns and Cautions section of the Cocoa Powders, Dark Chocolate, Extracts, Nibs & Supplements Review >>
Question: Which supplements can help to lower blood pressure?
Answer: There are many supplements, including fish oil, curcumin, certain probiotics, cinnamon and others, which may lower blood pressure. However, if you already take medication to lower blood pressure, always consult your physician before using these supplements, as they may lower your blood pressure too much, or interfere in some other way with your current medication. Be aware that a number of supplements can increase blood pressure. Sign in to see the full answer >>
See the Encyclopedia article about Hypertension for more information.
Question: Does CoQ10 reduce wrinkles, increase skin elasticity, or tighten the skin? Are there any other supplements that can help?
Answer: Although CoQ10 supplements are sometimes promoted for reducing wrinkles or "rejuvenating" aging skin, only one, small study found that a branded CoQ10 supplement reduced wrinkles around the eyes, nose and lips in middle-aged women.
There do not appear to be any studies showing that CoQ10, or any other supplement, can tighten loose skin, but there is some evidence that several other supplements may help to reduce wrinkles and/or increase skin elasticity.
Cocoa flavanols were found in one study to reduce the depth of "crow's feet" wrinkles around the eyes, and increase skin elasticity in older women with moderate sun damage and visible wrinkles.
There is some evidence that collagen supplements may be helpful, but be aware that the best evidence for this has been demonstrated in clinical studies using a specific, branded collagen ingredient. Bone broth and bone broth supplements can also be a good source of collagen, but there are no clinical studies on their use for reducing wrinkles or increasing skin elasticity.
There is preliminary evidence that astaxanthin supplements may reduce the area of wrinkled skin around the eyes — but not the depth of wrinkles.
Phytoceramides supplements, derived from plants such as wheat and rice, are promoted to hydrate and "plump" the skin for a more youthful appearance, but there is little evidence to support their use for reducing wrinkles, increasing elasticity, or improving the appearance of aging skin.
Question: What is acrylamide? Is it true that coffee and cocoa contain this toxin?
Answer: Acrylamide is a neurotoxin and probable carcinogen (cancer causing agent) formed when certain starchy foods, such as wheat and potatoes, are cooked at high temperatures (>248 degrees Fahrenheit).
It can also be produced when coffee and cocoa beans and buckwheat (kasha) are roasted. It is also found in surprisingly high amounts in prune juice and some types of canned olives.
Although no level of exposure is absolutely safe, amounts of acrylamide consumed by most adults is believed to represent a very low level of risk. Nevertheless, there are steps you can take to reduce your exposure. Get the details in the full answer >>
Question: Are cocoa and chocolate products contaminated with the fungal toxin ochratoxin A?
Answer: Although it is common for cocoa beans to be contaminated with the fungal toxin ochratoxin A (OTA), most of the toxin is found in the shell of the bean, which is removed during processing. Levels of OTA in processed cocoa products, such as cocoa powder, liquor and chocolate have generally been found to be quite low and not of concern. Consequently, ConsumerLab.com has not included OTA testing in its analyses of cocoa products. However, these tests have revealed disturbing levels of toxic heavy metals such as cadmium and lead in most cocoa powders and some dark chocolates. For details, see the Review of Cocoa Powders, Dark Chocolate, Extracts, Nibs, & Supplements >>
Question: Which supplements help to improve energy and decrease fatigue?
Answer: Getting adequate sleep, eating a healthy, well-balanced diet, and regular exercise are the best ways to maintain your energy. However, we all have times when we could benefit from an energy boost. (If you are frequently tired, be sure to consult your physician about potential causes, as discussed below).
Certain supplements may help increase energy and decrease fatigue.
Curcumin (from turmeric) has been shown to reduce fatigue in older men and women using a particular branded formula.
Ashwagandha may reduce fatigue in middle-aged adults with moderate to severe anxiety.
Cocoa flavanols may help reduce self-reported mental fatigue in healthy adults, according to one study.
Ginseng is a popular ingredient in supplements promoted for increasing energy and vitality. Although there is little evidence to support this effect in healthy people, there is some evidence it may increase energy in people with cancer-related fatigue.
Carnitine may help reduce fatigue in older men with symptoms of sexual dysfunction, depression and fatigue.
B vitaminsare involved in the metabolism of food to release energy, and deficiency in vitamin B-12 is known to cause fatigue. However, if you already get an adequate amount of the B vitamins in your diet and are not deficient in them, supplementing with additional amounts of B vitamins is not known to improve performance. Be aware that energy drinks often contain much higher doses of B vitamins than needed — sometimes amounts above tolerable limits. Energy drinks also commonly contain significant amounts of caffeine or ingredients which naturally contain caffeine such as guarana and cola nut. Although caffeine does not actually provide energy, it acts as a stimulant and can reduce fatigue. Be aware that energy drinks can increase blood pressure, and stroke and liver injury have been reported in people consuming certain energy drinks.
Energy bars, or nutrition bars, can be a good source of real energy (calories), especially if you are on the go and haven't had a chance to eat a real meal, and also provide vitamins and minerals. It's important to choose carefully as some are high in sugar, or contain sugar substitutes that may upset your stomach. Some also contain caffeine.
Supplements that provide iodine, such as kelp supplements and potassium iodide, are often promoted to increase energy. However, there is little evidence for this effect unless they are being used to treat hypothyroidism due to iodine deficiency.
Rhodiola rosea and maca supplements are sometimes promoted to increase energy or reduce fatigue, however, there is not enough evidence to support these supplements for this use.
Iron deficiency can cause fatigue. Consequently, correcting iron deficiency with iron supplementation can reduce related fatigue. Interestingly, iron supplementation has even been shown to reduce fatigue in women who are not anemic but have ferritin levels in the lower end of normal range.
Be aware that St. John's wortcan cause fatigue when you take it, or if you abruptly stop taking it.
Because there are many possible causes of fatigue, it's important to consult with your doctor if you feel tired frequently.
See the Encyclopedia article about Fatigue for more information.
Question: What is the theobromine in chocolate and cocoa? Is it good or bad for me?
Answer: Theobromine is a caffeine-related stimulant that naturally occurs in cacao beans and is, therefore, in cocoa powders and chocolates. ConsumerLab's tests of dark chocolates and cocoas show them to contain about as much theobromine as heart-healthy flavanols. Dark chocolate can be particularly rich in theobromine, with a standard 40 gram serving often providing 300 to 400 mg of theobromine.
Although theobromine lowers LDL "bad" cholesterol, a recent study suggests that an amount of theobromine not much more than in a serving of dark chocolate may be a problem for people who need to control their blood sugar (such as those with diabetes or pre-diabetes). Details are found in ConsumerLab.com's Review of Cocoa and Dark Chocolates, which includes the amounts of theobromine discovered by CL in popular products, as well as their amounts of flavanols, caffeine and contaminants (lead and cadmium).
Question: Is Hershey's Special Dark better than other dark chocolate bars or cocoa powders?
Answer: Testing by ConsumerLab.com suggests that Hershey's Special Dark products are actually lower in beneficial cocoa flavanols than many other dark chocolates and cocoa powders. The likely reason for this is that Hershey's Special Extra Dark chocolate and cocoa powder are "processed with alkali." This process, also known as "dutching," makes cocoa and dark chocolate less bitter and a bit darker, but also significantly reduces the flavanol content.
ConsumerLab.com found that Hershey's Special Dark chocolate bar actually had the lowest concentration of cocoa flavanols among 16 popular dark chocolates it tested. Flavanol levels among the bars ranged from a low of just 3.4 mg per gram in Hershey's Special Dark to a high of 14.8 mg per gram, with most bars providing between 4.5 to 9 mg of flavanols per gram. At a standard serving size of 40 grams, many bars can easily provide at least 200 mg of flavanols — an amount associated with improved blood flow, but Hershey's Special Dark does not.
Although ConsumerLab.com did not test Hershey's Special Dark cocoa powder, it did test Hershey's "100% cacao, natural unsweetened" cocoa powder -- which is not treated with alkali. This powder contained one of the highest concentrations of flavanols among the cocoa powders tested, providing about 24 mg of flavanols per gram, while most powders provided between and 12 mg and 26 mg per gram. However, Hershey's natural cocoa powder was found to be contaminated with cadmium -- which is a kidney toxin, although it was not alone in this respect: Every cocoa powder tested was found to be contaminated with cadmium and/or lead, another toxic heavy metal.
The amount of cadmium found in a 1 tablespoon serving of Hershey's natural cocoa powder was just over the daily limit for chronic (long-term) cadmium exposure as established in Canada (the U.S. has not established a limit). It would seem best to use such products in moderation. Relatively high amounts of cadmium were also found by ConsumerLab in some of the dark chocolates; in fact, two had several times the Canadian limit, although cadmium was not an issue in Hershey's Special Dark chocolate.
You can compare levels of flavanols and cadmium found in many popular dark chocolates and cocoa powders (as well as cocoa supplements and cacao nibs) in ConsumerLab.com's Dark Chocolates and Cocoa Powders Review. The review includes additional information about cocoa flavanols and contaminants, as well as caffeine and calories in products.
Note that Hershey's also makes an "Extra Dark" 60% cacao chocolate. This is very different from the Special Dark in that it is not treated with alkali and is likely to provide a higher amount of flavanols than the Special Dark chocolate.
In short, the term "Special Dark" on Hershey's products does not mean that it is especially high in cocoa flavanols. If you are seeking the health benefits of cocoa flavanols, you're better off with a "natural" product, i.e., one that has not been processed with alkali. You might also consider a cocoa flavanol supplement, but you need to choose carefully as amounts of flavanols in these supplements vary widely, as found by ConsumerLab.
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Initial Posting: 5/17/14 EXPANDED: 8/1/14, 10/28/15 and 7/16/17 Last Upate: 6/20/18
Choosing the Right Cocoa Powder, Dark Chocolate and Nibs
Is Your Dark Chocolate and Cocoa Healthful or Toxic?
ConsumerLab.com Identifies Best and Worst Products
Alphabetical list of cocoa, cacao, and dark chocolate products covered in report.
Ghirardelli 100% Unsweetened Cocoa
Nestle Toll House Cocoa
Baker's Semi-Sweet Baking Chocolate Bar
Ghirardelli Chocolate Intense Dark Twilight Delight
NOW Certified Organic Cocoa Powder
Baker's Unsweetened Baking Chocolate Bar All Natural
Ghirardelli® Intense Dark 86% Cacao
NuNaturals Pure Liquid Cocoa Bean Extract
Bulletproof Upgraded Chocolate Powder
Green & Black's ORGANIC 85% Cacao Bar
Pascha Organic Dark Chocolate - 85% Cacao
Cacao by Advanced Physician Formulas
Hawaii Pharm Cacao
Rapunzel Organic Cocoa Powder
Chocolove Extra Strong - 77% Cocoa Content
Healthworks Cacao Powder
Hershey's Special Dark Chocolate
CocoaVia Sweetened Dark Chocolate flavored mix
Hershey's Cocoa - 100% Cacao Natural Unsweetened
Source Naturals ChocoLift
Dagoba Organic Chocolate Cacao Powder
Hershey's Cocoa - Natural Unsweetened
Sunfood Raw Cacao Powder
Dove Dark Chocolate
Lily's Dark Chocolate - Original - Stevia Sweetened
Swanson Full Spectrum Cacao
Earth Circle Organics Organic Balinese Cacao Nibs
Lindt Excellence 90% Cocoa Supreme Dark
Trader Joe's 72% Cacao Dark Chocolate
Endangered Species Chocolate Natural Dark Chocolate
Moser Roth Edel Bitter 85% Cacao
Trader Joe's Cocoa Powder Unsweetened
Equal Exchange Chocolates Organic Panama Extra Dark
Navitas Naturals Cacao Nibs
Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Lover's Bar
Futurebiotics Dark Chocolate Extract
Navitas Naturals Cacao Powder
Viva Naturals Cacao Nibs Organic
Make sure the cocoa, cacao, or chocolate you use passed our tests and is right for you!
Isn't your health worth it?
Cocoa powders, chocolates, and other products made from cacao beans can be rich in flavanols — which may help with blood flow, blood pressure, memory, cholesterol levels. But beware: Many products are contaminated with high amounts of cadmium, a toxin you should avoid. In addition, the amounts of flavanols are rarely disclosed, so you have no idea what to expect unless you test them in a lab — which is what ConsumerLab.com has done.
Among dark chocolate bars, our tests revealed that two popular bars to be contaminated with cadmium at several times established limits. And being labeled "organic" did not ensure better quality. Also, the "% cocoa" (or cacao) on labels was often a poor indicator of flavanol levels. In fact, several bars claiming 80% to 85% cacao contained lower amounts of flavanols than bars claiming 56% to 77%.
Fortunately, we were able to identify certain dark chocolate bars rich in flavanols and low in cadmium, as well as relatively low in calories -- one of which is our Top Pick for Dark Chocolate.
Our tests also revealed high levels of cadmium in most cocoa powders, and some were contaminated with lead, another toxic heavy metal. It would seem best to use cocoa powders in moderation and to avoid two products with shockingly high levels of cadmium. We were able to identify one cocoa powder with a much better ratio of beneficial flavanols to harmful cadmium, making it our Top Pick for Cocoa Powders.
If you like cacao nibs (bits of cocoa beans), we tested three — one of which appears to be a better option than the others — making it our Top Pick for Cacao Nibs. We also tested cocoa supplements and identified one providing the most cocoa flavanols — and at the lowest cost: our Top Pick for Cocoa Supplements.
You can read the full report now if you're a CL Member. to get You'll immediately get CL's test results for over 40 dark chocolate bars, cocoa powders, cacao nibs, and cocoa supplements along with ConsumerLab.com's reviews, recommendations, and quality ratings. And if you are sensitive to caffeine, you'll want to see how much we found in each product — something not typically listed on labels. Some pack as much caffeine as 1 ½ cups of coffee, while others contain little.
In this comprehensive report, 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
How cocoa powder, cocoa extract, nibs, cacao, and dark and milk chocolates differ in amounts of flavanols, contaminants, calories, caffeine and theobromine
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 chocolate