Study Reveals Chocolate-Related Chemical Might Pose Health Risk


A recent study has discovered that some of your favorite sweets may include chemicals that damage DNA.

Some chocolates may contain hazardous amounts of lead and cadmium, according to a 2023 Consumer Reports. 

A total of sixteen heavy metals, including both harmful (lead and cadmium) and necessary (copper, iron, zinc), were detected in the 155 chocolates (dark and milk) examined from different international brands sold in the US. Next, the study calculated the potential dangers of eating only one ounce of chocolate every day, which is more than double the recommended weekly intake of chocolate bars.

Only one brand of dark chocolate that contained more than 50% cacao had cadmium levels that were higher than the international limit (800 micrograms per kilogram). Out of all the dark chocolate brands tested, only four had levels that could be harmful to children under the age of three, which is defined as children weighing 33 pounds or less (the average weight of a 3-year-old in the US).

Roasting cocoa brings forth a chemical mixture of tastes, which is what gives chocolate its distinctive flavor. One group of these chemicals is known as α,β-unsaturated carbonyls. The rich, creamy flavor of chocolate may be due in part to these naturally occurring compounds, but some of them may also exhibit genotoxic tendencies. In other words, eating certain α,β-unsaturated carbonyls might harm our DNA.

Belgian scientists from the Université Catholique de Louvain examined several packaged sweets to determine the presence of these potentially harmful compounds. Their findings were published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

The researchers first manufactured their chocolates to establish that α,β-unsaturated carbonyls produced during roasting and after adding cocoa butter were insufficient to warrant serious health concerns.

The group then moved on to taste 22 other sweets, some of which included chocolate and others without, including waffles, cakes, crepes, and biscuits. In comparison to the handcrafted chocolates, the levels of nine out of ten carbonyls examined were much lower in these baked items. The cake and crepe samples had much more significant quantities of one carbonyl, furan-2(5H)-one.

Historically, baked items would have been enhanced with furan-2(5H), which gives a rich buttery taste. Despite its established genotoxic properties, furan-2 is currently prohibited in the European Union.