Keep the Lead OUT of Your Sweethearts Valentine’s Day Treats

Published February 13, 2024

Choose the right sweets for your sweetheart on Valentine’s Day.” — Dr. Albert Arteaga, Chair of LaSalle Medical Associates.

Not all sweets are created equal and knowing the good, the bad, and the ugly can affect your sweetheart’s health, for better or worse. Few people are aware that the cocoa used to make chocolates and other sweets that include chocolate may include potentially toxic levels of lead and/or cadmium.

Consumer Reports (CR) published two studies investigating the presence of heavy metals in chocolates. Of the brands they tested, a 2023 study found “a third of chocolate products are high in heavy metals.” CR tested 48 different products, including cocoa powder, chocolate chips, chocolate bars, mixes for hot chocolate, brownies, and cakes.

Helen Robinson and LaSalle patient Carl M. Dameron plan for Valentine’s festivities. Carl plans to buy a box of chocolates for his sweetheart, but wonders which one is healthy? Photo by Carl M. Dameron.

Brands included Hershey’s, Ghirardelli, Nestlé; retailer house brands from Costco, Target, Trader Joe’s, Walmart, and Whole Foods; and specialty brands Droste and Navitas. Dark chocolates have higher percentages of cocoa than milk chocolates, but “…every product we tested had detectable amounts of lead and cadmium,” according to James E. Rogers, PhD, CR’s director and acting head of product safety testing.

Paradoxically, dark chocolate confections that have 70% or higher concentrations of cocoa are considered healthier than treats with lower concentrations because of their powerful antioxidant effect, which contributes to a lower risk of heart disease and enhanced brain function, according to Healthline. But higher cocoa content also means more heavy metals!

Different chocolatiers manufacture their products using cocoa from different countries. The soil that provides nutrients to the cocoa plants is also the source of unhealthy concentrations of the heavy metals that end up in the cocoa beans. Milk chocolates do not contain worrying amounts of these metals. But milk chocolates don’t contain healthier levels of antioxidants. So, what is a Valentine’s Day gift giver to do? Consumer Reports studies are available to subscribers, but if you are not a subscriber, you will need to go online to third-party reports.

Here are two online resources that are not behind a paywall: Food Revolution Network, a nonprofit health-oriented website (; and Forbes magazine ( You can also enter “heavy metals in chocolates” in your web browser for a complete list of resources.

“Do your sweetheart a favor,” says Dr. Arteaga, “and if you give chocolates, choose brands without toxic levels of heavy metals. Choose the right sweets for your sweetheart on Valentine’s Day. Perhaps consider giving flowers or a fruit basket.”

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Media Contacts

Dr. Greg Zerovnik


Release ID: 910513

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