What is cadmium and why is everyone talking about it

rainforest cadmium blog

Currently a disastrous situation for the protection of the Amazon rainforest is under way. Natural jungle land has been used to grow cacao and will likely get slashed and burned to farm commodity crops such as palm oil.


It has long been known that cocoa, and many other foods, often contain trace amounts of heavy metals.

Volcanic soils tend to have higher levels of all minerals present, including heavy metals, and cacao grown in these soils will tend to have higher levels of cadmium specifically, as a result of cacao’s mineral dense nature (cadmium is a mineral.)

This has never been an issue for local people consuming this cacao daily, as cadmium is very poorly absorbed by the body, only 3 – 5 %, and if minerals such as calcium, iron and zinc are present in the diet they reduce the absorption of cadmium even more.

Cacao happens to be rich in these same minerals, so tends to have a natural protective effect for cadmium absorption.

To date no direct link has been established between chocolate eating and cadmium body load.

Why all the attention now?

The reason this is suddenly news, is that after decades of study, the EU found that levels of heavy metals are on the rise in people, often exceeding safety levels. As a result of this, recommended safety levels for heavy metals in food have been drastically reduced as of 2019.

Many foods have been affected by this change, however cacao consumption constitutes as little as 5% of the dietary cadmium load.

Rice, seaweed, organ meats, seafood, peanuts, sun­flower seeds, leafy greens, potatoes, bread, and mushrooms are well known sources of cadmium.

The cadmium content of these other foods is often the result of environmental contamination by industry and chemical agriculture.

Cacao however has been very hard hit by the new regulations in Europe. Especially volcanic grown cacao. The very thing that makes this cacao amazingly mineral dense, also results in it being flagged as a high cadmium food.

When I first heard of this, I had our personal heavy metal levels checked by hair mineral analysis. Beryn and I have consumed large amounts of our cacao daily for over a decade. I expected us to have large amounts of cadmium in our bodies even though the cacao products we have at superfoods have always met the regulatory requirements for safety.

The results were quite the opposite, there very low levels of cadmium for both of us.

Considering the mineral competition nature of cadmium to calcium, zinc and iron, this made sense to me because these are all present in cacao.

Regardless of my own levels, the new EU regulations put our cacao paste and powder in the red.

Our suppliers

The people we get our cacao from are being very badly affected by this situation.

They buy cacao beans from small family owned and run land in the forest. With these results they are no longer able to sell their beans and are losing their income and possibly even their lands.

They are actively monitoring and testing every batch of cacao to make sure it complies with the new regulations and have assured us that our next batch of cacao will be within limits. This will be within 3 – 6 months (May – August 2019).

In the meantime is it safe to consume our cacao powder and paste?

These are the only 2 cacao products we sell that are over the levels and my family is continuing to eat paste and powder, but not on a daily basis. Cacao nibs and our raw chocolate bars are our current favourites and these are below the limits set.

For paste and powder, daily intake of 5 grams and under is acceptable at California’s Prop levels, 10 grams and under is acceptable under the European food safety levels.

The testing of such tiny amounts of Cadmium is difficult and the results generally have a variance of up to 40%.

The new EU Regulation (EU) 488/2014 restricts the amount of cadmium in food vs suggesting safe daily intake levels as done by Cal prop and EFSA, and under these new levels our cacao powder and paste are over the limit.

There are no limits set by South African standards, but we are actively working on providing cacao that is below the stringent new EU levels.

Consuming our cacao paste and powder at or below the above daily limits, will limit your exposure to cadmium.


With some perspective, considering the low absorption of cadmium and that cacao is a small part of dietary exposure to cadmium, I in no way see our cacao as a health threat, quite the opposite, the proven positives as shown in this article about cacao far outweigh the negatives.

On top of that, being conscious of avoiding non organic, GMO, and chemicalised food is your best defence against health threats.

I have for years also suggested regular heavy metal detoxing periods, using powerful foods such as chlorella and coriander, in conjunction with MSM, digestive enzymes and fibre rich foods like chia, to keep heavy metals in the body down.

We live in a profoundly polluted world and need to be conscious of our choices to limit exposure to poisons.

Our supplier is the most environmentally conscious cacao supplier in the world, and are dedicated to organic and biodynamic agriculture as well as efforts to protect the rainforest.

We will continue to support them and are hopeful that they can survive this storm.

To your continued health and wellness.

Peter Daniel

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