Scary Halloween candy: Watch out for these five ingredients

halloween kit kat
Kit Kats contain trans fat.
Credit: slgckgc/flickr

Halloween is right around the corner, but it’s not just the costumes that are scary. Halloween candy can be full of frightening ingredients that may have long-term consequences for your children’s health.

These ingredients are derived from anything ranging from beavers’ anal secretions to wood pulp. Vani Hari, food activist and blogger, told Metro to be careful when letting your kids dig into their Halloween loot. Instead of focusing on the nutrition facts, look closely at the ingredients label for the following red flags.

1. Trans fat: Watch out for trans fat in candy and don’t be fooled if the packaging boasts, “Zero grams trans fat!” Hari said that if the candy has less than 0.5 g trans fat, the company is allowed to write 0 g trans fat on the label. But even in such small quantities, Hari said trans fat can be harmful. “Even a small amount of partially hydrogenated oil is linked to heart disease,” said Hari. “It hits the arteries hard.” Look closely at the ingredients and watch out for any partially hydrogenated oil: common culprits include soybean, corn and canola oils. Snickers is one candy bar that contains trans fat.

2. Food coloring: Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Blue 1, Blue 2 and Red 40 are all common ingredients in candies like gummy bears, Sour Patch Kids, Twizzlers and Skittles. The Center for Science in the Public Interest released a study linking these additives to hyperactivity, cancer and allergies. These food dyes require warning labels or are sometimes even banned in other countries, especially in Europe. Hari said she got hundreds of letters from parents who phased out artificial food dyes from their children’s diet. “They told me activity improved, their kids were able to focus and they were good in school,” said Hari, who started a petition drive on to remove artificial coloring from Kraft Macaroni & Cheese that already has more than 250,000 signatures.

3. High fructose corn syrup: High fructose corn syrup is the most refined sugar available, and Hari pointed out that it is also genetically engineered. She added that the long term risks of GMOs are still unknown. “Kids shouldn’t be the guinea pigs,” Hari commented. High fructose corn syrup is linked to childhood obesity, heart disease and diabetes. “Your liver cannot process that fructose the way it would a natural sugar from cane juice or fruit juice or fruit,” said Hari.

4. Vanillin: Most mass chocolate producers, like Hershey’s, are skipping real vanilla and are using an artificial ingredient called vanillin instead. Vanillin is made from wood pulp that is oxidized in a lab — and may be carcinogenic. “It’s hard to study what the long term effects are from eating all of these different things with little bits of carcinogenic compounds in them,” said Hari. “But even these minute amounts add up over time.”

5. Natural flavors: “These can be anything under the sun that comes from nature, including beavers’ anal glands,” said Hari. Flavor manufacturers are not required to disclose what makes up these “natural flavors.” Castoreum, which is sometimes used for vanilla, raspberry and strawberry flavors, is an unappetizing blend of fluids from the castor and anal glands of beavers.

Unfortunately, most common brand name Halloween candies have at least one of the above ingredients. Hari said the lesser evil is plain chocolate, but brands like Endangered Species, Yummy Earth, Justin’s and Unreal Candy offer tasty sweets made with natural ingredients you can recognize. Hari also suggested handing out fruit leathers made from 100 percent fruit or drawing Jack O’Lantern faces onto tangerines for a festive and healthy treat.

Learn more about Vani Hari’s work on her website, and follow her on Twitter: @TheFoodBabe.

Follow Andrea Park on Twitter: @andreapark


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