Halloween, 1950: Children became ill after consuming candies with food coloring Orange No. 1, which became subsequently banned in the United States.
But that doesn't mean mass-market Halloween candies aren't still seriously scary.
Possibly the worst additives in commercial candies are artificial colors, which are considered by many to be toxic, and even possible carcinogens and contributors to ADHD. Orange No. 1 isn’t alone on the ban list. Red No. 2 was found to cause intestinal tumors in rats in the 1970s. Yellows No. 1, 2, 3, and 4—the list goes on. You might have heard of the infamous controversies of Yellow No. 5, which continues to be used in one of the most emblematic Halloween treats: candy corn.
Just as much of a concern in most conventional candies is the first listed ingredient—usually sugar, high fructose corn syrup, or both. And while this definitely already means the candy is super-sweet, there are likely other formulations of sugar listed further down the list, which add up to a seriously high sweetener content.
Some of the aliases to look out for: dextrose, maltose, evaporated cane juice, and concentrated fruit juice. While the latter sounds like it would be relatively healthy, sugar is sugar. (Of course, this isn't to say fresh fruit is bad for you—the fiber content in whole fruit makes its sugar easier to digest.) Excess amounts of any form of sugar can contribute to tooth decay and potentially lead to diabetes, weight gain, and obesity. The worst part: Sugary foods can be addictive.
Soybean oil and soy lecithin, a chocolate emulsifier, are other ingredients of concern, since soy products are usually genetically modified.
Aside from these obvious offenders, there are some hardly recognizable terms on that nutrition label. While some of these may be technically safe in small doses, it’s still beneficial to avoid synthetic ingredients when you can, since some effects are yet unknown due to a lack of scientific data.
The names of the following ingredients may be mind-blowing to read, but keep in mind that they’re not proven to harm human health so far, so they’re not necessarily as scary as they seem. You be the judge—are you comfortable dropping candies with any of these ingredients into trick-or-treaters' Halloween bags?
Tertiary butylhydroquinone (TBHQ)
A form of butane and a preservative derived from petroleum.
Polyglycerol polyricinoleate (PGPR)
A chocolate emulsifier that is a cheaper alternative to cocoa butter.
A shiny candy coating derived from the excrement of tiny Lacca beetles after they’ve sucked sap from trees. This process is comparable to bees producing honey.
An emulsifier containing sorbitol, which can have a laxative effect when consumed in moderate amounts.
A gummy substance produced from starch. It’s typically gluten-free unless made with wheat, which is rare.
Lactic acid esters
These are emulsifiers that enhance volume and texture of candy and other foods.
A mineral that supplies iron to the body—no danger here.
In the end, it’s always safer stick to more natural ingredients when selecting Halloween candy—like the healthier trick-or-treat options you'll find on Thrive Market. Or go the homemade route with almond butter cups and ridiculously good Kit-Kat knockoffs that kids will scream for.