To your health: Unhealthy ingredients lurking in your candy this Halloween

By Alfred Casale - To Your Health | October 24th, 2017 6:00 am

The best part of Halloween for kids is coming home and dumping out their haul of candy to see what they got trick-or-treating. For parents, this is only a sign of the sugar-driven excitement to come.

But there’s more than sugar in candy — in fact, there are some things that you may want to think about pulling from your child’s pillow case or plastic pumpkin. In small quantities, these ingredients are not dangerous, but in large quantities, they’re far from healthy.

Halloween candy is obviously not supposed to be nutritious. But kids come home with a bunch of candy —including some candy you’ve never heard of — and some that doesn’t even have the ingredients listed. You should monitor your kids’ intake of candy and keep an eye on ingredients. For example, ‘fun size’ candies can include different ingredients from the full-size ones — so watch out for undesirable ingredients and allergy triggers.

Here are five ingredients to watch out for in your kid’s trick-or-treat basket:

High fructose corn syrup

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is popular with food manufacturers since it is cheaper and more available than table sugar.

However, some groups have raised concerns about side effects of HFCS including its contribution to the obesity epidemic and whether it contains mercury.

High fructose corn syrup is a debated topic among nutritionists. Studies show that high fructose corn syrup is metabolized just like regular sugar, but people still worry about other effects such as kidney damage, liver damage and obesity.

Regardless of these claims, the thing to remember about high fructose corn syrup is the same thing to remember with all added sugars — they aren’t a necessary part of nutrition, so you should avoid eating too much in order to prevent weight gain and other health issues.

Artificial coloring

A key characteristic of every food is how it looks. Our brain assumes if it looks good it will probably taste good. Artificial colors can make foods look tastier, but that doesn’t mean they’re good for you.

Artificial colors are everywhere in our food — enough so that they’re hard to avoid. Because candy is colored to celebrate the season or show the flavor, it often contains a lot of artificial colors. But there are some cases of artificial colors causing problems. In 1950, kids got welts, rashes and diarrhea from the artificial color called Orange 1. Colors today like Red 40 and Yellow 5 are thought to cause behavioral problems in children.

If you notice that your kids are eating a lot of colored foods such as candy, fruit snacks, chips, soft drinks or packaged cookies, or experience adverse effects, consider removing them from their diet.

Artificial flavors

In food, there are two types of added flavors: natural flavors and artificial flavors. Natural flavors are derived from either plants or animals; artificial flavors are made from chemicals.

People with allergies to gluten or sulphites might have an allergic reaction from artificial flavors.

Replace processed foods with natural, whole foods to avoid artificial flavors.

Hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils

To give chocolate and other candies a smooth texture and consistency, food manufacturers add hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils like palm kernel oil. These oils get the consistency that manufacturers want — at a lower cost.

While it may sound healthy since it comes from a plant, partially hydrogenated palm kernel oil is full of fat. These fats are often saturated, which can increase bad cholesterol. While these oils are not toxic by any means, you should monitor your children’s intake and try to keep them from eating too much.

Chemical-based preservatives

Preservatives like sodium benzoate are in many different foods to prevent spoilage, but it’s not without controversy.

Sodium benzoate can trigger allergic reactions in some people. Researchers believe it can cause hyperactivity in children. Other studies point out that it may deplete oxygen in cells.

For most cases, sodium benzoate is listed as safe for consumption in normal portions, unless you’re experiencing adverse effects. However, when it’s combined with ascorbic acid or vitamin C, benzene is created. Benzene occurs most often in sodas and soft drinks that contain sodium benzoate and vitamin C.

It’s important to remember that all of these ingredients are not immediately dangerous. If your child eats some of these ingredients, it isn’t the end of the world. But be conscious of how much they eat and — as always — moderation is the answer.

Alfred Casale To Your Health Casale To Your Health

By Alfred Casale

To Your Health

Dr. Alfred Casale, a cardiothoracic surgeon, is Associate Chief Medical Officer for Geisinger Health and Chair of the Geisinger Cardiac Institute. Readers may write to him via [email protected]