What’s Hiding in Your Treats? These Unhealthy Ingredients Put the ‘Junk’ in Junk Food

Welcome to Community Voices! With these special blog posts, we’re very excited to welcome a handful of health enthusiasts from the Activation Family to share their experiences and some of the discoveries they’ve made on their own personal journeys to better health. We hope you’ll be able to connect, relate and grow alongside our community writers.

Now that I have a little one in my life, I’ve started paying a lot more attention to the ingredients listed on Halloween candy. Sure, I used to put stuff like that into my body all the time without much thought but being responsible for the health of a little person has led to me maybe giving too much thought to what’s in her candy.

Regardless, when I started looking into the ingredients to figure out what my daughter was really eating on Halloween, I started finding some things that I wasn’t too pleased with. I probably shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was.

Food dyes and high fructose corn syrup are just the tip of the Halloween candy iceberg.

It’s not only the little ones you should be concerned with. If you’ve been snacking on Halloween treats, they’re just as bad for you as they are for them. You should be concerned for your own health, too.

I’ve made a list of some ingredients that are found in common Halloween candies so you know what to look for and what to avoid when you’re shopping for candy to hand out to trick-or-treaters, when you’re reaching into your child’s candy bag for a midnight snack or when you’re letting them reach into their own bag for an after dinner treat.

Artificial food dyes

Food dyes are what makes candy colorful and what draws a lot of kids into the world of candy. The problem, though, is that many of these dyes are not great for you.

Some of the most commonly used food dyes include Tartrazine (Yellow 5), Sunset Yellow FCF (Yellow 5) and Allura Red (Red 40), according to Global News.

According to Healthline, “artificial food dye consumption has increased by 500% in the last 50 years, and children are the biggest consumers.”

Most of these chemical dyes have never been properly tested for safety. There are studies that link food dyes with certain cancers and others that show a correlation between food dye consumption and hyperactivity in kids. Allergies, irritability and learning impairment have also been connected to regular ingestion of food dyes.

Not. Great.

High fructose corn syrup

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is an extremely common ingredient in most candy, as it’s an incredibly inexpensive sweetener, especially in the US.

HFCS is made from corn starch and according to Healthline, “it has a similar chemical composition and effect on the body as table sugar.”

HFCS has been linked to a number of health problems. It’s easily converted to fat, increases your risk of weight gain and can even increase the risk of diabetes. On top of that, it contains no essential nutrients.

Huffpost says that “as part of the chemical process used to make high fructose corn syrup, the glucose and fructose — which are naturally bound together — become separated. This allows the fructose to mainline directly into your liver, which turns on a factory of fat production in your liver called lipogenesis.”

Speaking of chemical processes, HFCS is packed with synthetic chemical additives, which are not something I want my kid to be eating.

According to Huffpost, aside from the sugar in HCFS, there are other chemicals toxins to be worried about. “Chemical contaminants used during manufacturing end up in the HFCS and in our food.  What we know, for example, is that chloralkali is used in making high fructose corn syrup. Chloralkali contains mercury. And there are trace amounts of mercury found in high fructose corn syrup-containing beverages. Now, it may not be a problem if we eat this occasionally, but the average person in the country consumes more than 20 teaspoons a day of high fructose corn syrup and the average teenager has 34 teaspoons a day. Over time, these heavy metals can accumulate in the body, causing health problems.”

Avoiding foods with HFCS as an ingredient is your best bet. Most foods that have this ingredient are considered low-quality foods, so if you see it on the ingredient list, it’s best to not only take it out of your child’s diet but also remove it from your own.


Colourful gummy candies can be a delicious treat that most kids love to eat and most gummy candies contain gelatin. Gelatin is actually not bad for you, though. In fact, it can even have health benefits.

According to SFGate, “gelatin is an extract from the protein collagen found in the connective tissue of animals. Other than just being used in jellied desserts, you can find gelatin in many food including candies, desserts, cheese, processed meats, beverages, protein supplements and gel capsules. […] All gelatin is derived from the connective tissue of animals. Sources include crushed bones and skins from cattle, pigs and fish.”

The only problem with gelatin is that often people aren’t aware that it’s in their candy and if you’re a vegan or vegetarian, you shouldn’t be eating it because it’s an animal product. There are environmental downsides associated with gelatin production too, which is one reason why many people choose not to eat it even if they eat other animal products.

If you’re interested in eating gelatin for health benefits, you’re better off getting it from something like bone broth where you eat (sustainably sourced, grass-fed) meat, save the bones and then cook them into a nutrient-rich broth. That makes for a nutritious and environmentally-friendly way to get gelatin benefits. Marshmallow candies? Not so much.

There can be some side effects to consuming too much gelatin, such as bloating, heartburn and gas but the amount in candy is not likely to cause these effects.

Carrageenan is often used in place of gelatin nowadays because it is vegan-friendly but there are studies that suggest that it may be harmful to your health.

Confectioner’s glaze

This harmless-sounding ingredient is secreted from an insect. Not too appetizing, however, that doesn’t mean it’s bad for you. Of course, it isn’t vegan so that is something to be aware of if you avoid animal products.

What’s worse is that sometimes the bug-sourced variety is replaced with a vegan, but harmful, alternative like those made from petroleum. It may not be clear from the label which you’re getting.

You may also see this listed one as shellac, natural glaze, food glaze or candy glaze.

Gum base

This ingredient is used in chewing gum to make it elastic. It can be made from a variety of different things, many of which are petroleum- or latex-based but it’s really anyone’s guess what your kids are getting when you see this one on the label.

According to Dr. Mercola, “It’s quite a mystery what “gum base” is actually made out of, but the investigators found it’s usually a blend of elastomers, resins, plasticizers, and fillers. Most manufacturers do not reveal more specifics than this. After all, why would they want you to know that you’re potentially chewing on petroleum-derived paraffin wax, polyvinyl acetate (carpenter’s glue) and talc, all of which are linked to cancer.”

If you want a natural alternative, seek out products that use chicle in place of gum base. Chicle is made from tree sap so it’s both healthier and vegan-friendly.

What else should I watch out for?

These are just a few of the ingredients often found in Halloween candy that may be less than ideal for kids or adults to be consuming.

This list isn’t exhaustive, though. If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably looked at an ingredient list before and struggled to even pronounce the names of many ingredients.

To make checking candy labels easier for you, I’ve made a list of common, yet mysterious ingredients found in a variety of treats.

Check out the list for free by sharing this post and get a glimpse what the treats in your cupboard really contain.


Guest Blogger: Ted Miller.

Ted is a 33-year-old produce manager, who recently began focusing on health and is working towards becoming a personal trainer. After experiencing success on his weight loss journey, Ted wanted to reach out and help others by sharing what he’s learned along the way. Ted lives in Nebraska with his wife and their 5-year-old daughter. He’s interested in fitness, stress relief, athletic recovery and anything that pertains to a happy, healthy life with his family. His favorite Activation Products are Oceans Alive, EASE and Pumpkin Oil.


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