Happy Halloween to all! What a glorious day: you can dress as anything you want, no matter how crazy, and it’s totally ok; you have free reign to jump out from behind corners and scare the living crap out of people; you can watch all those terrible horror movies from the early 2000s (“I Know What You Did Last Summer”, anyone?); and you get to eat as much candy as you can fit inside a pillowcase (normally that ones just for the youngsters, but you’ve gotta screen through your kids bounty for those weird “homemade” candies, right?). But then, morning comes and as we roll out of bed with the remnants of dried fake blood still stuck to our faces, we realize that November 1st is the real holiday: all that candy is now ON SALE!! Who could resist those discounts? Stores are dying to get rid of those pound bags of Halloween M&Ms to make way for the completely different Christmas M&Ms, they’re practically giving these bags away! I fully support eating some treats on Holidays, that’s why they’re called “treats”, something we have occasionally, and these events are a great opportunity to indulge, but let’s all make a more conscious effort to be smart about our choices. I’m not just talking about picking candies that are lower in sugar and calories, although that is important, I’m also talking about some of the disgusting ingredients that are lurking in our favorite sweets.
I just read a great piece by fellow blogger Vani Hart of FoodBabe.com where she pointed out five ingredients we should all be on the lookout for in our candies, and in certainly in any packaged foods we buy.
1. Trans Fat: As I’ve pointed out before, nutrition labels are not to be trusted when it comes from trans fats. If the label says that a food has 0.5 grams of trans fat, the company is legally allowed to list that it has 0 grams. This can be tricky because if there is 0.5 grams per serving and there are 4 servings in the package, you will consume 2 grams of trans fats while thinking you are taking in none at all! Even a small amount of these fats are dangerous, especially for your heart, so try to avoid these foods at all costs. To see if a food truly has trans fats, look at the ingredient list. If you see any partially hydrogenated oil, such as soybean, corn and canola oils, put it back on the shelf and walk away!
2. Food Coloring: I’ve read some interesting literature recently about food colorings and how they may be linked to serious learning disabilities in children, as well as allergies and possibly cancer, so I find this is one to keep away from the little ones. Yellow 5, Red 40, Blue 1 and Yellow 6 are some common ingredients in gummy candies, so keep an eye out for these on the list. Personally, seeing these words on an ingredient list is an immediate turn off; it’s simply not food! Do you go out to your Yellow 6 tree and pick one off the branch? Unless you’re Willy Wonka, probably not.
3. High Fructose Corn Syrup: This has become a hot button issue in recent years and consumers are really looking out for it, which is wonderful, but it’s still cleverly hidden in lots of foods. Candy, by it’s “nature”, is basically a ball of sugar with basically zero nutritional value (especially the fruit-flavored gummy ones) so HFCs are going to be present to heighten that sweetness and sustain their shelf life. You could probably eat an unopened bag of Twizzlers that you bought this Halloween on October 31st, 2014 and it would still be good (Please don’t try this.). HFCs have been linked to childhood obesity, heart disease and diabetes, so limit your little one to as small an amount as possible.
4. Vanillin: This is a vanilla flavoring that is made from wood pulp after it gets oxidized in a lab. Seriously. Most mass chocolate producers use this ingredient rather than real vanilla, most likely because it’s cheaper and easier to get in mass quantities. This ingredient may be carcinogenic so be wary. But really, who wants to eat wood pulp? Hey Sugar Blues workshoppers, sound like the discussion we had about Splenda and it’s link to DDT? Let’s begin to learn about what we’re eating and where it’s coming from. If it’s not food, don’t eat it.
5. Natural Flavors: This one is incredibly misleading. It sounds like it should be healthy; if something tastes like blueberries and it says it’s made with natural flavors, well what else could it be than actual blueberries? Funny story, it only has to literally come from nature in order to count as a natural flavor. It may have nothing to do with the flavors that are actually in the food. Food marketers don’t even have to divulge what the natural ingredient actually is. Hari points out that unbeknownst to us these natural flavors could come from beaver’s anal glands. What?! I’m pretty open-minded about trying new things, but secretions from the ass of a beaver…that’s pushing it for me. Apparently it’s also used in perfumes. So not only could you be eating it, you could also be wearing it. Look for the word Castoreum, the proper term for this delightful ingredient.
If you want to avoid these scary, gross and literally sickening ingredients, try these options:
1. Unreal Candy: They are made with less sugar, grass-fed dairy and all-natural colors (which is different than the vague “natural ingredients”).
2. Justin’s: This brand is organic and fair trade and though you may have already tried their delish peanut and almond butters, they also make an absolutely wonderful peanut butter cup in both milk and dark chocolate (seriously it’s awesome).
3. Endangered Species: I am a big fan of these milk and dark chocolate bars which are natural, organic and fair trade. Plus, by buying a bar you are doing good for more than just your taste buds because they are teamed up with the Rainforest Alliance and the Non-GMO Project to support ecosystem conservation and honor farmers.
4. YumEarth Organics: These gummies are made with real pomegranate, strawberry, mango and peach flavors, rather than secretions from the rear end of a large, buck-toothed rodent.
5. Alter Ego Truffles: These sustainable chocolates (meaning they are fair trade, organic minimally processed) are made with pure coconut oil rather than trans fat loaded oils.
If you attended my Sugar Blues workshop last weekend (thanks again to all who came!) you know how damaging sugar is to your health. However, you also know that there are ways to enjoy sweets without falling into the deep end, and these natural options are a great example of that. If you feel like sugar has a hold on your life and just won’t let go, consider signing up for a free consultation with me to learn how you can take back control and still enjoy all the sweet treats this world has to offer!
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