If someone sticks a bowl of candy corn in front of me, I’ve got problems. And apparently they go way beyond the horror of a few empty calories: According to Charles Stuart Platkin, a nutritionist and public health advocate, the symbol of Halloween gluttony is full of junk that could give you tumors and allergies, too. Which is why I say: Eat it. Eat a lot of it, even! But just on Halloween. On November 1, floss your teeth, drink some water, eat some spinach, and throw out the leftover candy corn. Because really, it looks like this stuff is pretty bad for you.
These are the ingredients in Brach’s candy corn:
Sugar, Corn Syrup, Confectioner’s Glaze, Salt, Honey, Dextrose, Artificial Flavor, Gelatin, Titanium Dioxide Color, Yellow 6, Yellow 5, Red 3, Blue 1, Sesame Oil.
While some of them are obviously ones to avoid in excess (sugar, salt; maybe even honey), I’ve picked out the ones that are particularly alarming according to Platkin’s field notes:
Corn Syrup. Another name for liquid sugar. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s (CSPI) Chemical Cuisine, corn syrup, which consists mostly of dextrose, is a sweet, thick liquid made by treating cornstarch with acids or enzymes. Corn syrup has no nutritional value.
Confectioner’s Glaze. According to Luke LaBorde, Ph.D., a professor of food science and Penn State University, “It contains lac resin, which is a secretion made by a certain beetle in Asia. Much like honey from bees, it is the product made by the insect that is collected and not the insect itself.” Basically this is a food grade shellac and what creates the candy’s hard coating.
Gelatin. This is the same thing used to make JELL-O. It’s a protein acquired from animal hides and bones. [Take note, vegans.]
Yellow 6. According to CSPI: Industry-sponsored animal tests indicated that this dye, the third most widely used, causes tumors of the adrenal gland and kidney. In addition, small amounts of several carcinogens, such as 4-aminobiphenyl and benzidine (or chemicals that the body converts to those substances), contaminate Yellow 6. However, the FDA reviewed those data and found reasons to conclude that Yellow 6 does not pose a significant cancer risk to humans. Yellow 6 may cause occasional, but sometimes severe, hypersensitivity reactions.
Yellow 5. “The second-most-widely used coloring causes allergy-like hypersensitivity reactions, primarily in aspirin-sensitive persons, and triggers hyperactivity in some children. It may be contaminated with such cancer-causing substances as benzidine and 4-aminobiphenyl (or chemicals that the body converts to those substances),” according to CSPI’s Chemical Cuisine.
Red 3. The evidence that this dye caused thyroid tumors in rats is “convincing,” according to a 1983 review committee report requested by FDA. FDA’s recommendation that the dye be banned was overruled by pressure from elsewhere in the Reagan administration. Red 3 was formerly used to color maraschino cherries, but it has been replaced there by the less controversial Red 40 dye. It is still used in a smattering of foods ranging from cake icing to fruit roll-ups to chewing gum.
Blue 1 Lake. According to CSPI’s Chemical Cuisine: “One (unpublished) animal test suggested a small cancer risk, and a test-tube study indicated the dye might affect neurons. It also causes occasional allergic reactions.”
Boooo. That doesn’t sound like a fun time. Ultimately, it’s probably best that you completely avoid these things and stick with a homemade, pumpkin-shaped cookie to quell your Halloween craving for sweets. But ultimately, that’s probably not going to happen for everyone, because it’s Halloween, and candy corn is all over the place. (It’s even all over those homemade cookies and cupcakes, dammit!)
So instead of making everything off-limits for you or your family, I propose a more realistic approach: Eat the candy. Eat it, maybe even so much of it you never want to see it again. But when Halloween is over, throw it out. You can call it your “cheat day,” or if you don’t practice that kind of diet philosophy, then just be conscious of what you’re eating the rest of the week. But if you eat some Halloween candy one day of the year, it probably won’t kill you (provided you don’t have any serious food allergies).
It’s when bags and bags of candy linger around your home and office, becoming a staple from now until Thanksgiving, that you really start to do put your body at risk for bigger problems than a few extra pounds before Christmas. Repeatedly eating extra calories and exposing your system to food dyes, preservatives, and processed sugars, even in small amounts, is worse than just giving yourself one big hit and being done with it. So enjoy your Halloween, but ease off the treats in November.
Photo: Food and Things