Valentine’s Day is approaching, when kids will exchange treats in class and many of us will give each other food and gifts. This February 14, consider ending your toxic relationship with some chemicals found in candy and other foods.
An ingredient often found in sunscreen, cosmetics, plastics and paint, titanium dioxide is also added to some foods to create smoothness and shine and brighten other colors (think Skittles and Starburst). The Food and Drug Administration continues to label titanium dioxide as safe for consumption if it meets certain requirements, but other scientists and agencies have said otherwise.
In 2015, scientists were concerned about its potential to lead to inflammatory bowel disease in humans. More recently, the European Food Safety Authority declared titanium dioxide no longer safe for consumption, since it could damage DNA.
Types of candy to look out for that contain titanium dioxide include Brach’s Gummy Conversation Hearts Candy, Avengers Valentine Candy Card Kit and Nickelodeon Heart Shaped Krabby Patties Gummies Candy.
Food dyes pose a risk to children’s developing brains. A 2021 report by California scientists showed a link between food dyes and hyperactivity, inattentiveness and restlessness in children. Red No. 40, Yellow No. 5 and Yellow No. 6 are the most widely consumed additives and are prevalent in breakfast cereal, icing and sugary drinks.
The report concludes that the acceptable daily intake for many food dyes, set by the FDA decades ago, would be much lower if the guidelines were based on the most recent science.
Watch out for food dyes in Haribo Gold Bears Candy, Sour Patch Kids Candy and Nerds Rope Valentine Candy.
Sugar-free treats may sound enticing, especially since they often have fewer calories than sugar-containing foods. But artificial sweeteners are not as great as they may seem.
Studies show artificial sweeteners are not as helpful for weight management as we think and may disrupt metabolism. The artificial sweeteners can be up to 180 to 20,000 times sweeter than sugar and produce an addictive-like response that increases cravings for more sweets.
The most common artificial sweeteners in the U.S. are sucralose, acesulfame potassium and aspartame, all of which can cause immediate side effects, such as abdominal discomfort and diarrhea. Sorbitol, erythritol and maltitol are also popular.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest claims that over the long-term, aspartame and sucralose may increase the risk of cancer. Watch for artificial sweeteners in Brach’s Sugar Free Gummy Bears, Russel Stover Sugar Free Caramels and Bob’s Sugar Free Starlight Mints candy.
In addition to not buying specific brand candies, there are other ways to avoid these food additives so you and your family can have a safer Valentine’s Day. Get Your Free Guide: EWG’s Guide to Food Additives
Get Your Free Guide: EWG’s Guide to Food Additives
Chemicals linked to cancer, nervous system harm and immune system harm may be lurking in your pantry. But EWG’s Guide to Food Additives is here to help you avoid the worst offenders. Plus, our guide highlights harmful chemicals that are used in food packaging and can migrate into food.
Read the label
The FDA states that for titanium dioxide and other additives to be added to food, they must be listed on the product’s label. Make sure to check the ingredient list on candy and processed foods before buying.
Look for better products
To find foods without harmful food additives, use our Food Scores database, which includes more than 80,000 foods. Choose whole foods and limit those that are processed.
Tell the FDA to step up
The FDA has yet to close a loophole allowing additives to be included in foods without any safety review. To tell the FDA it’s time to take action, send a tweet using the hashtag #ToxicFreeFoodFDA. You can also join advocacy groups in petitioning for warning labels to be required on foods that contain certain additives.
To learn more, check out our Dirty Dozen Guide to Food Additives and our Food Additives State of the Science.