The Toxic Trick in Halloween Candy and Why You Must Dump the Junk

September 22, 2014

in Ask Dr Lisa, Family Health

“Dr. Lisa, I know that Halloween usually means handing out and collecting conventional candy, but the more I am reading about the ingredients in them, the more I question if this is a safe thing to do. I am not comfortable with my son eating these candies, but at I am also not sure what to replace his goodies with. Are there safe healthy candies for trick or treat or should I try handing out non-candy items?

Trick or Treat?

I am here to answer this seasonal never-ending question.

Wait for it…

We are being tricked with our treats!

That’s right. Many adored conventional candies are made with toxic harmful ingredients.

I use to love conventional candy just as much as you. In fact, a Snickers or a Mounds bar as a quick pick me up in the late afternoon or a sweet treat after dinner was once irresistible. I love chocolate. Call me a chocoholic if you must, but when I began to research what REALLY was in many of my beloved chocolate treats, I was so grossed out.

And, having three sons (one on the Autism Spectrum), I had to make sure we avoided conventional sweets since many  harmful ingredients are linked to health problems such as tumors, attention deficits, hyperactivity, behavior and neurological problems. Crazy, I know.

Don’t worry. After I show you what is in many conventional candies and why you must avoid them, I will provide you with delicious non-toxic replacements.

Let’s look at the good, the bad and the ugly, starting off with the ugly!

What are Some Harmful Ingredients in Conventional Candy?

Take a look and see if you can identify them yourself. Do not worry if you are having trouble identifying the toxic ingredients. I have helped you out by highlighting and color coding similar ingredients so we can classify them according to their ugliness. Do you see any similarities among them?


 Orange: GMO Ingredients

A genetically modified organism is an organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. Many crops today are genetically modified and used in our foods and drinks. When I am teaching patients how to read labels, I have them identify ingredients that may be derived from possible GMO sources such as glucose, dextrose, maltose, fructose, highly processed high fructose corn syrup, corn starches and other sugar variants (as well as, corn, and soy).

According to Professor Gilles-Eric Seralini’s study on genetically-modified (GM) corn treated with Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, Monsanto’s NK603 GM maize variety and Roundup herbicide, led to kidney and liver damage. GMOs have also been linked to serious health problems such as tumors in rats. The  NON GMO PROJECT list is a great tool to know which products are safe to purchase as GMO free. Lifesaving, literally!

Red: Dyes and Artificial coloring

As I mentioned in a previous post regarding the dangers of conventional sports drinks, Citrus Red 2, Red 3, Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Blue 1, Blue 2, and Green 3 are toxic to the nervous system. They are derived from coal tar and petroleum, and according to the Center of Science in Public Interest (CSPI) have or have been contaminated with cancer-causing chemicals.  The British Food Standards Agency in 2001 concluded after a study that 6 dyes/colorants and sodium benzoate were linked to increasing hyperactivity and ADD in children. As a result, the European Union Law required these 6 dyes to have warning labels that consumption can lead to hyperactivity.


A study reported by The Lancet in 2007  by Southampton University and funded by the UK Food Standards Industry linked artificial dyes to increasing hyperactivity rates in all children, not just children with ADD/ADHD. This study supported the claims that food additives can exacerbate hyperactivity (inattention, impulstivity, and overactivity) in children from pre-school to middle school ages.The dye orange B is reported to be used in hot dogs and sausage casings and banned in Canada as toxic. Blue 1, Red40, and Yellows 5 & 6 have been linked with allergic reactions. In fact, Yellow 5 (which is a bright yellow coal tar dye and is also called Tartrazine) is prohibited in Norway and Finland.

A child with a hyperactive nervous system needs to avoid  foods with toxic dyes at all costs. These dyes are neurotoxins that will only impeded the nervous system’s ability to regulate and interrogate appropriately. Neurotoxins are substances that act on our nervous system producing behavioral, emotional, or body-movement abnormalities.  Spooky, right?

Breathe. I will show you how to debunk this funk!

Blue: Be Aware of Their Dangers

Hydrogenated Oil Such as Hydrogenated Palm Kernel Oil

Hydrogenated oils are one of the top dangerous ingredients in our food today. Hydrogenated oils are made when you add hydrogen atoms to a naturally healthy oil such as palm, kernel, soybean, corn oil or coconut oil .This is typically done by heating it in temperatures between five hundred to one thousand degrees. After doing so, a catalyst, usually a metal such as platinum, nickel aluminum, is added which alters the molecular structure. This creates a semi-solid or solid oil that we call partially hydrogenated or fully hydrogenated oil.

Unfortunately, these new oils create havoc within the body. They act like sludge in our arteries causing damage to arterial walls and plaque formation. They increase bad cholesterol, heart disease and cancer risks. These oils are quiet killers as they are in almost all processed, fast and conventional man-made foods and are one the biggest causes of heart disease in US today.

TBHQ (Tertiary Butylhydroquinone)

TBHQ is a chemical preservative which is a form of butane. It is a preservative that allows foods to last longer when on the shelf.  It is most common in fast foods, but is also in many common foods such as candy. According to a study in the June 2008 issue of “Carcinogenesis,” TBHQ has been linked to an ability to make cancer cells resistant to chemotherapy agents. Another study in the June 2014 issue of “Food Chemistry” reported that TBHQ can fragment DNA and cause damage to human lung and umbilical cells. Scary for sure!

In my TBHQ research, the majority of articles found reported that TBHQ can cause anxiety, restlessness, and aggravation of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, symptoms, in children, although I was unable to find the clinical studies that demonstrate this link. However, at high doses TBHQ is clinically reported and to cause health problems.

“Consuming high doses (between 1 and 4 grams) of TBHQ can cause nausea, delirium, collapse, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), and vomiting. There are also suggestions that it may lead to hyperactivity in children as well as asthma, rhinitis and dermatitis. It may also further aggravate ADHD symptoms and cause restlessness. Long term, high doses of TBHQ in laboratory animals have shown a tendency for them to develop cancerous precursors in their stomachs, as well as cause DNA damage to them. It is also suggested that it may be responsible for affecting estrogen levels in women.”  (

TBHQ is an ingredient that may be creating attention, behavior and other neurological problems in children. Avoiding this ingredient until further studies are performed is key for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other neurological problems.

 PGPR  (Polyglycerol Pllyricinoleate)

PGR is an additive used as a common emulsifier in commercial chocolate candy. Its purpose is to decrease the viscosity or thickness of chocolate which allows ingredients such as cocoa, milk and sugar to flow easily when melted.  In 2006, big chocolate companies such as Hershey’s and Nestle began to use PGR as an emulsifier in their chocolate products. This was done to cut costs on the use of cocoa butter.

The problem that resulted was the birth of fake chocolate. Real chocolate is made from dry roasting cacao nibs. This creates a cocoa liquor containing cocoa butter. The cocoa liquor is then pressed and the cocoa butter is removed. However, the cocoa butter is then re-added with a hint of vanilla and sugar to make real dark chocolate which is commonly refined from this point on. Real dark chocolate before it is refined (and with the cocoa butter) is real chocolate.

The birth of fake chocolate began when commercial chocolate companies began using emulsifiers such as PGR, but also soy lecithin and hydrogenated oils, instead of cocoa butter. Thus, in 2007 the FDA required companies such a  Hershey’s to use labels such as “made with chocolate”. Today the US requires commercial chocolate products to have 10% chocolate liquor in whereas Europe reacquires 25%. This emulsifier production has been reported to also be a major cause in deforestation and the loss of endangered species. Sigh.


As you can see from the above, the majority of our commercial chocolate is not made with enough real chocolate. Now if you are a chocolate lover like me, than you can appreciate the taste of real chocolate and know a fake when you taste it. In fact, many of the conventional chocolates do not have the real chocolate taste, even leaving a weird aftertaste. Chemical aftertaste, gag me with a fork!

Now, you may enjoy eating fake chocolate, but if you do, you are still missing out on incredible health benefits that real chocolate provides for the body. A real dark chocolate bar that contains at least 70-85% cocoa has iron, magnesium, copper and manganese, potassium, phosphorus, zinc and selenium. Real dark chocolate is a powerful antioxidant because it is loaded with organic compounds such as polyphenols, flavanols, and catechins. These luscious beauties protect your body from nasty cancer. Studies have also linked real dark chocolate to improving blood flow, reducing blood pressure and increasing the good cholesterol and lowering the bad.  As a result, real dark chocolate may actually lower your risk of heart disease. It is a heart loving candy. Cyber hug time!

I always try to choose certified organic or Non-GMO real dark chocolate and their companies in order to avoid harmful additives such as artificial coloring, flavoring and GMOs. Supporting these companies is crazy important as they work hard to provide authentic real chocolate as they compete with big chocolate companies who do not.

You also should consider choosing Rainforest Alliance certified dark chocolate. The Rainforest Alliance certification supports endangered animals habitat, safeguard soils and waterways; protect workers, their families and local communities; and increase livelihoods in order to achieve sustainability.

Real dark chocolate may also increase brain function and clarity which for children on the Autism Spectrum is fabulous news. But, these heart thumping benefits only exist if you buy certified or Non-GMO real dark chocolate, not the conventional kinds unfortunately.

Milk and Apple Juice

Milk and apple juice as ingredients are not the healthy form you may be thinking of. Milk can be derived from cow’s milk laden with antibiotics and growth-hormones, all from a cow that may be fed GMO laden corn. Apple Juice can mean conventional apple juice with arsenic as an ingredient and from apples sprayed with pesticides. Again, just because an ingredient sounds safe and healthy, does not always mean it is. However, choosing certified organic assures you the ingredient will not be from toxic sources. My best advice to you is buy certified organic and/or google the ingredients before you buy it!

Where to Find Toxic-Free Halloween Treats

Well, that was a lot of ugly.

Now for the good news.

There are so many organic, Non-GMO Project and Rainforest Alliance certified candy choices on the market today. You no longer have to feel confused or overwhelmed in making the switch from toxic conventional to clean and healthy. My personal favorite websites to buy from are The Natural Candy Store and Amazon. Both offer a variety of companies as well as different packing sizes and bulk items!

The following are my favorite websites and their amazing products we have switched to. I urge you to click on the links and read about these companies who are incredible visionaries in creating non-toxic and safe candy for our children.

Natural Candy Store

Take the time to shop this store and be ready to be blown away at the variety of choices of organic and non-toxic candies. This store is one of my favorite places to refer families for clean, allergy and toxic- free candy choices.

My Amazon Candy Store

By far this is the easiest way to buy organic candy. The best option they offer is buying it in bulk and although that may seem pricey at first, if you look at what you get for a larger quality you will see you area saving (instead of buying organic candy not in bulk and more frequently. I also love buying it in bulk at Halloween and Easter because buying individual candy for multiple people gets expensive too (even the toxic non-organic gets pricey). I created a store for easy access and buying. Check it out here.

Health Food Store and Health Food Aisle in Supermarket

I love trying the array of certified organic candies sold in my local health food store and health aisle in our supermarket. It’s a great place to start the switch and try one brand at a time. Our supermarket has sales on these candies each week, rotating the brands, which makes them very affordable (as does buying in bulk on Amazon).

You Can Make the Toxic-free Halloween Candy Switch

Switching it up and dumping conventional candy is not hard. It’s actually very rewarding as the non-toxic and healthier products are delicious. Get ready to have your mind blown and your tasted buds tricked (a good trick).  Start with trying the following products I have found to be super replacements for our conventional obsessions.

Make the Switch

Start Trying Some of My Family’s Favorite Treats

After I jumped off the conventional chocolate bandwagon, I met my true love: Endangered Species Chocolates. Next, my family joined me. My middle guy is over the moon about Newman’s Strawberry Licorice as he was afraid to break off his own secret love affair with Twizzlers. My oldest son is head over heals for Yummy Earth Sour Beans and is finally letting go of his obsession with conventional jelly beans.  And, my little guy steals all the Yummy Earth Lollipops from my home and office.

You never know unless you try, right?

So, go out there and try some of our favorites- click on the links to explore!

Don’t be afraid to be THAT PARENT who offers real healthy candy this Halloween! I don’t feel silly with the huge assortment I am ready to hand out- all certified organic. In fact, I challenge more parents to join me.  It didn’t cost me that much as I purchased in bulk (on Amazon). It is time we say NO to the big conventional candy companies and say YES to our children’s health!

Yours in Sweetness,





Resources: *Always read my disclaimer. This page contains affiliate links meaning we earn a commission if you use those links. We only recommend brands we use and trust. Photo credit is  by Ruth Peterkin@ Dreamtine. 

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Lisa September 24, 2014

Such great information! And I love the alternatives you offer…many I’ve never heard of. I’ll definitely have to go “test” them now. 🙂 Thanks!

Kim Sjoblad September 24, 2014

Great post Dr. Lisa, I couldn’t agree more. This year our family is handing out glow sticks. The kids love them!

I still let my kids trick or treat but at the end of the night they dump their bags, we take a picture. The new tradition for the last few years has been, when they go up to get cleaned up and changed into their PJ’s a witch comes along and takes all of their candy and replaces it with a small toy. Believe it or not it has been the highlight of their Halloween. They love it and they don’t miss the candy.

Chara September 24, 2014

Such an important topic! I HATE Halloween because it’s a time when people, kids especially, eat such horrible, horrible non-foods. We have to keep spreading awareness about this. Great article.

Jamie September 24, 2014

“I don’t feel silly with the huge assortment I am ready to hand out- all certified organic. In fact, I challenge more parents to join me. It didn’t cost me that much as I purchased in bulk (on Amazon). It is time we say NO to the big conventional candy companies and say YES to our children’s health!” Yes Yes Yes to this, Lisa!

There are so many options that are available that are not only safe to consume, but I believe taste better. Thanks for sharing this important topic.

Dr. Lisa September 25, 2014

Jamie, I SO agree with you. We are lucky today. There are so many safer and yummier candies on the market. We need to start supporting these companies and also, realizing that there are so many healthy choices! ~ Dr. Lisa

Dr. Lisa September 25, 2014

Chara, I don’t like Halloween either. I am pretty sure it exists to keep commercial candy companies in business. Giving our kids free range to collect toxic candy from neighbors is crazy when you really think about it. I buy all certified organic, but it is still candy. ~Dr. Lisa

Dr. Lisa September 25, 2014

Kim, that is a GREAT idea! I wish I though of it when my boys were little. Kudos to you for switching the Holiday into a fun, non-toxic day. ~Dr. Lisa

Dr. Lisa September 25, 2014

Lisa, You are welcome. I am pretty sure you going to like the alternatives. I was surprised myself when I switched how yummy they are. Funny thing is, once you eat the healthier versions, the commercial ones taste off-like chemicals.Let me know what you think! ~Dr. Lisa

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