Note to readers: this post is not intended for those who are following a special diet to improve gut health. If you have digestive symptoms, candy should be off the menu, at least temporarily. More information can be found at the bottom of this post, but if you prefer, you can skip to part 2 here, for gut healthy recipes.
To those whose main goals are to avoid common food allergens and/or additives, this one’s for you.
The bad news: most store bought candy is dressed up as real food, but contains anything but.
The good news: there are better choices out there, if you are willing to seek them out.
The bottom line:
When you, or your child, have food allergies or sensitivities, you have no choice but to read food labels. Having been doing so for almost 20 years now, I can tell you that while allergen labeling has improved, the quality of ingredients has gone in the opposite direction. In order to save money, the food industry has been slowly replacing real ingredients with cheap, artificial substitutes. So, whether someone in your family has allergies or not, it’s a good idea to slowly transition away from processed foods.
Since Halloween is just around the corner, I thought, what better time to start this Bad, Better, Best series, which I’ve been thinking about for months now? While we all want to see our children masquerading around in costume as something they’re NOT, we don’t want to see that fake food is being disguised as the real thing! Those sneaky candy manufacturers have been doing just that for years; but instead of hiding under the bed or in the closet, many of their nasty, unrecognizable, artificial ingredients are hiding in plain sight – right on the labels. Then again, some are invisible to the naked eye, and are not required to be on the disclosed at all.
Twizzlers is a perfect example. Strawberries are ON the bag, but no real fruit is actually IN it! Corn syrup is the main ingredient, and it would be a challenge to find any name brand candy without it. Currently, Hershey’s milk and dark chocolate kisses (not bars, though) and Reese’s peanut butter cups do NOT contain it (probably the safer choices if you’re going that route), although they have other additives on their labels. Need I say more?
That’s a very brief summary of the bad news. As I stated above, the good news is that there are candy companies that are trying to make their packaged products as real as they can get. So, if you can’t make your own treats from the purest of ingredients (recipes to follow in next post), then there are alternatives. Chances are, no one will take homemade goodies when trick-or-treating, unless they know you, so you’ve gotta have something prepackaged (even if it’s not food at all) to hand out, right? So, in part 1, we are focusing on going from bad to better. Prepackaged junk to prepackaged “unjunked.”
Replacing Twizzlers is a tough one, but in my next post, I’ll be sharing a recipe for homemade fruit snacks, which I make often. You can’t give those out on Halloween, though, so you can find another fruity alternative toward the end of this post. For now, let’s skip to the most popular choice: chocolate. Twizzlers are made by Hershey’s, after all.
Brand #1: Enjoy Life Chocolate Chips and Bars, Free of Top 8 Common Food Allergens, Additives, and Corn Syrup
To buy chocolate chips or bars that are free of corn syrup, food additives and common allergens is not so easy. It is very common for candy companies to use shared equipment, so products often contain traces of milk, nuts, soy, and/or gluten. The only brand I’ve found that’s free of the 8 most common allergens and additives is Enjoy Life; however, anyone with severe dairy sensitivities should note that there are minute traces of dairy in the chocolate chips, as per this excerpt of the web site:
“Our chocolate chips are produced for us in a dedicated gluten-free and nut-free facility. These chips are also dairy-free and soy-free, although they are produced in a plant that contains dairy. For this reason, we test down to 2.5 parts per million for dairy before the chips arrive in our bakery to ensure the highest levels of safety and quality.”
Because Enjoy Life chocolate products contain negligible amounts of dairy, compared with most brands, the chocolate bars are a little less creamy; but your taste buds adjust quickly (at least mine did), and it’s such a relief not to have to worry about cross contamination due to shared manufacturing facilities.
Please note that Enjoy Life chocolate does contain evaporated cane juice (which is less refined than standard sugar), but at least it’s pure sugar and not genetically modified corn syrup! It’s near impossible to find prepackaged candy that does not contain some kind of sugar or artificial sweetener. Again, it is possible to make your own without either, though. I will share a recipe in my next post.
Brand #2: Unreal Chocolate Candy: Free of Many Common Additives and Artificial Colorings, GMOs (genetically modified ingredients) and Corn Syrup
Another choice for those who do not have to worry about food sensitivities or digestive concerns is Unreal candy. Although their products have been tested to contain only minute traces of gluten (less than 5 parts per million), they are not certified gluten free and may not be a safe option for highly gluten sensitive eaters, due to the possibility of cross contamination. The company states that their products are corn free, though.
The reason I am mentioning this candy company is because while their products may not be free of milk, nuts, or other common allergens, the company makes an effort to make sure they are free of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and many food additives. I find it inspiring that a teenager came up with the idea of creating candy without all of the artificial ingredients that popular candy often contains, and acted on it! You can watch a 4 minute video, with appearances by Matt Damon, Tom Brady, and Dr. Mark Hyman here, for more information.
According to the Unreal web site, the company is working on creating dark chocolate based products, free of dairy. So, while their products are not milk free at present, that will most likely change in the not-too-distant future. Right now, they offer “knock offs” of popular milk chocolate candy items, like M & M’s and peanut butter cups. My son and his friends tried one of the bars and they really liked it, and what parent doesn’t want to buy healthier options? Sure, they cost more, but when it comes to food, you really do get what you pay for! In this case, you’re paying for what you don’t get: cheap, artificial ingredients.
I hope more companies follow this company’s lead, and strive to use real ingredients whenever possible. Just replacing popular candy products with Unreal ones is a major step in the right direction.
Of course, any prepackaged item is not the absolute best choice. Both Enjoy Life and Unreal products contain sugar and, as of now, are not sourced from organic ingredients. I’m also not a fan of the agave syrup, soy lecithin, or some of the other ingredients that Unreal uses, but since both are from purer sources than most other products, those ingredients are not going to prevent me from recommending their products. They are still a MAJOR improvement over popular candies. It’s all about progress, not perfection, right?
That brings us back to a substitute for Twizzlers. Aside from your typical juice sweetened fruit snacks, there really aren’t many prepackaged options. Most chewy snacks (like Starbursts or Skittles) not only contain scary ingredients and a lot of corn syrup, but they stick to your teeth, which is a double whammy considering no sugary snack is the best for dental health.
I never thought I’d say this, but I just came across a brand of lollipop that seems to be a much more benign alternative to all of those evil, sticky ones. I haven’t personally tried it yet, but the product has almost 400 reviews, most of which are very positive. Normally, I’d never recommend lollipops, but when the holidays hit, sometimes, it’s all about picking the lesser of the evils, right?
Brand #3: YumEarth Organics Lollipops: Free of Food Additives, Artificial Colorings & Flavorings, Allergens, Pesticides, GMOs (genetically modified organisms), and Corn Syrup
The brand is YumEarth Organics, and their products are all natural, without additives, colorings, chemicals, or pesticides. Since they are USDA certified organic, they can’t contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs), either. It’s about as healthy a lollipop as you can get, unless you make one yourself!
So, while Twizzlers, and most popular candy products, are bad choices for your health (again, read those labels!), Enjoy Life and Unreal chocolate and YumEarth Organics fruity treats are much better choices for the occasional sweet indulgence. Key word: occasional.
I have to admit that if you are expecting a lot of trick-or-treaters, it can be too expensive to buy large numbers of higher quality chocolates. Why not save them for your own kids, and for everyone else, get the most cost effective choice of them all… the 5 pound bag of YumEarth organic lollipops? That’s 325 pops for less than 10 cents apiece! If that’s too many, you can also get 125 lollipops that come with a container. Or, you can get 40 vitamin C pops here. YumEarth products are also available in stores, and they have fruit snacks and gummy bears too.
As you know, I rarely recommend packaged foods, but when time is limited, and holiday pressure is posing unique challenges, sometimes you just need a better choice. In other words, when you can’t make the BEST choice, at least you can opt for a BETTER one. We all do the best we can, and there is no such thing as perfection.
As for those who can’t have candy due to dietary restrictions, I know that it’s not easy to stay away from it during the holiday season! My own daughter had to give up candy right after Easter, and she didn’t even get to finish all that was in her basket. After the initial shock, it was worth it, though, because she felt better within weeks. Then, she no longer was tempted by foods that were making her sick.
On a positive note, if you haven’t developed an aversion to sweet foods quite yet, please know that the longer you stay away from them, and the more real foods you eat, the less appealing they will be! I rarely eat dessert anymore, and am turned off by really sweet foods. The same will happen to you too, in time.
When your taste buds readjust to natural, subtle flavors, a touch of sweetness that comes with fresh fruit, or homemade desserts, is all that you need. I’ll have some related recipes for you shortly.
If this post has your head spinning, and you could use a little help in transitioning away from processed foods, please feel free to sign up to receive my free report: Detox your Diet in 3 Simple Steps. You’ll also begin to receive my biweekly newsletter, so you don’t miss a thing!
Please note that for your convenience, this post does contain affiliate links for recommended products. If you buy anything through any of those links, I may receive a small commission, which will be used to offset the cost of maintaining this blog. I thank you in advance for your support.
It’s also important to mention that since food ingredient labels change often, it’s always a good idea to get into the habit of reading before buying, especially if you or your child have severe food sensitivities. Of course, the best food choices come with no label at all! All the more reason to spend time in the kitchen with your kids. For some fun, easy recipes, you can find part 2 here.
How do you handle the challenges Halloween brings? Do you have any favorite products that are better than the many bad choices that are so readily available?