A closer look at ingredients found in Halloween candy

For nutrition label conscious parents and guardians, common ingredients in chocolate and candy like gum acacia and colouring may leave you pondering just what exactly your child is consuming as they indulge Halloween treats.
For nutrition label conscious parents and guardians, common ingredients in chocolate and candy like gum acacia and colouring may leave you pondering just what exactly your child is consuming as they indulge Halloween treats. AP Photo

TORONTO – For health conscious parents and guardians, common ingredients in chocolate and candy like gum acacia and artificial food colouring may leave you pondering just what exactly your child is consuming as they indulge in Halloween treats.

“People often ask me if food additives are harmless,” said Kate Comeau, a dietitian and spokesperson for Dietitians of Canada.

READ MORE: 5 alternative Halloween treats for kids

Comeau said there are over 850 additives that are approved for use in Canada, meaning that Health Canada has checked the food additives to make sure they are safe.

“Only additives that are approved can be used,” she said. “These additives are thought to be safe in amounts that are usually eaten. Any new food additive is tested for safety before it is added to the approved list.”

Story continues below advertisement

READ MORE:  The best and worst Halloween treats, as rated by nutritionists

Reading food labels can seem a little mysterious, especially when ingredients aren’t readily recognizable or easy to pronounce. For the best and worst Halloween treats as rated by nutritionists, click here.

Global News asked registered dietitians Alexandra Anca and Alissa Rumsey, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, to breakdown several key ingredients commonly found in edible Halloween treats.

Corn syrup

What is it? A purified, concentrated solution of sugar derived—in this case—from corn. It’s sweeter and cheaper than sucrose (the form of sugar made from sugar cane) so it is a common additive in many packaged and processed foods.

Should this ingredient be limited or avoided? The World Health Organization (WHO) recently recommended that sugar consumption should not exceed five to 10 per cent of our daily calories, where five per cent of our daily calories is equivalent to 25 grams of sugar for adults.

  • Anca: Intake of all sugars, regardless of their source should be limited as they are considered ’empty calories’ and are linked to weight gain and obesity.
  • Rumsey: While no studies have been able to really show that sugar of any kind causes or aggravates hyperactivity in children, the foods that contain corn syrup are generally non-nutritious, providing calories without many healthy nutrients like vitamins, minerals or fibre.


What is it? A sweetener derived by complete hydrolysis (breakdown) of a variety of starches including corn, potato or wheat. As it contributes to the “browning” reaction in foods, it is used in many packaged items.

Should this ingredient be limited or avoided?

Get the latest Health IQ news. Sent to your email, every week.
  • Anca: Similar to corn syrup, intake of added dextrose should be limited.
  • Rumsey: The dextrose that is naturally occurring in fruits is okay to eat as fruit also contains many other healthy nutrients like fibre, vitamins and minerals. Added dextrose, along with all other added sugars, should be limited as it is basically empty calories and can cause tooth decay if eaten too often – this type should be limited.


What is it? A substance derived primarily from soybean oil, corn or other vegetable seeds, egg yolk and animal sources.  It is used as a texture modifying agent.

Should this ingredient be limited or avoided? Both Anca and Rumsey said  this ingredient should not be consumed by those with allergies to soy, egg or seed protein.

Hydrogenated palm kernel oil

What is it? Palm kernel oil that has been hydrogenated (i.e., rendered solid from a liquid or semi-liquid state). This may produce small amounts of trans-saturated fats.

Should this ingredient be limited or avoided? 

  • Anca: Trans-saturated fats increase the levels of bad cholesterol (e.g., LDL cholesterol) and hence their consumption should be limited. “Aim for products that are trans-fat free or have less than 0.2 mg of trans-saturated fats/serving,” said Anca.
  • Rumsey: This should be limited as it is high in saturated fat which has been shown to contribute to high cholesterol and heart disease.

**Editor’s note: These tips from nutrition experts are based on health and nutrition suggestions. However, if you are concerned about food allergies, make sure you select items that are ‘nut-free.’

Story continues below advertisement

Gum Acacia (Gum Arabic)

What is it? A gum from the trees of the Acacia species, used as a texture modifying agent and it is essentially a source of soluble fibre.

Should this ingredient be limited or avoided?

  • Anca: Larger amounts of acacia gum may cause bloating and gas in individuals with Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
  • Rumsey: Gums haven’t been well tested, though the general consensus is that they are probably safe. Again they are found in processed/packaged foods, which people should be limiting their intake of for health/nutrition reasons.

Artificial food colouring

What is it? Food dyes used to colour confectionery and other foods. There are various kinds of synthetic food colours that are permitted in Canada, including Tartrazine (Yellow 5), Sunset Yellow FCF (Yellow 5), and Allura Red (Red 40).

Should this ingredient be limited or avoided? 

  • Rumsey:  There are some studies that have suggested that artificial coloring can increase hyperactivity in kids; other studies have shown mixed results. This may be especially apparent in children with ADHD, and eliminating artificial coloring from the child’s diet may have a positive effect on ADHD symptoms.

Artificial flavours

What is it? A flavour is any ingredient that contributes to the flavoring of a food item, but not the nutritional value. Artificial flavors are generated from scratch.

Should this ingredient be limited or avoided?

  • Anca: There are some flavor ingredients which may include gluten and other allergens, including sulphites in which case they need to be avoided by those with severe protein allergies, sulphite sensitivity and celiac disease.  They may also be used to replace some of the salt in food products (e.g., yeast extract) however, they would still need to be scrutinized by those with food allergies and celiac disease.
  • Rumsey: Most also exist in nature and are probably safe, but they are used mainly in processed and packaged foods which shouldn’t be consumed often for nutrition reasons. Use of artificial flavours also often means that the real thing (like fruit) has been left out of the product.

As for children with food allergies, experts say it’s important to ensure that the child brings all the treats back home and does not consume any treats without double checking the ingredients.

Story continues below advertisement

“In many cases, snack-size portions may not include the same ingredients as larger portions and may contain allergens,” said Anca.

While it’s easy to get caught up in what exactly “lurks” in the candy treats, Comeau said there is one key point to keep in mind when the kids go out Oct. 31. For alternative Halloween treats, click here.

“It important to remember that Halloween is an exciting night for children and sweets are part of the tradition,” said Comeau. “Rather than restricting candy completely, we can equip our kids to make better choices about when and what they are eating.”

Sponsored content