Valentine’s Day often means a box of candy from your sweetie, but just what are you getting in that candy? That annual indulgence could cost you a lot more than you bargained for. Unhealthy chocolate brands are full of more than just sugar. Following our exposé on toxic ingredients in children’s cereal and peanut butter, this week we take a look at some of the unwanted ingredients hiding in your favorite chocolate candies and show you some better options.
These are the ingredients we found in traditional, brand name chocolates that you might want to avoid:
- High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) and Corn Syrup Solids:
These are GMO sweeteners made from corn. The amount of sugar in the standard American diet is disproportionately high, putting many at risk of diabetes and heart disease and have even been linked to cancer and dementia. According to Dr. Mark Hyman, HFCS poses those risks even if you eat moderate levels of it. Although hotly debated, he contends that our bodies process HFCS differently to how they process cane sugar, allowing fructose to be more rapidly absorbed into the blood stream. It then travels to the liver, triggering functions that increase your appetite, and increasing your chances of weight gain, diabetes, cancer and dementia. Unhealthy chocolate brands contain way more fructose than you’ll ever need.
- Soy Lecithin:
Mostly derived from GMO soy, this additive is extracted using hexane, and is in most candy from unhealthy chocolate brands. Though it is removed, particles may be left behind. Hexane is a neurotoxin and carcinogen and since this removal is unregulated by the FDA, you may want to consider avoiding it – especially when you add in the fact of GMOs and residual pesticides present in soy.
- Artificial Colors:
Artificial colors have been linked to ADHD and hyperactivity, as well as allergies. Certain dyes, including Red 40, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6, contain benzidine, which is a carcinogen that the FDA approves for use at very low levels. We recommend avoiding artificial colors altogether.
- Artificial Flavors:
According to EWG, when generic “artificial flavor” is listed as an ingredient, you cannot be sure what the manufacturer used to create the flavor or how many ingredients are inside. That makes this a wild card ingredient which may not be suitable for those with allergies or food sensitivities, making the unhealthy chocolate brands who use it better to avoid completely.
Used to decrease the need for pricier cocoa butter, this ingredient is made from castor beans. That’s right, unhealthy chocolate brands have replaced your chocolate with something else entirely! It is used as an emulsifier, so it’s possible this is what brands are referring to when they label “emulsifier” as an ingredient without clarifying which one. Companies have only added it to reduce costs since 2006, so long term effects are still to be seen. The need for more research on this additive has been debated, since some claim it has had harmful effects on lab animals. I did not see links to those studies, so use your own judgment with this additive.
- Partially Hydrogenated Oils:
These likely contain trans fats because that is the easiest way to process this additive. According to the Mayo Clinic, trans fats can raise your “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and lower your “good” cholesterol (HDL), putting your health at risk. This is possible even for palm oil, although it does have less unsaturated fat available to be converted into trans fat.
The FDA has labeled this preservative as safe up to the legal limit of 0.02% of all the total oils in a product. According to Livestrong.com, 1 gram can make you sick, while 5 grams is lethal, so you should be safe, depending on your diet. However, it’s obviously not a healthy choice, even if it’s only mildly toxic.
This is imitation vanilla, used by many cheap and unhealthy chocolate brands. There seems to be some debate on whether or not it is toxic, depending on whom you talk to. It can be made from guaiacol, which is a precursor to petrochemicals; in other words, a product from oil.
- Potassium Sorbate:
This additive is safe for most people, but according to WebMD.com it can cause stomach upset, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, intestinal gas, and other side effects. They further state that it is unsafe to have too much potassium while pregnant or breast feeding, or if you have disorders of the digestive tract.
Labeled “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) by the FDA, this item has received so much flack in the last year, that many companies are voluntarily removing it from products such as coconut milk. Is it actually safe? There’s much debate and controversy on that. Wellness Mama has written an excellent article with sources covering carrageenan controversy. However, it can irritate those who have food sensitivities.
According to Food Facts, too much of this ingredient – about 10 grams in a day – can lead to Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). It is safe to eat, but you need to watch how much you consume.
On their own, these ingredients used by unhealthy chocolate brands may not seem like much unless you or your child is sensitive to certain foods or additives, or have digestive issues. However, they can add up. If you are not carefully monitoring what your child is eating, she can easily over indulge. What candies contain these ingredients?Note that all of these brands contain GMOs.
Popular Unhealthy Chocolate Brands to Avoid
This candy greets Valentine’s Day in shades of red, pink and white, so naturally it contains artificial color, in the form of at least Red 40. It also has artificial flavor and soy lecithin, as well as corn syrup and cornstarch.
What kid doesn’t immediately think of Hershey’s Kisses on Valentine’s Day? The plain milk chocolate version contains soy lecithin, which possibly means GMOs, but the company has recently overhauled their ingredients, pledging to remove GMOs, PGPR, vanillin and artificial flavors.
There’s always one loved one who can’t eat chocolate without peanut butter. This iconic candy has long been an American staple, but in addition to hydrogenated vegetable oil and PGPR, it also contains the preservative TBHQ. Maybe it’s time to find a new tradition and avoid this unhealthy chocolate brand.
While many of the above brands may be what your kids want for Valentine’s Day, you may want something a little more grown up, like a box of chocolates. Let’s take a look at some of the more adult brands of Valentine’s Chocolate.
I loved these growing up, so I was disappointed to see they contain soy lecithin, vanillin, corn syrup and potassium sorbate.
Ingredients include soy lecithin and vanillin.
This popular box of chocolates contains a description so you know what “flavor” you’re getting, but on their website, the ingredients are more of a mystery. Food Facts had reported a list of “warning” ingredients that looked outdated, so I checked them against my local supermarket’s list of sampler ingredients, which matched a more updated version. This brand still has a lot of questionable ingredients: soy lecithin, vanillin, corn syrup, sorbitol and partially hydrogenated palm kernel oil.
Lindt HELLO Heart
These were not the worst offenders of the bunch, but they do contain soy lecithin, which naturally means GMOs.
Sees Candies Nuts & Chews
This popular brand of Sees boxed chocolates also contains ingredients you might want to avoid. Ingredients include corn syrup, Red 40, artificial flavors, soy lecithin and vanillin.
Who doesn’t think of a better quality chocolate when you think of Godiva? They certainly cost more, so the ingredients must be cleaner, right? Surely they’re not one of the unhealthy chocolate brands? Turns out, not so much. Ingredients include soy lecithin, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, vanillin, partially hydrogenated palm kernel oil, dipotassium phosphate, carrageenan and artificial dyes.
Where Are The Ingredients?
The most surprising part of this research was how few websites listed ingredients. It was a challenge to find ingredients for more than a handful of products at each of these brands except for M&M and Hershey. In fact, for the Hershey’s ingredients, I had to use a different website than the main product site to get a listing of what’s in a Hershey’s Kiss. I don’t know why chocolate manufacturers are not more forthcoming with their ingredients. Is it because there contain more controversial ingredients than I listed above, or other harmful ingredients that they don’t want to reveal? I also wondered why they did choose to list the ingredients for the 2 or 3 products that I found.
Another thing to keep in mind is that, while there are fewer questionable ingredients in the traditional milk chocolate versions of these candies (like Hershey’s Kisses), flavor varieties will include a host of other additives. A chocolate covered cherry may contain Red 40, for example. In addition, you may find more PGPR than cocoa butter in dark chocolate varieties. Always read the packaging before buying any of these candies if you are concerned about eating clean and avoiding harmful ingredients.
Nontoxic Chocolate Brands You Should Buy
All of these candies can be replaced by healthier, wiser choices – without PGPR standing in for real cocoa butter! If you want to really show someone you love them, why not give them quality organic chocolate for Valentine’s Day? Here are some options that the unhealthy chocolate brands don’t offer, creative Valentine’s selections and high quality bars that are organic and make for a better chocolate candy gift choice.
Alter Eco Truffles are USDA Organic, Non-GMO Project Verified and Certified Gluten Free. They contain no artificial flavors, soy or emulsifiers, and are made with pure coconut oil. In addition, they are Fair Trade Certified and come in a compostable wrapper!
Box of Hearts:
Available at The Natural Candy Store, Sjaak’s makes a heart shaped box filled with vegan “milk” chocolate. All ingredients are certified USDA Organic, gluten free (and made in a wheat-free facility) and do not contain any corn or corn derivatives.
Nut & Chews:
Sjaak’s also make a Nut & Chews Valentine’s Box, available at the Natural Candy Store.
Peanut Butter Cups:
No need to buy Reese’s! Unreal Candy has you covered, with 5 kinds of Non GMO nut butter cups – even Milk Chocolate Crispy Quinoa Peanut Butter. They are also gluten free and Fair Trade Certified and available in your local markets. (Better yet, they are coming out with a Unreal Candy Coated Milk Chocolates – with and without peanuts – that will be corn and soy free. They’re colored with natural ingredients like red cabbage juice and turmeric extract so you can ditch the M&Ms.)
Other great nut butter cups include Justin’s Nut Butter Cups with a variety of flavors and Sun Cups for those with nut and gluten allergies. Both are Non-GMO Project Verified and certified organic. If you want to give a Valentine themed version, check out Theo Chocolate for heart shaped peanut butter cups.
Theo Chocolate also has a line of bars just for Valentine’s Day – My Cherry Baby Milk Chocolate and Cinnamon Love Crunch Dark Chocolate, or you could splurge for a box of caramels. Can’t decide? Combine both with their Casanova Kiss Gift Set, which has all three. Theo Chocolate is organically certified through QAI, Project Non-GMO Verified and Fair Trade Certified.
Vegan Chocolate Hearts:
If you like chocolate hearts, Equal Exchange Dark Chocolate Hearts are certified organic and Fair Trade. They are also gluten free, vegan, corn-free and Kosher, and you can buy them in bulk.
Chocolate Bars Brands
Let’s face it, some of us just flat out love getting a great big bar of chocolate! With these products, you can feel safe that your bar is organic and delicious. The only problem? You might be asked to share…
Not all of their products are organic, but the ones that are feature unique flavors. Check out Cherries & Almonds Dark Chocolate, Almonds & Sea Salt Dark Chocolate, Orange Peel Dark Chocolate or Toffee & Almond in Milk Chocolate, all available at Thrive Market.
This is another great brand that is certified 100% organic, gluten free, Kosher and mostly vegan. Using cocoa beans that are Rainbow Alliance certified, Salazon chocolate bars are also Fair Trade Certified. This product is also available at Thrive Market.
Green & Black’s:
USDA certified organic and Fair Trade certified, these delicious candies are a must for the chocolate bar lover. Their Milk and Dark Chocolate bars make a great gift for that special chocolate lover in your life.
Safe, organic chocolate brands like these are available at Thrive Market, so you can make easy Valentine’s Day selections. Right now, you can sign up with Thrive Market and get 2 months free, free shipping and 15% off your order.
It’s up to you to decide: do you want to give your loved ones boring chocolate from unhealthy chocolate brands full of GMOs and questionable ingredients this holiday? No way! Instead, show them how much you care with an amazing gift of organic chocolate made with real cacao and full of safe, clean ingredients.
Disclosure: Bookieboo LLC has an affiliate relationship with Thrive Market. Bookieboo has also worked with numerous brands in the natural space, including Unreal.