HealthTraditions & Celebrations

Halloween Candy: Deadly or Delicious? (part 1)

Part 1: Drugs, GMOs, Toxins & Fat

It’s time for the annual festival of fear here in the United States. I’m not talking Halloween; I’m talking about articles, news stories, and old facebook posts gone viral screaming at parents to be wary of strangers putting dangerous things in their little ghost or goblin’s trick or treat bags.

Except, well. . .they’re mostly wrong. Today and tomorrow, I’m taking a look at the most hyped warnings in my news feed and whether they’re worth the worry.

OMG, Strawberry Flavored Meth in Halloween Candy!

Like a graveyard full of zombies the strawberry meth thing keeps popping up. Back in 2007, the Texas PTA issued a legislative alert that strawberry flavored meth was being infused into candy. Fox News folded the tale into an article about  “cheese heroin” and “Strawberry Quick” meth.

mini_pumpkinThe Texas PTA issued a correction interviewing staff at Crimestoppers who said “A Texas Crime Stoppers internal investigation. . .has found that it does not exist.”

Fox News, on the other hand, carried on like it was business as usual, no correction, no rescinding on the page that housed the original article (shocking, I know).

The original legislative alert asked people to forward the alert as far as possible. People did, so you sometimes still see the original alert even now on Facebook and other pages.

Snopes said that fearmongers were mistaking meth colored in production for flavored meth., likens this to the Loch Ness Monster in its article “Meth Ado About Nothing,” explaining that there are no first hand accounts of it, and that “nobody is quite sure that flavored meth actually exists, and even concerned officials in Texas say there’s precious little evidence that “cheese” heroin is anything but a local problem.”

There’s Marijuana in Them There Chocolates!

With more states legalizing marijuana, candy such as pot infused chocolate bars are becoming more common, and they have people running scaaaaared (because, think about it, if the once vilified “gateway drug” is now safe enough to be legal like alcohol, then avenues for scaring people off of it are slimmer and who better than to instill fear in parents  than a faceless bogeyman trying to drug their kid on Halloween?)

marijuana chocolate bars

The Denver PD posted a video on their youtube channel explaining at length the danger oft marijuana candy that looks identical to regular old candy. The story got picked up by CNN, and found its way to news feeds everywhere, and has more than one parent I know vowing to skip trick or treating entirely.

Setting aside the obvious flaw in this reasoning  that the bars can run $20 or more according to one blogger each, and who’s going to buy it in bulk only to give it all away?, there exists even more gaping hole in the facts: there have been ZERO cases of this actually happening. None.

Forbes magazine states “Since 1996,. . .the newspapers and wire services covered by the Nexis database have not carried any reports of such trickery.” So, yeah, not worth the worry.

Big Business Baddies: HFCS, GMOs, Gluten and Toxins

It turns out that mainstream candy is filled with all the baddies: high fructose corn syrup, toxic food dyes, GMO ingredients, gluten, and. . .well, sugar and fat. The natural food blogger lists of healthy candy alternatives are making the rounds, as are reminders that we have an obesity problem.

goo_chocolateBut how bad is this stuff really? Here at Grounded Parents, we’ve already addressed the fact that GMO foods are no less healthy than their non modified counterparts, so I’m not even going to bother here.

High fructose corn syrup and sugar aren’t exactly good for us, but, as Science Based Medicine explains, they’re not worse than many natural sugars, concluding “While a diet high in fructose may increase your risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease — maybe — a fructose-free diet is not guaranteed to prevent those diseases.”

While the surge in gluten-free anything has improved options for people with Celiac disease, there are some good studies finding that gluten intolerance (NCGI) doesn’t exist (as shown in this Forbes Magazine article), making this a non issue.

Food dyes are more controversial; but, as Consumer Reports explains, “there are plenty of other reasons to limit consumption of processed foods, which tend to be high in calories from added sugars and low in nutritional value anyway.” I take this as encouragement to “limit” kids candy consumption, not abolish it.

Fats and Sugar, Because Obesity

As you may have heard, there’s a childhood obesity epidemic in the United States. Responses to the problem range from community buy back programs that send candy to troops overseas, to fat shaming nastiness in the form of letters instead of treats, to suggestions that we only provide non-food options to kids at Halloween.

What I find most interesting about the obesity argument for limiting sweets at Halloween is that it ignores the other 364 days of the year, and most nutrition experts tend to agree that the occasional splurge doesn’t cause harm as long as children’s diets are generally healthy.

That said, there are two good reasons to include non food options in your trick or treat pail: children with diabetes and food allergies. The teal pumpkin project is a good resource for why this is important.

I like to include non-food treats because they’re a cheap way to round out the candy bowl. I can often pick them up for 75% off right after halloween and use them the following year mixed in with candy and give kids other options.

In the end, I’m following the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation’s advice for sane moderation: “Teach your kids how to eat their Halloween candy in moderate amounts.”

But wait! What about razor blades, poison, and all that fun stuff? We’ll wade into that distasteful swamp tomorrow.

(All images other than featured made by Deek using images from Wikimedia. Featured image made using Alex Gorzen’s image at Flickr.)


Deek lives with her husband, twin sons and two cats in the northwest. She teaches and writes about parenting in the NICU, her experiences as a parent of micro-preemies and skeptical parenting.

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