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Look Out for Harmful Ingredients in Holiday Candy

Take care when purchasing candy for Easter, Passover, and beyond.


Photo: Shutterstock

Spring holidays are almost here, and stores are flush with popular Easter- and Passover-themed sweets, but beware, some candies often contain chemicals that can harm your health.

Dyes and other ingredients in brands like Peeps Marshmallow Chicks and Streit’s Mini Fruit Slices, found in many groceries and drug stores, have been linked to health problems, including behavioral difficulties in children, damage to DNA, and even cancer.

According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should be doing more to keep these chemicals of concern out of sweet treats that children and adults alike enjoy. In the absence of federal action, states are considering bans on certain food chemicals. As such, EWG is co-sponsoring a first-in-the-nation bill in California that would ban five toxic chemicals, including red dye No. 3 and titanium dioxide, from food sold in the state.

But in the meantime, it’s a good idea to learn what may be in your spring candy and how to avoid it.

Artificial food dyes

A particularly troubling artificial food dye is red dye No. 3. It can be found in common Easter candies like Peeps Decorated Eggs Marshmallow, Brach’s Candy, Jelly Bird Eggs, and even the dyes used to decorate Easter eggs, like McCormick Assorted Food Colors and Egg Dye. It’s also in the popular Passover candy Streit’s Jordan Almonds.

Studies have shown that red dye No. 3 causes cancer in animals and, like several other food dyes, has been associated with adverse behavioral changes in children. Another concerning food dye, yellow dye No. 5, is used to color Peeps Marshmallow Chicks. Some children may be especially sensitive to artificial dyes and show behavioral difficulties, such as reduced attentiveness, after exposures as low as one milligram.

Titanium dioxide

Another harmful additive frequently used in Easter and Passover candies is titanium dioxide, which enhances color.

Delectables like Skittles Original Easter Candy Impossible Egg Hunt, Passover Assorted Jelly Fruit Slices, Streit’s Apple Honey Fruit Slices, and Galerie Happy Easter Dispenser With Candy Pieces all contain this food chemical.

In 2021, the European Food Safety Authority labeled titanium dioxide “no longer safe” for human consumption, citing concerns about its ability to damage DNA, based on a review of hundreds of scientific studies.

Heavy metals

Prefer chocolate for your spring candy treat? Consumer Reports in a recent study tested 28 different chocolate bars and found the harmful heavy metals lead and cadmium in dark chocolate bars from brands like Dove and Hershey’s.

To reduce your exposure, Consumer Reports suggests choosing dark chocolates with lower levels of heavy metals and thinking of chocolate as an occasional treat.

How can I avoid these harmful ingredients?

It can be challenging to navigate and keep track of harmful food chemicals. When you shop, check food labels and avoid artificial colors and other food additives whenever possible. You can also consult EWG’s Food Scores database to find candy without these chemicals.

Choosing packaged foods that are certified organic will help you avoid the potential health harms associated with artificial food dyes and titanium dioxide. They must meet strong standards that protect consumers from exposure to potentially harmful food additives.

About The Author

Julie is the co-founder of Well Defined and a longtime influencer and advocate in the wellness world. Along with her work at Well Defined, she is an executive recruiter and marketing specialist for Hutchinson Consulting. She is also a consultant and content strategist for numerous wellness brands. She is the former editor-in-chief and publisher of American Spa and was named a 2019 Folio Top Woman in Media in the Industry Trailblazers category and a 2018 winner of ISPA’s Innovate Award. She is also a seasoned journalist, specializing in spa, travel, health, fitness, wellness, sustainability, and beauty. She has been published in Departures,, E! Online,, Insider’s Guide to Spas, Luxury Travel Advisor, Marin Magazine, Ocean Home, Smart Meetings, Spa Asia, and Travel Agent.