3 Halloween Treat Ingredients to Avoid (& What to Look for Instead)

By: Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN

Halloween means sweet treats, candy baskets, loads of sugar and artificial ingredients; so, as you’re filling your Halloween basket this year we want to share some healthier swaps for frequently used unhealthy ingredients.

It’s important to remember that while there are plenty of unhealthy ingredients, there are also a wide variety of healthier ingredients (including some that are non-GMO, organic and naturally-sourced) that manufacturers are beginning to use that you should seek out when planning the treats you’ll be giving out and eating this Halloween.

Here are 3 ingredients to avoid, and what you should look for instead:

1. High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)

A frequent offender in most commercially processed candies and can even be found in places like the bread you eat. Besides being a very processed and concentrated source of sugar, HFCS often contains mercury, which usually goes unregulated and unchecked by the FDA. Mercury in excess can cause detrimental effects to the nervous system, and for children may be deleterious to brain and nervous system growth and regular development. In short, try to steer clear of it.

Healthier Swap: Cane sugar/tapioca syrup, concentrated fruit juice or maple syrup. Although still sugar, these are less processed and certainly less genetically modified (GMO) for the most part than either corn syrup or HFCS. Additionally, try to seek out candies that do not have sugar as the main ingredient- remember that the first ingredient on the label means that there is the most of that ingredient in the product.

2. Artificial Colors

  • Yellow #5: One of the most frequently used artificial food dyes, will likely be found in more than one spot in your Halloween candy basket including candy corn, gummy worms and other gummy candies, M&M’s, found in candy corn
  • Caramel: Like most candy ingredients, caramel isn’t created equal, however the caramel in most Halloween candies is highly processed and contains a ton of added ingredients and sugar. Try our Raw Caramel Slices instead.
  • Caramel Color: This chemical can be found in both sodas and candies that are brown. Caramel color may contain a potential carcinogen 4-methylimidazole (4-MeI), which has been found in lab studies (remember that these are not tests in humans so they still need to be further tested) to cause cancer in mice. Additionally, in certain states, legislation is being written to mandate a health warning on labels of foods containing a certain level of caramel color. This is definitely an ingredient to avoid when possible.

Healthier Swap: Natural Coloring & Dyes. Look for candies that use all natural dyes- “organic black carrot juice concentrate”, “organic turmeric”, “organic annatto”– all are healthier swaps over those that are artificially processed and chemically-created. 

3. Hydrogenated Oils

Partially Hydrogenated Oils: You might be shocked, but this basically translates to trans fats; didn’t you think that trans fats had to be labeled? Think again, they may not always be labeled. Partially hydrogenated oils appear in more foods than you might realize, including processed nut butters and certainly lots of candies. During the hydrogenation process, the chemical makeup of the substance is changed, which makes it much more difficult, or even impossible for your body to break down and get rid of. This is another ingredient to steer far away from. Note that on the candy label you might find partially hydrogenated vegetable, soybean, palm or other oils, they all mean the same thing.

Healthier Swap: Companies that more consciously source and make their candies will use non-hydrogenated oils like coconut, cocoa butter, peanut oil, sunflower oil or lastly palm oil. Although in excess palm oil isn’t as healthful due to higher saturated fat content, try to seek it out over any type of hydrogenated oils.

More Healthy Halloween Basket Tips

  • Seek out dark chocolate varieties over milk chocolate. It tends to have less sugar and other additives.
  • Locate “healthier” candies either online (search non-GMO or organic) or in stores to purchase over more conventionally made candies
  • Mix up your variety of giveaways with some non-food treats
  • Use a smaller basket or trick-or-treat container, that way it becomes full more quickly and can reduce total amount of candy collected


Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN

Isabel is a Registered Dietitian, wellness expert and fitness coach. Isabel has her own nutrition and wellness practice based in New York City, Isabel Smith Nutrition, but she works with clients and corporations both nationwide and worldwide in a variety of areas including skin health, weight loss, gastrointestinal issues and allergies, sports nutrition, general wellness and more. As a Guided Reboot coach, Isabel has helped hundreds juice their way to better health. When she isn’t helping clients achieve optimal nutrition and wellness, she can be found trying and creating new juices and making other healthy recipes, running, cooking, spinning, practicing yoga, and enjoying time with her two Yorkshire terriers. Isabel is also one of the nutritionists who runs our Guided Reboot programs.

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