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What’s in This?: Gummy Bears

All 14 ingredients in this chewy mini-mammals, explained (yep, even carnauba wax)

We’re often told that you should never eat anything (or put anything on your body) if you don’t recognize everything on the ingredients list. But since most of us have no idea what xanthan gum or potassium benzoate are — or more importantly, what they’re doing to our bodies — we’re decoding the ingredients in the many things Americans put in (and on, or near) themselves.

This edition: Haribo Goldbears, which are made from 14 separate ingredients that we’ve broken down as they appear online.

The Haribo Gummy Bears Ingredients List

1) Glucose Syrup (from Wheat or Corn): Glucose syrup is made by breaking down glucose (aka sugar) molecules in starchy foods, like wheat or corn, through hydrolysis, a chemical reaction that essentially results in a concentrated, sweet liquid with a very, very high glucose content. Glucose syrup is mainly used as a sweetener and a thickener.

2) Sugar: One serving (13 gummy bears) contains 14 grams of sugar, or three and a half sugar cubes. That may not be wildly excessive, but it can certainly add up, especially if you eat more than just 13 gummies in a sitting (happens to the best of us). For reference, the American Heart Association recommends men consume no more than 36 grams and women consume no more than 25 grams of added sugar a day.

3) Gelatin: Vegans and vegetarians, beware: Gelatin is derived from all kinds of animal tissues — meat, bones, cartilage, whatever — and is a form of collagen, a protein found in connective tissues throughout the body. In the making of gummy bears, gelatin causes the collagen molecules to loosen up and spread out, then eventually bond together to turn what would otherwise be a syrupy liquid into a wiggly solid.

While that might sound weird and gross, since gelatin is high in protein and amino acids, some evidence suggests that consuming it could reduce joint and bone pain, as well as improving the appearance of your skin and hair. But there are certainly better ways to improve your health and looks than by eating gummy bears.

4) Dextrose (from Wheat or Corn): Dextrose is a sugar derived from starches, like wheat or corn (as Haribo so kindly notes). Fun fact: Dextrose has an especially high glycemic index, meaning it quickly raises blood sugar levels, so it’s used in IV solutions to treat low blood sugar and dehydration. People with diabetes might also consume dextrose tablets to raise their blood sugar levels if they become dangerously low. Because of this blood-sugar-boosting effect, consuming dextrose also provides an almost immediate jolt of energy — and then an inevitable crash.

5) Citric Acid: Citric acid naturally occurs in citrus fruits and is often added to foods to extend their shelf life.

6) Artificial and Natural Flavors: While natural flavors are taken from real food sources, artificial flavors are chemical compounds created in a lab that mimic a natural flavor in some way. That may sound unnatural — and thus, unhealthy — but physician and biochemist Cate Shanahan, author of Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food, previously told us that she has no real problem with artificial flavors: “They’re not killers because they’re added in very, very small quantities to food.”

Unfortunately, while I’d love to know what exactly they use to create the unique artificial flavor of these gummy bears, as we learned in our ranking of artificial flavors, the ins and outs of any one artificial flavor are virtually impossible to track down.

7) Palm Oil: Shanahan previously told us that consuming too much vegetable oil — which is easy to do, considering she says roughly 45 percent of the average American’s calories come from refined oils — has serious repercussions (e.g., fatty liver disease, insulin resistance and migraines). While it’s near impossible to eliminate vegetable oil from your diet altogethermajor contributors include processed foods, fried foods, frozen pizzas, cakes, cookies, margarines and coffee creamers — it’s best consumed in moderation. Worse yet, as we discovered during our ranking of cooking oils by how unhealthy they are, palm oil is one of the least healthy oils available.

8) Palm Kernel Oil: While palm oil comes from the palm fruit, palm kernel oil is extracted from the palm seed. It therefore has more saturated fat than basic palm oil, making it harder on arteries.

9) Carnauba Wax: “Carnauba wax is a water insoluble substance used as a glazing, bulking and anticaking agent,” Dagan Xavier, ingredient expert and co-founder of Label Insight, told us during out analysis of the ingredients in Orbit White Spearmint Gum. It can be especially useful for carrying flavors and scents, and it gives these gummy bears a nice sheen.

10) White Beeswax: Similar to carnauba wax, beeswax is added toward the end of production, making the gummy bears all shiny and preventing them from sticking together in the bag.

11) Yellow Beeswax: The only real difference between white and yellow beeswax is the filtration process, which results in different colors: Yellow beeswax is a little more true to the natural color of beeswax.

12) Yellow 5: Like many artificial colors, yellow 5 is known to be carcinogenic. However, as Shanahan explained during our analysis of Doritos, studies arguing this point are a bit flawed: “I’ve always been of the opinion that studies claiming artificial colors can cause cancer are irrelevant because [in the studies] they use really high amounts of the artificial colors  —  like, a million times more than you’d ever get [in your] food [throughout your lifetime].”

All in all, the average person’s liver should be able to break down whatever minuscule amount of artificial coloring we consume with food, drink, and of course, gummy bears.

13) Red 40: Red 40, again, is known to be cancerous. But as Shanahan explained above, you probably don’t have to worry about the relatively tiny amounts found in your handful of gummy bears.

14) Blue 1: Same as above.

The Takeaway

All in all, these gummy bears are basically just a bunch of sugar and oil hardened into the shape of a small bear. They’re not the worst thing you can put in your body, but they’re certainly far from the best.