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What’s in This?: Candy Canes

All four ingredients in this exceptionally boring Christmas treat, explained (yep, even Red 40)

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) themselves with the help of an expert.

This edition: Spangler R&W Candy Canes, which are made from four separate ingredients that we’ve broken down in the exact order they appear on their website.

The Ingredients

1) Sugar: A single cane contains 10 grams of sugar, which isn’t a terrible amount compared to other candy (a Snickers Bar, for example, contains a whopping 27 grams of sugar). But it’s still a large chunk of your allotted daily intake. The American Heart Association, for example, recommends men consume no more than 36 grams and women consume no more than 25 grams of added sugar per day (that doesn’t include sugar found naturally in foods like fruits and vegetables, either). Too much sugar, if you didn’t already know, is terrible for you: A sugar-laden diet is associated with all kinds of ailments, from heart disease to depression. Worth it? Humbug.

2) Corn Syrup: As we learned during our exploration of all 12 ingredients in Candy Corn, corn syrup is a liquid sweetener made of glucose. While it doesn’t get as much negative publicity as high fructose corn syrup — which has been linked to obesity and diabetes by many, many studies (more on that here) — regular corn syrup can also be debilitating, considering it’s basically liquid sugar. And as we’ve already said, too much sugar is bad news.

3) Natural Flavor: Natural flavors are quite literally flavors derived from an actual food source — i.e., peppermint flavoring taken from real peppermint. These are harmless.

4) Color Added (includes Red 40): Red 40, like many artificial colors, is known to be cancerous. That said, as physician and biochemist Cate Shanahan explained during our analysis of Doritos, studies arguing this 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].”

Generally speaking, the average person’s liver should be able to break down whatever minuscule amount of artificial coloring we consume with food.

The Takeaway

All in all, these candy canes are exactly what you’d expect: A load of sugar and not much else. That being the case, sucking on the odd cane over the holiday season won’t do you too much harm. But really, if you’re going to be chowing down on straight-up sugar, maybe opt for something a little more exciting?