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The Color of Candy

October 25, 2013

Americans spend a lot of money on Halloween.  Costumes, decorations and candy fly off the shelves this time of the year.  The National Retail Federation, a retail trade group, MM4projects that we will lay out almost $7 billion, including $2.6 billion on costumes, another $2 billion each on decorations and candy and $330 million on costumes for pets.  (That’s right – $330 million on costumes for pets.)

Not everyone participates, of course.  Some go even further and discourage the entire affair.  Dentists are at the top of that list.  Many will even buy the candy from the kids or collect it to send to the troops.


There was a time when I was engaged in stressful work periods with high pressure projects full of hard and fast deadlines. There were long days and the work was fast-paced. M&M’s always seem to have a spot in the team’s war room arsenal to help us get through it. Of course, it was entirely irrational and just a reaction to the stress.

M&M’s are a Halloween favorite.  In fact, these colorful bits of chocolate candy are enjoyed worldwide all year-long.  Some people contend to have favorite colors, but I don’t think that this can have much to do with flavor and I would guess that a blind taste test would leave us with that same conclusion.  Generations have introduced their children to M&M’s for more than seventy years.

Most of us have not mistaken M&M’s as nutritional or necessary for a healthy diet.  We eat this type of stuff for various other reasons – besides the enticing taste itself, hormone fluctuations, genetic dispositions and mixed-up emotions drive us to sugar and other sweets.  But none of this is the basis for finding a spot for M&M’s on our food pyramid.  We’re all better off without them.


Brown, green and yellow M&Ms have been part of the offering since the beginning, 1941. Orange was added in 1976 and blue came in 1995. Red was one of the original colors also, but was removed 1976 for an eleven-year period over concerns about the carcinogens in the food color used, FD&C Red #2.

A bag of M&M’s contain 240 calories, more than ten percent of the daily recommended number for most anyone, regardless of their age, gender or activity level.  Half of this comes from the thirty grams of sugar.  The candy is also high in saturated fats, which researchers have associated with cardiovascular disease and cancer risk and is devoid of Vitamins A and C, both of which contribute to good health.  Common sense would tell you that we eat this stuff at our own risk.

The Mars Company makes it easy for us to avoid.  Sure, there are plenty of clever advertising and marketing campaigns to grab a consumer’s attention and product placement at the checkout counters in every gas station, supermarket and convenience store beckon us up to the moment of our escape.  But Mars goes above and beyond FDA labeling requirements to make it known that their candy is full of empty calories and has lots of sugar.  It’s all right there on their package in case you didn’t already know or for some reason, thought things have changed since the last time you took a look at these perilous vivid morsels.  Any temptation can be squashed very easily by even a quick glance at their plain and easy to read labels.

Health researchers have warned us for years about the dangers of sugar consumption.  Study after study provide a story line that is easy to follow.  Here are just a few that tell us why we should be wary of eating sugar:

  • A 2011 report on the study of more than two thousand teenagers found that those with the highest sugar consumption had the highest levels of triglyceride and LDL (bad) cholesterol, the lowest levels of HDL (good) cholesterol and had increased insulin resistance.
  • A 2010 report based on more than 310,000 participants showed that the people who consumed the most sugary beverages (the top quantile, generally between one and two servings per day) were at a twenty-six percent higher risk of Type-2 diabetes) than those in the lowest quantile.
  • A 2009 report with dietary data from more than 88,000 women associated coronary heart disease with sugary beverage consumption.

Mars lays it all out there and makes it easy for us to see. Just an eight-piece bag has a third of the daily limit of sugar as recommended by the AHA.

A single bag of M&M’s provides one hundred and twenty calories from sugar.  This is more than the American Heart Association recommends for an entire day.

So you’d think that this alone would be enough for parents to keep the kids safe from harm by removing M&M’s from their diets.  This is not necessarily the case, however.  A woman from Jamestown, New York doesn’t seem fazed at all by these clear and present health dangers staring her in the face.  Rather, she is upset about the artificial food colors that are used for M&M’s and has quit buying them for her young son solely because Mars Company won’t use other compounds.


This is about the only adjustment that Mars could make to its candy packages to make it any clearer.

The outraged mom has started a campaign to petition the Mars Company to remove the chemicals that they use for their candy.  FD&C Red #40, E129, also known as Allura Red, has been associated with children’s hyperactive behavior.  Other artificial food colors also present risks.  Allura Red is banned in Europe, but remains prominent in the U.S.  The woman claims that just two days after removing all foods with artificial colors from her son’s diet, his life improved dramatically.  The nightmares were gone and his school days were easier.  It even seems that he became a better ice hockey player.  But this is not adequate – she wants more for her son.  She wants a life complete with M&M’s.   She very badly desires to bring the stuff back into her family’s kitchen cabinet, but is insisting that Mars first change their recipe to get rid of the artificial colors.  Non-negotiable.  She’s found nearly eighty-nine thousand like-minded other consumers to endorse her demand.

photo (3)

My preference

This just seems very odd to me.  It misses the mark entirely.  Get rid of the chemicals and the junk in processed food, sure.  Who can deny that?  However, if you think that’s a good idea, go a little further and reduce the amount of processed food in your diet, which have their own health risks and generally cannot provide the same nutritional value as whole foods.  Why not abstain from the M&M’s entirely?

The Mars Company has responded with the bland statement that you’d expect from a large corporation, saying that they are always evaluating their product ingredients for safety and customer preference.  In a more candid moment and off the record, I think they would point out the obvious to their critics and also suggest to them that they take a moment to reevaluate their own practices if a healthy diet is important to them.

From → Consumption, Health

  1. Darn, now I want to eat an M&M.


  2. HI Bruce, we read this the other day and have been meaning to get back to you. Today, with the boss taking a personal day, seems like a good time.

    Sadly, we LOVE candy to a fault and believe candy corn is the greatest food known to humanity. Way better than M&Ms, though we like those, too. My pub allows herself candy corn because it is seasonal and she can only get out of control for a few months a year. the good news, after today, it will be half priced and that should get her to Thanksgiving.

    We were pleased to see that in recent years, candy corn packaging has included “made with real honey!” in large font. That makes it healthy, right? if we knew how to upload a photo, we’d share a pic of some cookies she baked, but we don’t know how to do that so check your twitter feed. (give us a few minutes.)

    Meanwhile, best of luck to that Jamestown mom. It is a great endeavor but there are a lot of variables to hurdle. We know the disappointment of raising our children to be healthy eaters only to have them discover steak and cheese subs and Mountain Dew when they hit middle school. Good news, steamed broccoli is still a favorite. xo LMA


  3. LMA – Your candy corn is very pretty. I have never heard of homemade candy corn – you should package it up and let the world enjoy!

    Lots of junk food around for kids and it takes a lifetime for some to kick the bad habits. I remember quite fondly such delicacies discovered such as anything in a Hostess package, ice cream sandwiches and Snickers bars. And of course, there were 7-11 slurpees. Nothing tasted so good on a hot and muggy summer day in the Midwest.


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