On a sunny Sunday afternoon, we ended some family errands with a taste test of a new ice cream shop. We try to support local businesses and since I heard they made their ice cream on site from the milk of grass-fed cows I wanted to give it a try. It seemed like the perfect little indulgence to wrap up a hot and hectic weekend.
The store was adorable. Vintage colors, old wooden tables, striped hula hoops and glass jars stuffed with candies filled a brightly lit room. Unfortunately, the ice cream counter was at the far end and to get there we had to navigate aisle after aisle of candy and the sounds of begging from two little excited little boys, who couldn’t seem to forget about the candy even after a rich, creamy cup of mint chocolate chip ice cream.
Eventually, they broke us down and convinced us to let them choose one treat to save for an upcoming road trip. They were overjoyed and went scampering down the aisles in search of the perfect thing. On their search, we discovered yet another ridiculous ingredient that has no business in something we’re going to put into our bodies.
Now comes the part where I get really frustrated because I’m trying to be reasonable and let our boys have a little treat. Unless we want to make our own candy at home, there seem to be very few sweet treats that we consider reasonable or edible.
After dismantling half a dozen displays, our older son returned and presented us with a tangerine colored rock candy sucker. It looked like they melted an orange creamsicle over gravel and put it on a stick, but for some reason, he wanted it. He stood there, anxiously waiting for his dad to check the ingredients for red dye (he’s allergic). At the end of the list in bold black letters were the words – Titanium Dioxide. That sounded extremely harsh as a key ingredient for a piece of candy and confusing since I was pretty sure that titanium dioxide was an ingredient in sunscreen. So my husband turned to Google.
A few moments later he learned that this lovely ingredient is also used in such delicacies as paint, cosmetics and yes, sunscreen. It was also listed as a potential carcinogen. Evidently marshmallows and icing are also popular uses for titanium dioxide. The reason this potential carcinogen is in something being sold for consumption – it helps things look whiter and brighter. So, yes, we’re pumping potentially harmful chemicals into marshmallows (and our children) because vanilla isn’t white enough!
Coincidentally, there is a recent study http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es204168d published in the American Chemical Society’s Environmental Science and Technology. It’s main finding? Children may be getting the highest exposure to the nanoparticles of titanium dioxide. Courtesy of candy rock pops, marshmallows, sunscreen and more.
Here’s the bigger issue. The companies using it claim that they’re using it in such small doses that it’s not really dangerous. That doesn’t make me feel any better and it also doesn’t make sense. If everyone is allowed to use titanium dioxide in small “harmless” doses we still have a huge problem. Is there anyone who is only eating the occasional marshmallow and nothing else that has this possible carcinogen in it? What happens when we add up the titanium dioxide entering our body from sunscreen, paint, marshmallows, orange rock candy and all the other products that have been allowed to use it in small “safe” amounts? Suddenly all these supposedly safe amounts add up to trouble. The same goes for all the other dangerous chemicals that make their way into our food system because they aren’t considered dangerous until they reach a certain level.
Does the marshmallow really need to be that white? At some point, was research conducted that consumers were willing to trade their health for a brighter, whiter marshmallow? And why was it in the orange rock candy if it’s purpose is to whiten and brighten? At some point, we as consumers need to push to back and let the manufacturers know that this is not OK. Candy is a treat that we indulge in once in awhile…titanium dioxide is not!
On a side note…if you’d like a titanium dioxide free marshmallow try Elyon Marshmallows. I found them at Whole Foods, but they also carry them on Amazon.
Do you read labels? What questionable ingredients have you come across? Have you looked them up? Share your thoughts in the comments or leave us the name of an ingredient you’re curious about and we’ll do some research and report back.