Fruit chews have long become a staple snack in many family homes. They're quick, easy and tout appealing healthy qualities -- making them incredibly attractive to busy parents (coming in handy for children and adults alike). Most of these fruity chews are low in calories and fat free, some of them even containing your daily need of a handful of vitamins in just one little pouch. They're even made with real fruit juice and fruit purees. With all these factors in mind, one begins to wonder who needs to eat plain fruit anymore?
While fruit snacks are definitely low on the list of the worst offenders of processed foods, they're still, well, a processed food. So that means, for one, they're built to last for a long period of time on the grocery shelves, and two, they've been engineered to smell, look and taste appetizing.
Let's take a look at what exactly is in these snacks, in addition to the fruit juices and purees. An average fruit chew snack ingredient list will look something like this: Corn syrup, sugar, modified corn starch, juice from concentrate, fruit purees, citric acid, lactic acid, natural and artificial flavors, sodium citrate, gelatin, coconut oil, carnauba wax, red 40, yellow 5 and blue 1.
At this point in our engineered food reality, we're used to seeing such a long list of ingredients for a seemingly simple food. But, how many of us have stopped to investigate what all these ingredients really are? We at Kitchen Daily were curious to see what we were really consuming while munching on these sweet fruity chews. Here's what we found:
This is not a new ingredient in gummy candy, but we know that not everyone is aware of where it comes from. Gelatin is made from the collagen inside animals' skin and bones. It's primarily derived from pork skins, pork and cattle bones, or split cattle hides. If you're a vegetarian, you might not want to be eating gelatin-based products.
This wax is made from the leaves of the palm tree. Carnauba wax is used to provide a glossy waxen sheen to these fruit chews, just like it does for cars (in automobile waxes), shoes (in the polish), dental floss, surf boards and floors. It's also used for paper coatings in the U.S.. Turns out our fruit chews get the same shine treatment as our floors and our cars.
The food colorings found in fruit chews are red 40, yellow 5 and blue 1. Red 40 and blue 1 were originally manufactured from coal tar, but are now mostly made from petroleum. Those two colors have been banned previously in many European countries including Denmark, Belgium and France, though are now widely used in countries belonging to the European Union. Despite their attention in Europe, they've been used in the U.S. without too much resistance.
Yellow 5, however, is a different story. This food coloring, also know as tartrazine, has been known to cause serious allergic reactions (particularly for people who are allergic to aspirin). In 2008, the Food Standards Agency issued a warning about yellow 5 causing hyperactivity in some children. And according to board certified family physician Dr. Joel Fuhrman, yellow 5 poses risks of cancer.
What's the take away?
Well, if you're really fond of fruit chew snacks and just can't imagine your life without them, but don't want to be ingesting the above ingredients, look for an organic or natural variety. There are a handful of brands out there that use natural food dyes from spices and vegetables, and use pectin rather than gelatin.
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