Growing up, my go-to candies were always chocolate based — M&M’s, Aero, Cadbury, and sometimes, if I wanted something extra sweet and savoury, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Today we know that added sugar is linked to a number of diseases, including obesity, which is estimated to be responsible for 500,000 cancer cases worldwide each year. In addition to the harmful physical effects, recent studies have shown the link between sugar and depression. 90% of our serotonin is produced in the gut, a fact which has prompted many researchers to study the implications of diet on mental health.
If you flip over the package on any candy you grab on the shelf at your local convenience store or supermarket, it’s likely you will find a host of ingredients you can’t identify. Why would we willingly ingest items that we have no understanding of? The effects of sugar might be obvious to us now, but what isn’t obvious is how all these other ingredients affect us alongside it.
Let’s have a look at the ingredients in the ever popular Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
- Chocolate milk, (milk, chocolate, sugar, cocoa butter, no fat milk, lactose, soy lecithin, PGPR), peanuts, sugar dextrose, salt, TBHQ and citric acid.
Let’s break this one down. Soy lecithin is a food additive that emulsifies food. 94% of soy is genetically modified and, just by being a GM product, it poses a number of health risks like promoting tumour growth, Parkinson’s, birth defects, and a variety of gluten disorders. Unfermented soy is difficult for the body to break down and digest, causing a host of issues within the body ranging from digestive disorders to skin problems and plenty in betwee.
Free glutamic acid, or MSG, a potent neurotoxin, is also formed during soy food processing and additional amounts are added to many soy foods.
The process in producing soy lecithin is a lengthy one and often includes bleaching with hydrogen peroxide. You can find out more details here, but below are just a few steps:
Before the ‘degumming’ step where lecithin is removed, the crude oil undergoes a multi-step process to remove the hexane. (5) However, it appears that the FDA doesn’t regulate the amount of hexane residue in food products, and one paper estimated that the residual hexane concentration of soy oil is 500-1000ppm. (6) So, it’s very possible that similar concentrations remain in the soy lecithin.
Studies have also found that soy lecithin in the diets of pregnant and newborn rats resulted in impaired reflexes and swimming ability, along with other cognitive deficiencies. And consuming soy lecithin combined with sugar, which is known to feed cancer, can accelerate carcinoma growth, especially if the tumour is located in an estrogen-receptive and anaerobic environment like the breast.
Polyricinoleate and Polyglycerol is a yellowish, thick liquid composed of polyglycerol esters of polycondensed fatty acids and is often made using castor beans or possibly soybean oil.
PGPR is also a food additive and emulsifier, meant to ease the process of large scale food production. In relation to Reese’s, it’s used to replace cocoa butter, which is an expensive raw material for chocolate manufacturers. Yet pure cacao butter offers many health benefits, like lowering the risk of heart disease and stroke, and this is being stripped away in favour of a toxic additive that provides the illusion of “real” chocolate.
PGPR has only recently (2016) been recognized as ‘safe’ by the FDA even though some some animal studies have shown liver damage in large doses, but there’s no consensus on what effects long-term exposure can have on humans.
PGPR is also made by Danisco, who is owned by one of the biggest chemical companies, Dupont.
Tertiary butyl hydroquinone is an additive used to preserve processed foods, as it helps to extend shelf life and prevent rancidity. Most processed foods contain some form of fat and TBHQ is used in fats, not only in chocolate products but also vegetable oils and animal fats.
The food additive BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) is commonly paired with TBHQ, as the chemicals are closely related: TBHQ forms when the body metabolizes BHA. Together, they are linked to numerous health problems.
Studies have found that this additive increases the incidence of tumours in rats. According to the National Library of Medicine, TBHQ also causes liver enlargement and neurotoxic effects like convulsions and paralysis in laboratory animals, and vision disturbances in humans. The Feingold diet is a dietary approach to managing attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and BHA and TBHQ are on the black list of this diet for its effect human behaviour.
The FDA claims that TBHQ is safe in small amounts, but the World Health Organization evaluated the ‘average’ intake of TBHQ in the United Stated and found people were at about 90% of the acceptable daily intake. Yet people who ate high fat diets were getting a whopping 180% of the acceptable daily intake.
Like sugar, you can find TBHQ under a number of different names as well:
- tertiary butylhydroquinone
- butylated hydroxyanisol
While the health benefits of dark chocolate are substantial, a recent study found that certain brands contain concerning amounts of lead and cadmium.
Here’s an easy and healthy alternative to the traditional peanut butter cup, courtesy of vegan blogger Hot For Food:
1 bag of vegan chocolate chips (approx. 1 1/2 C)
1/4 C peanut butter
Line a muffin tin with paper liners or use a silicon muffin tray.
In a double boiler melt the chocolate chips until silky smooth. Put 1 tsp of melted chocolate into the bottom of the muffin liners and then spread it out evenly with your finger or a spoon. Refrigerate this for 10 mins.
Then take 1 tsp of peanut butter and put that on top of the hardened chocolate. Don’t spread this out with your finger as it will settle itself and stay mostly in the centre. Refrigerate this for 10 mins.
If your chocolate has become sludgier while you were waiting just put it back on the double boiler quickly to re-melt it. Then take 1-2 tsp more of melted chocolate and put that on top of the peanut butter. The peanut butter won’t be super hard but it will hold up for the rest of this process. If you’re rushed you don’t really have to put the peanut butter part in the fridge again.
You can push the melted chocolate into the sides a bit with your teaspoon to ensure it runs down to cover the peanut butter. This won’t necessarily happen, especially if you don’t refrigerate the peanut butter part, but I don’t mind them looking a little rustic and oozy anyway!
Smooth the top of the cups if you desire, but they might just settle nicely on their own. Then refrigerate this for at least 20 mins. before serving. Store in the fridge in an airtight container or at room temperature if you want softer cups.
If you’d like to cut down your sugar intake further, you can try this 10 Day Sugar Detox.
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