It's about that time of year when Valentine's Day candies start popping up in stores everywhere. And while the colorful treats may look innocent and sweet, most of what's on display is overly processed, packaged foodstuff loaded with added sugar, artificial ingredients and saturated fat. To show you truly care, opt for antioxidant-rich dark chocolates or low-calorie homemade treats, such as long-stemmed strawberries dipped in chocolate or raspberries stuffed with dark chocolate chips. And in the meantime, here's a lineup of 10 of the worst candies you don't want to give to a loved one.
1. Conversation Hearts
They may disarm you with phrases like "crazy 4 U," "say yes" or "sweet pea." And with their old-timey charm dating back more than 150 years, conversation hearts are the quintessential Valentine's Day candy, just as candy corn are for Halloween. Much in the same way, the decades of being around have not improved their chalky mouthfeel or the fact that their first two ingredients are sugar and sugar — three teaspoons' worth for 10 tiny hearts. Also in the mix are glycerin, gelatin and artificial flavors.
2. Red Heart-Shaped Lollipops
Don't be fooled by the short ingredient list; none of it is any good for you. The ingredients in these lollipops basically boil down to sugar, sugar and artificial this and that. And don't fall for its claim of being fat-free, either. Every little lollipop puts four teaspoons of added sugar into the body, most of which will get converted by the liver and stored as fat. The over-consumption of added sugars has also been linked to obesity and reduced heart health.
Related: 5 Easy Ways to Cut Down on Sugar
3. Cordial Cherries
Sorry, these don't count as a serving of fruit. The unnaturally bright-red, sugar-soaked cherries sit on a glop of more sugar and are then covered in more sugar. For two pieces, you'll get six-and-a-half teaspoons of added sugar, which gets sent over to the toxin-processing center of the body known as the liver. It's an unfriendly, and quite uncordial, thing to do to a vital organ.
4. Lindt Lindor Strawberries and Cream White Chocolate Truffles
Just three of these truffles put an obscene 13 grams of saturated fat into the bloodstream and accounts for 65 percent of the daily limit for saturated fat. They're coated with white chocolate, which is the worst form of chocolate there is. Devoid of any cocoa antioxidants, it's nothing but greasy fat. There are plenty of artificial ingredients and just the tiniest bit of strawberry powder, which you'll find at the end of the ingredient list.
5. Fun Dip
What's so fun about genetically engineered ingredients expertly blended with artificial colors? Not much. The main ingredient here is sugar in the form of dextrose, a sugar that's often derived from corn and is showing up in more and more foods. Why? Because it's an affordable sweetener. For the sweet holiday, Fun Dip includes 24 little cards, clearly marketing to school children. They come from Nestle, with a logo that says "Good Food, Good Life." But this ingredient list may do more harm than good.
6. Brach’s Jube Jel Cherry Hearts
What is jube jel? The existence of this line of query alone should steer you away from these candies, whose semi-firm, semi-gelatinous chewy texture spawned its own category of chews. In addition to carnauba wax and cornstarch, every five jel hearts comes with 120 calories, four teaspoons of added sugar and artificial color red 40. The most commonly used food dye, red 40 is linked with carcinogens, making these heart-shaped treats not so romantic after all.
7. Trolli Sour Brite Hearts
These sour gummy candies represent Valentine's Day candy jumping the shark. Besides the candy's harmful artificial colors, its sour flavors can also trick taste buds into thinking the treat is less sweet than it is. Case in point: A mere 12 of these gummies is loaded with more than six teaspoons of added sugar — the daily limit for more than half of the population (the American Heart Association's daily limit for women).
8. Russell Stover Strawberries and Cream Heart
White chocolate is the worst, but where does that leave "pastel?" The coating of this candy is something called pastel, and it's made of sugar, fractionated palm kernel oil (a soon-to-be-banned trans fat), partially hydrogenated palm oil (another heart-harming trans fat) and a handful of other ingredients. Adding insult to injury, the package brags that it's "naturally flavored," when a simple scan of the ingredients reveals that any natural flavor is also in the company of artificial flavors, colors and preservatives.
9. Peeps Red Mini Marshmallow Hearts
These fluffy, heart-shaped marshmallows certainly look enticing. They even boast the slogan "always gluten free, fat free" on the packaging — but don't be duped. One serving size of these hearts puts you at 26 grams of sugar, which exceeds the recommended daily limit for women (25 grams) and is 72 percent of the daily limit for men (36 grams). You'll also find potassium sorbate listed as an ingredient. A commonly used preservative, potassium sorbate can damage white blood cells and has been linked with cancer.
10. Reese’s Peanut Butter Hearts
A serving size of these highly processed chocolates contains 20 grams of sugar, which is 80 percent of the recommended daily limit for women and 56 percent for men. The candy is also made with partially hydrogenated palm oil — a source of trans fats that increases heart disease and stroke risks. Then there's the ingredient TBHQ, a controversial food additive. According to the National Library of Medicine, the consumption of TBHQ has been linked to vision disturbances in humans, as well as liver enlargement and neurotoxic effects in laboratory animals.
What Do YOU Think?
Can you think of any other candies that should be on this list? How important should sweets be for this sentimental holiday? What are better ways to show love? Share your thoughts in the comments!