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Easter Candy Toxic?

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Dear Delialah,

While I was shopping for easter candy for my 2 children I overheard 2 women speaking about the toxic levels of chemicals found in easter candy and the number of children hospitalized each year. I had never heard of this and was shocked. I put back what I was going to buy and headed to the natural food store, but was sad to see the outrageous prices. I know this isn't what you normally write about but what's your take on this and what choice do parents have for healthy easter treats?

Diana Watuziak, Fort Mill

Dear Diana,

Ahhhh...Easter...the second largest candy-consuming holiday after Halloween. It's always been one of my favorites, both as a child and now as an adult. The egg coloring, the egg hunt, the frilly bonnets and lace gloves, the chocolate bunnies, the baskets filled with candy....the toxic levels of lead, sugar, food dyes and expired ingredients???

Parents expect the sugar overload experienced by their kids after they scavage through their Easter baskets, leaving behind little more than shreds of colored cellophane and empty candy wrappers. We chalk it up to a holiday tradition and brace ourselves for the mayhem that ensues. Being the savvy parents that we are, we know that what goes up must come down, and we eagerly await the crash. The day comes to an end and we relax with our feet up while the kids dream away in a sugar induced slumber up in their beds. Unless you are the parent of a child who falls ill as a result of consuming toxic candy.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “thousands of children and adults become ill each Easter season due to tainted chocolate and other candy.” The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has found toxic levels of lead in more than 100 types of candy over the years. Candies that are produced in Mexico, where there are less restrictions on food and the production of candy is not regulated, find their way across the border and onto American store shelves. Toxic buildup of lead accumulates in the blood after children ingest the candy and the result is often severe stomach cramping, headaches, nausea and malaise.

Does this mean you should ditch the basket full of candy altogether and opt for raw fruit snacks and crunchy granola treats? Not if you want to escape complete and total anarchy on Easter morning. So what can you, as a concerned parent, do to protect your children from toxic Easter candy without eliminating the Easter basket tradition? It's really quite simple...

Avoid purchasing candy from unknown distributors. Stick with well known candy manufacturers who have been in the candy making business for years. These companies have not withstood the test of time by producing and distributing candy with questionable ingredients. Just remember that lead-free, safe to consume candy manufactured by major retailers may be free of lead, but is still chock full of sugar, food dyes and artificial flavorings.

Take it one step further by opting for all natural candies and chocolates that are free from dyes and artificial flavors. Although they are expensive, you can take comfort in the fact that your children are eating the safest candy available. Remember, however, that candy is still candy regardless, and therefore sugar is still sugar. Even the healthier, natural sugar will raise blood sugar and spike insulin levels in children. If you find the hefty price tag of organic jelly beans and chocolates too much for your wallet, try mixing some natural candies in with the regular stuff. It will still cut the amount of chemicals and artificial ingredients in half.

Many parents opt for non-candy items added to their children's baskets in an attempt to reduce the amount of sweets ingested on Easter. Stick with the chocolate bunny and the traditional favorites such as jelly beans and marshmallow chicks, then add some novelty items and cool treats. Think stickers, small action figures and dolls, modeling dough, crayons, tiny puzzles, bubbles, jumpropes, sidewalk chalk and similar items. For older kids, consider gift cards, costume jewelry, nail polish, a football, kites, etc. When your children finish whirling through the basket like tazmanian devils, let them eat their sweet treats and then send them out to work off that sugar with their new toys.

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