Corn Syrup: Corn syrup, or corn sugar as the industry wants it known, is controversial because it’s high in fructose. More concretely, however, you should know that corn syrup generally comes from GM corn, which means tons of pesticides.
Soy Lecithin: Lecithin refers to a type of fat that can be chemically extracted from foods like soy. It’s usually used as an emulsifier (it encourages things to remain mixed just right), as well as to prevent sticking.
Is it safe to eat? The US and the EU both say yes. There’s even some evidence that it encourages good cholesterol. On the other hand, it may encourage atherosclerosis (plaque in the heart that leads to heart disease). Overall, lecithin is probably neutral, if not good for you (it’s naturally found in the body and used for many processes).
BUT, just like with corn, soy is one of the biggest GM crops out there. However you feel about the science behind GM, the end goal is usually to produce something bugs don’t want to eat (so why would you?).
There is a highly in-demand non-GMO version that’s been driving costs up, so if you see an organic product, or one labelled GMO free, don’t worry about this ingredient.
PGPR: This is filler in most American chocolate products that’s derived from castor beans (usually). There have been lots of studies on PGPR, and none of them had found any adverse effect, even in large quantities… at least in the short term. Make anything with PGPR a “sometimes treat” and you should be fine!
Dextrose: This is just another name for glucose.
TBHQ: This is probably the worst ingredient on this list (I left off hydrogenated oils—you’d have to have spent the last 5 years living under a rock to not be familiar with them).
Derived from butane, TBHQ is a preservative—the FDA limits the amount that can be present in food.
But here’s the rub: TBHQ is widely used. It’s in most of your processed foods, as well as many of your beauty products. So you aren’t just getting the amount the FDA deems safe—you’re getting quite the dose if you aren’t actively avoiding it!
High doses (the kind that, usually, only lab animals get) can destroy DNA and lead to cancer. Officially, however, it’s deemed to not be carcinogenic because humans eat so little of it compared to what’s used in studies. As long as you aren’t living on fast food and candy, you’ll probably be OK.
Sunflower/Safflower Oil: Actually, this is good for you! It’s got a lot of Vitamin E. But! That’s contingent on the fact that your diet is otherwise healthy. It comes down to the balance of Omega fatty acids in your body. You do need some, but again, if you’re living on fast food and candy, you’re going to have problems. (Why not add some Omega-3 to your diet?)
Vanillin: Vanillin is the main compound in Vanilla. Plant derived natural vanilla extract has HUNDREDS of compounds and flavors, and is actually very expensive, so mass manufactured foods use a man made version of just the most important flavor. For a more high profile comparison, it’s like the synthetic THC that’s sometimes prescribed in lieu of medical marijuana (just the most important ingredient, not the plant which has tons more to it).
Artificial Flavor: There’s a lot that fits under this label, and it’s obscured under the excuse of trade secrets. But it’s basically a lot of things in the same vein as vanillin, and nothing too bad. But if natural’s your thing, clearly this isn’t it!
What ingredients are you curious about?