Are Skittles Poisonous? Specialists are contemplating a lawsuit

Key Takeaways

  • A new lawsuit accuses Mars, the parent company of Skittles, of including a toxic ingredient.
  • The ingredient of concern is titanium dioxide, a substance that helps make food and other items (such as toothpaste and paper) appear brighter.
  • The FDA allows titanium dioxide in certain amounts, and experts say more needs to be learned before we can consider the product toxic.

Does a particular ingredient make Skittles “unfit for human consumption”? That’s what plaintiff Jenile Thames claims in a class action lawsuit filed against Mars Corporation earlier this month.

The lawsuit alleges that Mars failed to disclose health risks from titanium dioxide, a compound used as a bleaching agent in Skittles. Skittles are shiny because of titanium oxide. It has the same effect on paint.

Naturally, candy lovers and parents of candy-loving children are now worried about these allegations. Are our beloved rainbow colored candies really toxic and unsafe for human consumption? Or is the titanium dioxide level negligible and nothing to worry about?

We turned to some experts to get to the bottom of it.

What is titanium dioxide?

You may not have heard of titanium dioxide before. But if you’ve ever enjoyed coffee creamer in your cup of joe, slurped a jingle as a child, or eaten a bowl of Jell-O, you’ve likely been consuming this chemical without even realizing it.

Titanium dioxide is used as a food pigment and anti-caking agent. Because this powder can enhance the white color, it is found in a variety of popular foods, household items, and personal care products, such as makeup, sunscreen, and toothpaste. Titanium dioxide is also widely used in many commercial products, including paints, plastics, and paper.

The European Food Safety Authority (EMST) has expressed concern about the use of this product as it cannot be ruled out that it may damage chromosomes or cause genotoxicity. However, in the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continues to consider it safe for human consumption.

These different positions between the two agencies may be troubling, but one important detail to keep in mind is that the EFSA does not indicate that the consumption of titanium dioxide. will cause genotoxicity. On the contrary, it cannot rule out such a possibility.

“Different countries may decide to regulate certain ingredients, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re harmful.” Kacie Barnes, MCN, RDN, LD, a registered dietitian based in Dallas, Texas, told Verywell. “There is no reliable evidence that titanium dioxide is a known toxin found in food in the United States”

Wondering if your food contains titanium dioxide? Check the ingredients list on the food label. According to FDA regulations, titanium dioxide, like any other colorant or food ingredient, must be labeled on any food product.

Should Titanium Dioxide Be Avoided?

It’s really tempting to go through your pantry and throw out anything that has a titanium dioxide stain in it. After all, if this product is truly toxic and can damage chromosomes, who would want to be exposed to it in any amount?

But experts encourage people to take a deep breath. Eliminating the compound from the diet is probably not necessary.

“In particular, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) lists titanium dioxide as perhaps carcinogenic’ Taylor Wallace, PhD, CFS, FACN, a food and nutrition scientist and director and CEO of the Think Healthy Group, Verywell said. He explained that the categorization is based on studies of rodents after very high exposures, which are unlikely to be related to the consumption of titanium dioxide.

“Remember, the principle of toxicology is that everything is toxic; the dose is the key,” Wallace said.

Wallace added that certain compounds may be toxic to animals but not to humans. For example, while chocolate and grapes are generally safe for humans to eat, they can be fatal for dogs. Just because titanium dioxide is associated with certain outcomes in rodents does not necessarily mean the same is true in humans.

“Titanium dioxide has a long history of safe use. We’ve been using it for decades — if not more than a hundred years,” Wallace said.

Think about the bigger picture

Like Wallace, creator of nutrition expert Elizabeth Shaw, MS, RDN, CPT ShawSimpleSwaps.com, not worried about Skittles. In fact, it’s a stocking stuffer for her husband every Christmas.

“Honestly, eating something as healthy as carrots can lead to toxicity when consumed in excess,” Shaw told Verywell. “I advise people to think about their whole diet – what they eat on a regular basis, not just a few sweets every now and then.”

The bottom line? Regardless of whether you eat candy made with titanium dioxide or not, your candy intake should be kept to a minimum. No one eats candy expecting nutritional benefits.

Removing titanium dioxide from Skittles will still leave you with candies made with corn syrup, hydrogenated palm kernel oil, and artificial colors—none of which are healthy.

If you like Skittles, it seems safe to consume in reasonable amounts, especially if most of your diet is balanced and nutrient-dense.

What does this mean for you?

If you love eating Skittles, there doesn’t seem to be any reason to stop. Just limit your intake and try to eat whole foods.

Amendment – 2022 August 1: This article has been updated to clarify that the FDA requires companies to list titanium dioxide as an ingredient on food labels.

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