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One more reason not to binge on black licorice, the most divisive candy

The FDA warns that a key ingredient in the candy could hurt heart health.

Black licorice root contains a medically active compound called glycyrrhizin acid, which can elevate a person’s blood pressure.

When my Vox colleagues ranked Halloween candy from best to worst, they put Twizzlers near the bottom. “The perfect candy for someone who would like to feel the thrill of chewing on a candle” is how Caroline Framke and Alex Abad-Santos described licorice.

Black licorice seems much more reviled than red licorice. And now there’s yet another reason to hate this divisive candy.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, if you eat 2 ounces of black licorice — the equivalent of about four Twizzler vines — daily for at least two weeks, you could wind up in the hospital with an irregular heartbeat or even heart failure.

That’s a lot of licorice — maybe more than most licorice lovers eat in a day. But the FDA is onto something: Licorice root contains a medically active compound called glycyrrhizin acid, and researchers have been discussing its potential health complications for years. Glycyrrhizin can elevate a person’s blood pressure, leading some to experience abnormal heart rhythms, lethargy, even congestive heart failure. Glycyrrhizin can also interfere with other medications and supplements, the FDA warned.

“No matter what your age, don’t eat large amounts of black licorice at one time,” the agency said, adding that people over 40 with a history of heart disease or high blood pressure seem to be most at risk of black licorice-related health complications.

An even better reason not to eat 2 ounces of candy a day

Before we start worrying too much about glycyrrhizin, though, let’s revisit the other candy ingredient with a far greater overall impact on public health: sugar.

Two ounces of candy corn, for instance, contains 38 grams of sugar. That’s about 10 grams more than the recommended daily limit.

As I’ve explained, there’s a mountain of research on all the ways a sugar-heavy diet can harm our health. Increased risks of obesity, Type 2 diabetes, tooth decay, and heart disease are just some of the most well-established examples.

A high intake of sugar is associated with heart problems. That’s likely because sugar increases triglycerides in the blood, which may also help harden the arteries and thicken artery walls — driving up the risk of stroke, heart attack, and heart disease.

Finally, there’s good evidence that people who drink sugar-sweetened beverages are at an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes, regardless of their body fat.

We’re now entering peak sugar season. In 2017, the candy industry expects Halloween will bring in a record $2.75 billion in retail sales.

If you took all the candy that’s sold during Halloween week and turned it into a giant ball, like the one looming over the nation’s capital below, it’d be as large as six Titanics and weigh 300,000 tons.

Javier Zarracina/Vox

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