Flavour of the Week

Unmasking Candy

I read an interesting article in the Globe and Mail last week where Samira Kawash, the “Candy Professor” (who’s PhD is in Literature), was interviewed about her love of the much-maligned Halloween treat – candy. This got me thinking …..…

Dietitians, parents and those with a general interest in promoting healthy diets frequently advise people to curb their intake of energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods, like candy and chocolate bars – but does that mean we have to turn off the lights and bah-humbug on Halloween? Where do candy and chocolate bars fit into a healthy diet, if at all?

There is zero consensus with respect to how much “added sugar” is allowable in a healthy diet. The World Health Organization suggests no more than 10% of total calories from added sugar (1); this works out to 50 g of sugar per day on a 2000 Calorie diet. Conversely, the Institute of Medicine allows a whopping 25% of calories (125 g/day) coming from added sugar (2). Results from the Canadian Community Health Survey show that we might be on the right track. Canadians are currently consuming 20% of total calories from ALL sugar – including naturally-occurring and added – which is equivalent to 110 g of sugar, or 26 tsp per day (3). Daily intakes range from 20 tsp (older women) to 41 tsp (teenage boys). No word on whether any of the data was collected on the day AFTER Halloween though!

While the data DOES NOT distinguish between “added sugar” and naturally occurring from fruit, milk, etc., approximately 10 tsp came from the “other” foods category, including soft drinks, chocolate and candy. Sugar derived from chocolate bars and candy in the adult diet was relatively low with only 5%, whereas 14% of sugar intake was attributed to soft drinks (3).

But the question remains – what level of candy consumption can still be “healthy”? A recent systematic review (4) found no link between sugar intake and obesity at intakes of 6 to 20% total calories AND overall diet adequacy was not negatively affected at this “moderate” level. (Sugar-sweetened beverages, such as soft drinks, however, were another story). Recent results from the NHANES data set in the US support these review findings – candy consumption was not related to adverse health in kids OR adults at currently consumed levels of 9 – 11 g per day (5,6).

Candy consumption may not hamper weight loss efforts in overweight/obese individuals either. Adding daily snacks of chocolate or candy to a low-calorie diet (1500 – 1800 kcal) did NOT sabotage weight loss – women lost an average of 11 pounds regardless of eating this sweet “cheat”. Not to say that chocolate and candy should be recommended to dieters (the study was funded by Hershey after all!), but just goes to show that deprivation is not always the key to success.

Does this mean that I think we should be chowing down on candy daily? Absolutely not! But it does appear that our current level of candy consumption (though likely tainted by self-report data) IS NOT necessarily harmful to our health **IF** overall diet quality is not sacrificed.

I do think that candy and chocolate bars are frequently scapegoated – there are a number of foods that are touted as healthy that are really no better for you.  For instance, let’s compare two very different products: Item 1 below is a guilt-ridden “candy treat” covertly slipped into grocery bags at the checkout. Item 2 is piously tossed into kids’ lunches and marketed as a healthy snack. Sugar and modified palm/vegetable oils are in the top 3 ingredients for both items. So, is one really that much healthier than the other?

Based on 100 g                   Item 1                    Item 2

Calories (kcal)                      520                        450
Fat (g)                                      26                          20
Sodium (mg)                         100                        210
Sugar (g)                                  46                          38
Fibre (g)                                    2                            3
Protein (g)                                6                            7
Micronutrients                       12% calcium          7% calcium
……………………………………….16% iron……………7% iron

What are items 1 and 2? Will keep you hanging until the end of the post. It’s scarier than any Halloween costume you’ll see today though….

No Baloney’s advice? Limit added sugar intake in your diet, especially from sugar sweetened beverages like soft drinks, caramel macchiatos, and pre-sweetened iced teas. Whenever possible aim for the WHO limit of 10% of total calories (50 g/day or ~ 12.5 tsp) of sugar. BUT you do not have to completely abstain from “treats”: it’s a matter of how much and how often. Use the 80:20 rule; 80% of the time you make the healthiest choice possible, 20% is your guilt-free wiggle room.

Read the labels and be aware: a small package of licorice = 6 tsp sugar, a typical chocolate bar = 7 tsp of sugar, one 355 ml soft drink = ~ 10 tsp of sugar. Look out for junk masquerading as wholesome food and purge the goodie drawer/cupboard to keep temptation at bay.

Speaking of labels……….Item 1 is a chocolate bar and Item 2 is a granola bar.

Encourage healthy eating in your household and don’t allow the focus of any holiday to be unhealthy foods or excessive eating. Did you know that when given the choice, kids are just as likely to choose a small toy as they are candy on Halloween? (8).

Disclaimer: I am not employed by any food manufacturers nor own stock in any candy companies. Truth be told, I don’t really even like sweets. What I do like, however, is evidence that a healthy diet does not have to be all-or-nothing.


1. World Health Organization. Diet, Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases. Geneva: World Health Organization, 2003.

2. National Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences. Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids. Washington: National Academy of Sciences, Food and Nutrition Board, 2002.

3. Langlois K, Garriguet D. Sugar consumption among Canadians of all ages. Statistics Canada, Health Reports 2011; 22(3). Available at: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-003-x/2011003/article/11540-eng.pdf

4. Ruxton CH, Gardner EJ, McNulty HM. Is sugar consumption detrimental to health? A review of the evidence 1995-2006. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2010; 50:1-19.

5. O’Neil CE, Fulgoni VL 3rd, Nicklas TA. Association of candy consumption with body weight measures, other health risk factors for cardiovascular disease, and diet quality in US children and adolescents: NHANES 1999-2004. Food Nutr Res 2011; [epublication ahead of print].

6. O’Neil CE, Fulgoni VL 3rd, Nicklas TA. Candy consumption was not associated with body weight measures, risk factors for cardiovascular disease, or metabolic syndrome in US adults: NHANES 1999-2004. Nutr Res 2011; 31:122-30.

7. Piehowski KE, Preston AG, Miller DL, Nickols-Richardson SM. A reduced-calorie dietary pattern including a daily sweet snack promotes body weight reduction and body composition improvements in premenopausal women who are overweight and obese: a pilot study. J Am Diet Assoc 2011; 111:1198-203.

8. Schwartz MB, Chen EY, Brownell KD. Trick, treat, or toy: children are just as likely to choose toys as candy on halloween. J Nutr Educ Behav 2003; 35:207-9.


3 thoughts on “Unmasking Candy

  1. Pingback: “Junk Food, Without the Junk” is a load of J-U-N-K | No Baloney

  2. Pingback: Food Fight! Trick-or-Treat Edition | No Baloney

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