Eat More Candy! or not?

January 4, 2010 at 8:17 am 2 comments

Extreme close-up of mid adult woman eating a chocolate candy bar

Happy New Year! If your New Year’s Resolutions include a more nutritious diet, you are probably planning to cut down on candy.

Of course, in different times there have been different ideas about nutrition. Early food science in the late nineteenth century introduced the idea of the “calorie” as a measure of the energy content of food, and recognized three major components of the diet: protein, fat, and carbohydrate.Back in the early 1900s, this food science provided an outstanding rationale for eating more candy.

For example, one food expert wrote:

It will be seen that candy has a high energy value–higher than meat, fish and vegetables. From a laboratory point of view, half a pound of chocolate creams, supplemented by a small bag of peanuts, contain all the dietetic elements that are essential for a wholesome and nourishing day’s diet. Three meals can be obtained from the chocolates and peanuts, and the body’s needs be met and the appetite satisfied.

The craving for sweets also could be framed in scientific terms suggested by ideas of “instinct” and evolutionary utility. A physician offered this explanation:

Sweets are the necessities of childhood and youth, hence Providence has wisely implanted in the young an insatiable desire for sugar. Without this element largely mingled with its food the healthiest born infant would die in a month. In vain would it nestle on its mother’s bosom, in vain its exposure to the warm sunshine, and in vain the softest blankets and warmest furs to encase its body. For the warmth which sustains human life comes from within, and must be generated by the internal combustion of carbonaceous food as found in all sweets and fats. It is the most inveterate of all prejudices in civilized life that sweets hurt children. On the contarary, they are a prime necessity, and to deprive them of those, if made pure, is downright barbarism.

Where science led, advertising followed. One candy shop asked:

Are you eating Candy Enough? The hunger for sweets is natural. The normal man or woman who is not eating a reasonable amount of candy daily is not being properly fed. Recognizing the wholesomeness of the candy DEMAND, we have equipped our store to meet it with a wholesome SUPPLY.

For us in the twenty-first century, candy is clearly an indulgence, a treat, a little something extra. But the story of candy in the twentieth century was often dominated by a struggle to persuade or prove otherwise, that candy was wholesome and nutritious food. Is it?

Sources: “Pure Candy is Healthful–Sound the Slogan,” Confectioners Journal Oct 1916, p. 86; “Infancy Dependent Upon Sweets,” Confectioners Journal May 1915, p. 68; Viedts advertisement, Confectioners Journal October 1916, p. 83.
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    Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure

    Welcome to Candy Professor

    Candy in American Culture What is it about candy? Here you'll find the forgotten, the strange, the curious, the surprising. Our candy story, one post at a time.

    Samira Kawash, PhD
    Professor Emerita,
    Rutgers University

    (C) Samira Kawash

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