Posts filed under ‘Health’
In my book, I have a whole chapter on cavities and how easy it was to blame candy for America’s terrible teeth.
It is never so simple, of course: there is no one thing that directly causes cavities. But we like simple answers and we like villains.
These days, experts have been paying more attention to the particular kinds of bacteria that are associated with decay, and why some people seem to have them and some don’t. There’s a theory that these bacteria may be contagious. So this means it’s not so easy to just blame candy and be done with it.
Instead, our health experts have fingered a new culprit: mothers. Here’s a poster from the NYC Department of Health and Hygeine that I saw on the subway yesterday:
Get it? Mom’s kisses and sharing are rotting baby’s teeth. Bad mother.
Sigh. I mean, maybe this is good “public health” policy and good advice. And I should be happy that more “scientific” views than “candy rots your teeth” have prevailed. But I am discouraged when the only solution seems, yet again, to blame the mothers.
Mott’s for Tots is boasting 40% less sugar than regular apple juice. If you’ve seen the TV ads in the last couple of weeks, you’ll recognize the campaign, cute toddlers enjoying their snacks while moms look on serenely, knowing that the special toddler juice formulation is safe for their wee ones.
Reduced sugar “for Tots.” So I guess that means it’s fine for the rest of us to continue with the full-blown sugar of regular juice? Why, if they can reduce the sugar, why don’t they just go ahead and do it?
This campaign has been really bugging me. I’m trying to figure out the rationale for targeting this reduced sugar juice to toddlers. I guess the most obvious point is that we are protecting our precious babies from the dangers of too much sugar. But doesn’t that imply that too much sugar might be a problem for people in general? The idea that babies are worth protecting but that everyone else should just go ahead and binge on sugary juice seems a little troubling.
Everybody seems to agree that its the sugar-laden drinks that are driving America from cute pudgyness to repulsive obesity. But juice somehow gets a pass. When the label can boast “no added sugar,” lots of people conclude that means “no sugar.” There is no practical difference between “added sugar” and the sugar that occurs naturally in sweet juices. Mott’s Plus for Kids 100% Apple Grape Juice has 130 calories and 30 grams of sugar in an 8 oz serving. Pepsi has 100 calories and 27 grams of sugar. The only argument I could understand here is that typical juice portions might be smaller than typical soda portions, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that the juice is sugar water in virtuous disguise.
One of the big PR sucesses of the healthy nutrition lobby has been to re-brand sodas as “liquid candy.” Since everybody knows candy is bad for you, calling soda a kind of candy has been a great way to get sodas out of the schools and off the dinner tables of America.
I’m all for this effort, I think water should be what we drink when we’re thirsty. And if you want a sweet drink? The latest generation of artificial sweeteners make for tasty, enjoyable sweet beverages. People who complain that the “diet” versions of soft drinks aren’t as good as the regular will soon have no excuse. Pepsi is working on a formula that would have 60% less sugar and be absolutely indistinguishable from the full-sugar version. I don’t say this often, but: “Go, Pepsi!”
Frankly, I don’t understand why anyone worried about calories or nutrition would choose a sugar-sweetened drink. Am I worried about artificial sweeteners? Maybe if I was drinking 10 bottles of Diet Coke a day, I might be concerned. But these non-caloric sweeteners work because they are intensely sweet in tiny amounts. One packet of Splenda in my iced coffee a couple of times a week, or a diet Snapple every few days, is not something to get excited about.
Soda and candy are different in one important way: sugar in a beverage is a flavoring. Sugar in candy is the candy itself. Put this another way: you could flavor a drink with many kinds of sweeteners, and still have a drink. A non-caloric sweetener will create a sweet drink that may be very much like a drink sweetened with sugar. But this doesn’t work for candy. If you take out the sugar or corn syrup, you aren’t just taking out sweetness, you’re taking out the stuff of the candy.
So enjoy sugar in your candy, where it belongs. Or, if you really like the sweetness of sugar in something you drink, call it candy, and enjoy it the way you enjoy candy.
As for Mott’s for Tots, 40% less sugar is still lots more sugar than WATER. Juice, even reduced sugar juice, is still “liquid candy,” just like soda. My plea to the parents of America: stop giving apple juice to babies!
The Sneaky Chef was right all along! You remember the Sneaky Chef: slip a little spinach into the brownie mix to make sure Junior eats his vegetables. Adding hidden vegetables has been promoted as a way to increase vegetable servings for picky eaters, especially kids. Now we have a new reason: appetite suppression, and maybe even weight loss.
In a study published in February, scientists added pureed cauliflower and squash to macaroni and cheese, and offered it to a hungry bunch. Another day, they served up regular mac-n-cheese to the same group. Everybody ate just as much, serving wise. But when they were eating the cauliflower-spiked version, their total consumption was nearly 300 calories less. So the vegetable bulk satisfied them with fewer calories. (For a more complete discussion of this research, see Tara Parker-Pope, “Adding Food and Subtracting Calories,” NYT 2 May 2011.)
The lesson is clear (and not surprising, if you’ve been eating as much salad as I have lately): bulk up with vegetables! This got me thinking: what about candy?
Now the idea of bulking up candy with vegetables is actually not new at all: Mary Elizabeth Hall first proposed the idea in 1912 (yes, one hundred years ago!) in Candy-Making Revolutionized (see my post here). Most famous is her recipe for Lima Bean Taffy: so delicious, you’ll never notice the beans! Call her “Sneaky Chef, beta version”.
Hall’s vision never really caught on. But with our new national commitment to slimming down, and scientific studies to back up the basic idea, it is time for America’s confectioners to step up with some bulked up candies for the twenty first century.
This wouldn’t be the first time Americans looked for ways to reduce the sugar in candy. In the U.S., the use of bulking foods and candy fillers was a way for candy makers to compensate when the price of sugar rose or availability fell, most notably during WWI and WWII (more on this in my post here). The primary fillers to take the place of sugar (and chocolate, to a lesser extent) were nuts, fruits and cereals. Nuts and fruits in particular were perishable and expensive, so there was a significant trade off. When beet sugar and corn-based sweeteners became cheap and plentiful, candy makers became much less interested in exploring creative ways to make more candy with less sugar. So looking back at the candies of yester-year might inspire some new versions of candies with more bulk and fewer calories.
Another place to look is outside the U.S., at candy traditions in places where local tastes and preferences might be very different. For example, I think of the bean-paste based sweets of east Asia, which I confess to finding a little peculiar. But surely someone can adapt this sort of bean confection to American palates. Other countries offer candies that might travel with little translation. On a recent trip to Puerto Rico, I was astonished to discover how many sorts of local candy are produced, quite delicious and based on tropical agricultural products: orange paste, guava paste, sweet-potato, and many many varieties of coconut. Puerto Rican candy makers create grainy sugar bases and several gradations of caramel as a binder for the coconut, and may also add ginger, pineapple, or other nuts. So the bulk of the candy is fruits and nuts, and the sugar is just holding it together. These are delicious, sweet, satisfying and interesting.
I’d be very happy to see the big food conglomerates put more of their energy into developing confections along these lines, and less energy into the kind of food fakery and marketing spin that is the general atmosphere of “healthy snacks” these days.
Any other ideas?
Let’s add this one to the current corn/sugar debates:
This is a 1928 ad from Corn Products Refining Company. Cerelose is a trade name for dextrose, which is a crystalline form of glucose. Recall that normal sugar is sucrose: glucose and fructose combined.
Already by the 1920s corn was an important source of food ingredients, especially sugars produced through enzymatic transformations of corn starches. Several important historical forces were pushing corn into the food supply, especially candy:
- Wheat and sugar shortages in WWI–corn was a favored substitute.
- New technologies of sugar extraction–corn was a domestic and cheap source of sugar products.
- Prohibition–grains that used to go into alcohol were now diverted to other food processing uses.
What is really interesting about this ad for Cerelose, though, is its appeal to the new science of sugar metabolism.
Recall the recent alarms raised by Gary Taubes in his account of the dangers of sucrose and HFCS: the big problem is the fructose, which is metabolized by the liver and believed to be implicated in metabolic syndrome (see my post on “toxic sugar” here).
The current damnation of (refined) fructose goes hand in hand with the demonization of high fructose corn syrup and its increasing portion of the national caloric burden. But as we can see from this Cerelose ad, the effort to distinguish “good” glucose from other sugars is not new. In fact, here the promotion of glucose as the most metabolically ideal sugar is in the service of promoting nothing other than sugar derived from corn, an irony that might not be fully appreciated by the current foes of “corn sugar”.
The ad claims that since Cerelose (glucose) is directly utilized by tissues, it won’t make you fat. The implication is that beet and cane sugar–sucrose–which combines fructose with glucose, will make you fat because it is not the “normal blood sugar” of the body. Incredibly, this is almost exactly the conclusion Taubes is popularizing based on current research.
Is it true that Cerelose, or glucose, tends to form tissue rather than fat as this ad claims? This would raise a beacon of hope for all of us who are looking at our sugar bowls with a little more trepidation… But unfortunately, glucose is no where near as sweet as fructose. That’s why its HIGH fructose corn syrup that substitutes for sucrose; plain old corn syrup (glucose) just isn’t sweet enough.
Will dextrose/glucose based candies start promoting “fructose free” on their labels? Back in the 1940s, candies advertised that they were “high in Dextrose” for extra energy, so it wouldn’t be totally unprecedented.
I’ve written several posts on corn sugar, as it comes up again and again in the candy archives. Here’s a round up of relevant previous posts:
- Glue-cose, Or, Why we call it “Corn Syrup” Back in the early 1900s, corn growers were having trouble selling their corn-derived sweetener known as “glucose,” because everyone thought it was made of glue. Enter “corn syrup,” wholesome and pure sounding, until now.
- Corn People: How It Started In the old days, corn was animal feed. WWI food shortages changed everything. Now corn was patriotic people food.
- Corn Into Candy: 1918 With WWI sugar rationing, candy makers showed their stars and stripes by substituting corn syrup and other corn-derived ingredients.
- Beer and Candy III: Annheuser Busch and Corn Syrup Prohibition gave the shift to corn sweeteners an extra boost when beer makers looked for something else they could do with grains.
- Sweetose: Better Candy from the Chemistry Lab Sweetose was modified corn syrup, made sweeter by combining maltose with glucose. A forerunner to high-fructose corn syrup.
- Candy and Corn: “Rich in Dextrose!” Corn refiners promote dextrose as “energy food.” WWII sugar rationing gives dextrose a big boost.
- Dextrose: All-American Corn Sugar Promoting dextrose as the “patriotic” alternative.
One of the favorite themes of the candy alarmists is dental decay: candy causes cavities! How many times have you heard that one? But it just ain’t so.
From no less an authority than the New York Times, this week’s Science section:
While candy and sugar get all the blame, cavities are caused primarily by bacteria that cling to teeth and feast on particles of food from your last meal.
Your last meal. Did you hear that? Not candy, not at all. It’s food, just plain old food, that those cavity-causing bacteria crave.
And there’s more. Those bacteria? Turns out not everybody has them in their mouths. So some people eat only approved virtuous vittles and end up with teeth like swiss cheese, and others suck lollies all day long and pose as tooth models on the weekend. No, life is not fair.
It gets worse. Those cavity bacteria are contagious. Kiss the wrong frog, and you may soon be enjoying the dulcet tones of the dental drill.
Moms, of course, get the short end of the stick either way. When kids cavities are believed to be evidence of a candy habit, mom gets the blame for allowing her darlings to taste of the forbidden not-fruit. And when we realize it’s all because of bad bacteria?
Infants and children are particularly vulnerable to [the bacteria], and studies have shown that most pick it up from their caregivers–for example, when a mother tastes a child’s food to make sure it’s not too hot…
Decadent chocolate indulgence. Luscious pleasure. X-rated snacking. It feels good, but oh, the guilt.
Not any more, ladies. Hero Nutritionals to the rescue. The diet and supplement company has just launched the first ever ‘multivitamin dark chocolate supplement,’ part of the “Healthy Indulgence” line of chocolates. It’s 60 percent cacao solids dark chocolate, with a multivitamin thrown in the mix.
Founder and CEO Jennifer Hodges explains:
“Our goal was to develop the most premium supplement for women that makes taking vitamins enjoyable and satisfies chocolate cravings without guilt. … [They are] completely natural and utterly indulgent.”
Indulge, satisfy your chocolate cravings, without the guilt. Which is to say, if your chocolate doesn’t have vitamins mixed in, you should feel guilty about it, because it’ s just candy. But if you sprinkle a little vitamin C and vitamin B-12 on top, you’ve got a “nutritional supplement.”
But don’t we need vitamins? If you are a healthy person eating a diverse diet, you’re getting plenty of vitamins. Vitamin deficiency is a disease of poverty and dietary inadequacy. People who buy “Healthy Indulgences” and gummy bear vitamins are not suffering from a lack of vitamins in their diets.
It appears that the pleasure of chocolate is only allowed when it is cloaked as being “therapeutic.” Don’t enjoy it unless it’s good for you. Pleasure is medicalized: enjoy your body by prescription, under a doctors orders.
This is also another example of the miracle of candy transfiguration: add this or that and it’s not candy any more, and if it isn’t quite food, it nevertheless can stand in for health, purity, and virtue.
“Healthy Indulgences” are being marketed to women: the imagery and language clearly evoke a specifically female sensual pleasure. I’m not sure what dad’s candy vitamin is going to look like, but we can surely look forward to a day in the not too distant future when the whole family will be eating candy gummy vitamins and chocolate vitamin supplements, and still feel so righteous for taking care of their health by avoiding candy.
If you have kids at Halloween time, you’ve probably already started to strategize a plan for candy rationing.
Dentists in your community are happy to help. Have you heard about the Halloween Candy Buy Back? Participating dentists will accept your kids’ excess candy, pay out a dollar a pound, and send the candy to U.S. military serving overseas.
Over the years dentists have independently come up with the idea of gathering up all that extra Halloween candy and getting rid of it somehow. In 2006, Madison WI dentist Chris Kammer began to coordinate and organize the event nationally, emphasizing the buy back as a way of supporting the troops. Hundreds of local dental offices now participate. The master plan, according to Dr. Kammer, is that one day soon, dentists will “own Halloween.”
It is a win-win, as the dentists put it. Fewer pounds of candy for American kids, more pounds of candy for American troops.
Actually, taking candy from the kids and sending it to the troops is a pretty old idea.
Back in the 1890s, the German military started experimenting with sugar as a food for their soldiers. Sugar, the Germans concluded, refreshed and energized. The soldiers receiving sugar portions outperformed the sugar-free on every measure. Americans took note: Mary Hinman Abel, writing for the USDA, reported extensively on these military investigations in her 1899 study “Sugar as Food.”
The growth of candy manufacturing made more candy available for military uses. From a 1908 account of the Brooklyn candy trade:
Nowadays every battleship leaving the Brooklyn Navy Yard has on board a lot of candy for the men–Brooklyn candy. ‘Why, in the navy, when a man is handed a pound of tobacco now he is also given a certain amount of candy, and it is believed that the drinking habit will be lessened in that way,’ said a manufacturer. ‘The sailors like the plan immensely, but if they knew it was done for that, they would probably chuck the candy overboard. But aside from that, it is a good food for them; men can fight better on chocolate than on meat–that has been proved in the German army.’ (“Brooklyn leads Country in Candy Export”, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 7, 1908)
Even before the U.S. joined the European war, the soldiers’ love of candy was a common theme (see my post Taking Candy from a Soldier). The war-weary GIs returning from battle in World War I brought home with them a hearty candy appetite. The explosive growth of the U.S. candy business in the 1920s and 1930s was in large part due to a new, rigorous kind of candy eating: not just kiddies and plump ladies, but big strong soldier men had to have their candy.
World War II meant once again a big demand for candy for the troops. Sugar, and candy, were in short supply state-side during the war years, partly due to war shortage, but also due to the requisitioning of huge quantities of candy for military uses. Curtiss Candy reminded customers that Uncle Sam’s needs came first:
If Americans were forced to give up some of their beloved candy to the troops in the 1940s, it was because it was the right thing, the patriotic thing to do.
And Tootsie Roll picked up the theme in their advertising:
In the Tootsie Roll ad, the joke is that the kids are mad that the grown ups are taking their candy: the soldier should buy his own Tootsie Roll. In jest or in the seriousness of war, the basic message was the same: you’ll have to give up your candy to the soldier if there isn’t enough to go around. But patriotic support of the troops is the only reason you’d forgo your candy.
In the Halloween Buy Back, the long history of “candy for the troops” collides with more recent ideas about what is bad about candy. It is dentists, after all, representatives of health and hygiene, who are encouraging kids and families to turn in their candy to send to the troops. But if the candy is bad for the kids, why isn’t it bad for the troops?
The Buy Back FAQ suggests some responses to critics who ask this annoying question:
If you get negative comments or feedback, remind critics of the purpose of Halloween Candy Buy Back:
- Halloween candy represents a warm memory of life “back home” and children that care enough to donate candy in support of our troops.
- Those troops are risking their lives every day. If a little piece of candy can provide a moment of happiness, why not?
- Soldiers are adults and certainly understand how to keep their mouths healthy by now. Children are still learning how to brush, floss, and take care of their teeth.
The first two answers emphasize candy not as candy, but as an emotion-laden symbol. This solves the conflict between candy and dental virtue by making the candy invisible: In all those crates of candy, we’re not sending candy, we’re sending support and the warmth of home.
The third reason is that kids shouldn’t have candy because candy causes cavities in kids, but somehow adults will not have this problem. Here is where things get tricky.
Cavities are caused by acids given off by bacteria as they feed on sugars and starches deposited on the teeth. Not every mouth is equally susceptible. Some kids get tons of cavities no matter what they eat. Some kids plant their face in the sugar bowl and get none. And all sugars and starches that adhere to the teeth, be they from candy, bread, pasta, jam, potatoes, and even raisins, can create a bacterial strong hold.
Of course, a “spaghetti buy back” would not put the dentists on the side of angels. Candy is easy to blame, has been for a century, and dentists have grabbed on to the candy scapegoat. This is why dentists can contemplate “owning Halloween.” Don’t get me wrong: I love my dentist. But I love my candy too.