Posts filed under ‘Health’

Candy Fortification: Synthetic Vitamin A

Spoonful of dietary supplements

In the 1950s, vitamins were all the rage. Prior to the work of the chemists, the usual way Americans took their vitamin A was in cod liver oil. But what if instead, people could get their vitamin A from something yummy, say, candy?

Everybody needs vitamin A. So it was a potentially lucrative project for the chemical industry to develop a synthetic, stable form of Vitamin A. The prize was enormous: the military and the government were very interested in increasing the nutritive value of foods that could be stored and transported easily. In particular, the U.S. Army was interested in fortifying Army rations including candy, peanut butter, milk powder, and crackers with a palatable, stable form of vitamin A.

In 1952, Pfizer developed a technique of gelatin stabilization that minimized the deterioration of the vitamin, and contributed no objectionable taste or odor. They tested chocolate bars fortified with the gelatinized vitamin A and found 92 percent retention after four weeks storage at 45 C (they don’t specify, but these must have been the modified military chocolate, as ordinary chocolate would have gotten pretty melty at this temperature, equivalent to 113 F).

How much chocolate was consumed with vitamin A supplementation we don’t know. But we do know that synthetic vitamin A in amounts in excess of the RDA is pretty toxic. It’s usually called “retinol,” and today it is more familiar as a skin treatment than as a food additive. On the other hand, a candy bar that could prevent vitamin A deficiency and treat your acne flare ups might be pretty useful.

Source: “Vitamin A Fortification Research,” Candy Industry 12 February 1952.

Related post:

  • A Complete, Well-Balanced Diet
  • December 7, 2009 at 7:54 am 1 comment

    Candy and the Polio Vaccine

    Vaccine on a sugar cube

    Unless you’re over 50, you probably don’t have much experience with polio. It’s a nasty viral infection, which can in bad cases cause paralysis of legs, arms, and in the worst cases, your whole body. Polio gave us the Iron Lung (for paralyzed victims who otherwise would die of asphyxiation) and the March of Dimes, which started out raising money for polio research.

    A vaccine pretty much eliminated polio from the U.S. and most of the developed world in the 1950s. And candy is part of the story.

    In the late 1950s, polio researcher Albert Sabin developed a live virus vaccine to protect against polio. The vaccine had to be taken by mouth. The problem was that it was bitter tasting. Adults might swallow it anyway, but the primary intended beneficiaries of the vaccination programs were children. The obvious solution: put it in candy.

    As early as 1959, scientists and confectioners in the U.S.S.R. had collaborated to produce a candy that could deliver the live virus. We don’t know what the confection tasted like, but it must have tasted pretty good. Over 1.5 million Russian children were successfully immunized by eating the vaccine candy.

    Here in the U.S., Sabin’s live oral vaccine was approved for general use in 1961. Unfortunately, the Russian candy never made it across the ocean; instead, through the 1960s, the oral vaccine was administered to millions of adults and children as a sugar cube. The vaccine was effective; poliomyelitis is virtually unknown in the U.S. today.

    A 1968 article in the New York Times makes the polio vaccine program sound like a party. “Children Frolic and get ‘Candy’ Polio Vaccine” describes a festive event organized by the NYC Health Department at the George Washington Houses in upper Manhattan. With music, toys, balloons and free orange juice, public health officials hoped to draw in pre-schoolers who had not yet been vaccinated against polio. At the event, each child received sugar cube tinted lilac with two drops of the Sabin live oral polio vaccine. Some kids, loving candy, came back for a second piece.

    Too bad every vaccine can’t be candy!

    More: See my research on the role of candy in the 1916 polio epidemic in Articles: The Candy Prophylactic: Danger, Disease, and Children’s Candy around 1916

    Sources: “Children Frolic and get ‘Candy’ Polio Vaccine” New York Times May 22, 1968; “Polio virus Put in Candy” Science News Letter June 27, 1959: 405; “Polio Vaccine Given in Candy, Soviet Says,” New York Times Nov. 26, 1959.

    October 12, 2009 at 6:20 pm 3 comments

    Alayam: Candy from Sweet Potatoes

    For U.S. manufacturers as well as ordinary citizens, World War II meant shortages and rationing of many staple goods, including sugar. Citizens were encouraged to substitute honey and syrup in their home cooking. And the U.S. Department of Agriculture began to encourage the development of substitutes for sugar that would satisfy the nation’s demand for candy.

    Close-up of a sweet potato

    In Alabama, the Agricultural Research Station at Auburn began experimenting with a local crop, the sweet potato, sometimes also called the yam. After some mixing and melting and molding and such, they came up with something promising. In naming the new candy they melted together the state of its invention and the name of the now exalted tuber. They called it: Alayam.

    Alayam was described as “a cocoanut brittle made with sweet potatoes.” The candy had potential. Some people liked it. In consumer acceptance tests, researchers determined that “40 percent of the nation’s consumers like this new product as well as or better than the candies they are currently buying or eating” and that “more than a third… would buy the product if it were available on the market.” A little luke-warm as endorsements go, but the point is, they didn’t spit it out.

    Of course, neither the Alabama Station nor the U.S.D.A. was equipped to bring such a candy to the consumer market. Sugar rationing having been lifted in 1947, candy manufacturers were not so eager to experiment with marketing strange candy substances. And so Alayam never came to be.

    It was perhaps an idea before its time. In today’s climate of concern about what goes into the food that goes into our bodies, maybe a sweet potato candy is just what we need.

    Source: “Candy from Sweet Potatoes May Become Popular,” Confectioners Journal May 1950, p. 43.

    October 7, 2009 at 7:36 am 5 comments

    Daily Candy in Childhood Prevents Violence in Adulthood

    A study published yesterday in U.S. News and World Report shows that the daily consumption of candy in childhood is strongly correlated with the failure to become a violent criminal as an adult.

    British researchers followed 17,415 children born in a single week in 1970. 7338 reported eating candy on a daily basis in childhood. Of these, only 24 went on to become violent criminals. Candy eating appears to protect 99.7 percent of children from a future life of crime and misery.

    Surprised? It’s no wonder. If you caught the story in the news, you probably heard the headline: “Daily Candy in Childhood Linked to Violence in Adulthood.”

    The story reports that 35 of the 17,415 children followed in the study report becoming criminals by age 34, and that 69 percent of these, as opposed to 42 percent of the non-criminals, were daily candy eaters. Based on these numbers, the study author Simon Moore, a senior lecturer in the Violence and Society Research Group at Cardiff University, concludes: “There appears to be a link between childhood diet and adult violence.”

    So what’s wrong with this picture?

    The way the numbers are presented magnifies a tiny effect. Saying that 69 percent of the adult criminals were childhood candy eaters certainly catches our attention. But this is the same thing as saying that 99.7 percent of candy eaters did not become criminals. Thousands of children who ate candy every day and didn’t go on to lives of violence. If candy eating causes violence, we would expect a much more dramatic result.

    Even the lead researcher rejects the link between diet and violence, at least from any nutritional point of view: “We think that it is more to do with the way that sweets are given to children rather than the sweets themselves,” Moore said. “Using sweets to quiet noisy children might just reinforce problems for later in life.” This is behavioral, not nutritional.

    Kids with lollipops

    Melinda Johnson, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, gives many other good reasons to be skeptical of the “candy causes violence” thesis:

    • Correlation is not causation. Two things might increase together, but both be caused by some other third thing.
    • Daily candy may be a sign of other lifestyle factors that could increase violent behavior. For example, children in violent homes might be more likely to consume candy as an “ease the pain” tool, but the violence itself is the relevant factor.
    • Daily candy might be a sign of poor nutrition overall. That is, it might not be the presence of candy, but the absence of nutritious foods, that leads to developmental or behavioral problems later in life.

    So what is this all about? Why would someone even think to try to correlate candy and violence? The question is significant; when you go looking for something, you are much more likely to find it. And in the case of this study, what is effectively a non-finding is being broadcast as news.

    Since the nineteenth century, candy has been blamed for a host of moral, social and health evils. Bronson Alcott, Louisa May’s father, decried candy’s “demoralizing effect” and suggested candy eating would lead to sexual dissipation;  the Women’s Christian Temperance Union cautioned that candy eating in childhood was likely to lead to alcoholism in adulthood; progressive reformers at the turn of the century worried that uncontrolled candy eating would lead inexorably to stealing, gambling, and smoking.

    Today’s headlines continue in this venerable tradition of candy-bashing. Candy is an easy target. We all “know” its bad, somehow, even if we can’t figure out exactly why.

    There is something that adults don’t like about the spectacle of children eating candy. The latest headlines confirm deeply held suspicions that children’s tastes and pleasures are essentially corrupt. The claim that “candy causes violence” is just another (fallacious) reason to deprive children of a pleasure that, in moderation and with a dose of tooth-brushing and good food, is generally viewed by most scientific experts as being pretty harmless.

    I say, give the kids their apples and their broccoli and their grilled chicken breasts, definitely. But give the kids their candy, too.

    More: Susan at the National Confectioners Association official blog Candy Dish responds to the study with a reminder that how kids grow up is about parenting, not candy.

    Image: Kids are for illustration purposes only. No actual kids were harmed in the posting of this blog.

    October 3, 2009 at 9:07 am Leave a comment

    A Complete, Well-Balanced Diet

    Assortment of Vegetables, Spices, Grains, Nuts, Pasta and Fruit

    In 1951, food engineering was in its infancy. Imagination was the only limit to what the chemists might achieve. And what could be better than a candy bar that offered all the nutrition and sustenance of a complete, well-balanced diet?

    Monsanto Chemical Co. thought it was possible. After all, they had already worked on emergency subsistence bars for the Army which were rough derivations from chocolate candy bars. The food scientists were learning the secrets of concentrated proteins, carbohydrates, minerals and vitamins. A Monsanto representative explained the principle:

    It requires no great stretch of the imagination to foresee that with current knowledge already in hand … a tailor-made bar could be achieved which would sustain life for a long period of time with essential elements. A ’meat bar’ is already under investigation. Peanut bars, contributing a valuable source of protein, have already been in commerce for some time. … If properly qualified scientists, chemists, and food technologists directed their attention toward developing the kind of product necessary for human sustenance, I am quite confident that a tailor-made, approximately balanced candy bar can be achieved.

    It’s probably a good thing that they decided to abandon this line of research. Imagine all those school kids opening their lunch boxes and pulling out “well-balanced candy bars.”

    Wait, I err. In the twenty-first century, we can buy “well-balanced candy bars” at any grocery or drug store. They come in convenient and delicious flavors like chocolate almond and caramel crunch. Look for them under the wholesome sounding name of “meal replacement bar” or “protein bar.”

    I do wonder what happened to the idea of “meat bars,” though.

    Source: “Candy Bar to Equal Well Balanced Diet Seen in Near Future,” Candy Industry, 17 July 1951, p. 3

    September 30, 2009 at 6:55 am 7 comments

    The Chocolate Cure

    Bars of chocolate

    One hundred years ago, Americans had very different ideas about body image and health. Nutritional experts were worried that people were underfed and undernourished.

    It was an easier time for candy lovers. Consider this account of the German “Chocolate Cure,” which ran in a 1914 journal:

    In an obscure but picturesque little village of Germany there is a place called “The Chocolate Cure,” where thin people go to become stout; the patients eat and drink cocoa and chocolate all the time, while they rest, admire the scenery, gossip and grow fatter every day. The true secret of the great success of this treatment is the happy way chocolate has of fattening just the right places, settling in the hands, the neck and shoulders, making the fair patient prettier and plumper all the time. The really effective part of the cure may be tried at home by persevering women, and the medicine is so palatable and the methods so simple that there is actually, it seems, no reason why all should not be at least the desired weight.

    That sound SO much more pleasurable than today’s version of the chocolate cure, which promises all the benefits of the phytochemicals and antioxidants found in abundance in chocolate, but only if you eat super-bitter 80% cacao in very small quantities, and promise not to enjoy it.

    Source: “The Chocolate Cure,” Confectioners Journal Jan 1914, p. 97.

    September 25, 2009 at 7:23 am Leave a comment

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