In defense of candy

Across America, there’s a movement afoot. The New York Times reports that candy may not be as bad for you– or your kids– as you may think:

Russian Hill's The Candy Store

“I don’t think candy is bad for you,” said Rachel Johnson, a nutrition professor at the University of Vermont who was the lead author of the American Heart Association’s comprehensive 2009 review of the scientific literature on sugar and cardiovascular health.

Johnson’s allies in her quest to redeem candy from its bad reputation include Candy Professor blogger Samira Kawash. She started her blog after a playdate gone bad: at snacktime, she brought out some candy for her three year old, and the other mom freaked out; her kid had never tasted sugar.

“It was clear to me that there was an irrational equation of candy and danger in that house,” Dr. Kawash said…From that train of thought, the Candy Professor blog was born. In her writing there, Dr. Kawash dives deep into the American relationship with candy, finding irrational and interesting ideas everywhere. The big idea behind Candy Professor is that candy carries so much moral and ethical baggage that people view it as fundamentally different – in a bad way – from other kinds of food…”At least candy is honest about what it is,” she said.

I’ve had many experiences like Kawash’s, where other parents have gotten nervous because my kids are allowed to eat candy. Not only are they allowed to eat it, they get to eat it whenever they want! And they decide how much to eat! My kids (ages 7 – 4) have food shelves they can reach on their own with candy on them. And yes, sometimes they eat gummy bears for breakfast or Reeses right before dinner, or oreos with their dinner.

But guess what– candy isn’t a big deal to them. My seven year old’s absolute favorite food is Korean sushi. And seaweed.  She has close friends who are Korean and that’s the food they get but she doesn’t, the unavailable “treat” that fascinates her.

My kids don’t overeat sugar. On Halloween, they won’t be freaking out because they have bags of candy. There won’t be tears and fights and struggles for control, because candy isn’t forbidden and, as much as possible, I don’t control what they eat.

Inside Russian Hill's The Candy Store

My kids have lots of “healthy” foods on their shelves too including nuts, carrots, sliced apples, hummus, kidney beans– my 4 year old’s favorite because she thinks they’re smiles. Hopefully I’ll get to the Korean Market that sells kimbap and add that to the home menu.

If parents would calm down about sugar, their kids would too. I think the best thing parents can do– especially parents of girls who get so many negative messages about food, hunger, and weight– is to relax around eating.

These aren’t my own ideas by the way. After I had my second daughter, I read an amazing book: “Preventing Childhood Eating Problems” by Jane Hirshmann and Lela Zaphiropoulus. I read it because I had an eating disorder and the way I finally got better– after years of ineffective therapy and programs and nutritionists, most which repeatedly told me I had a “disease” I’d live with forever– was to stop listening to “experts” and start listening to my body. I hope my kids are learning the same skills much earlier by tuning into themselves, and not me, to tell them what or how much to eat. You can read more about how I learned to do that and how I raise my kids here.

San Franciscans will be happy to know we have some powerful local allies in the movement to rehabilitate candy. Brian Campbell, co-owner of Russian Hill’s fabulous The Candy Store along with his wife, Diane, agrees that candy is an “honest food.”

“Candy doesn’t pretend to be something it isn’t,” Campbell says, “unlike several of the highly-processed foods that line the aisles of supposed health food stores like Whole Foods.”

“Many people confuse corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup. Very few candies use high-fructose corn syrup, which is mainly used by the processed food industry as a cheap alternative to sugar.”

Campbell warns that, “Candy is often demonized because it’s mostly sugar and therefore is seen as a contributing factor to our national obesity ‘epidemic’. However, as noted in the article, the vast majority of our country’s sugar consumption comes from other sources, such as sodas. There are other countries, such as Sweden, that consume far more candy per capita than the U.S. – and you don’t hear much about the Swedish obesity epidemic.”

Now get yourself over to The Candy Store on Vallejo and Polk in Russian Hill, the best sweet shop in the city!

12 thoughts on “In defense of candy

      • I feel very strongly about candy. I feel companies that use artificial crap are cheap, bad peeople. I believe that because if they are so rich… Why don’t they just buy REAL dyes and REAL sugar? I am fatally allegic to artificial dyes. So I can’t eat in the lunchroom with people ’cause they offer me things I ask to see the label and they say that’s rude! I can’t eat it or I might die! WTF?!
        ~Nikki Roseworth
        11 years old, currently in London.

  1. It’s wonderful that your children possess the inner voice that tells them when to refrain or stop eating candy. Not all of us are so lucky. An honest discussion of sugar should include the acknowledgement that sweeteners, and various derivatives of cane/corn/beet sugar can be just as addictive for some individuals as alcohol or drugs can be for others.

    Just as some can enjoy a single glass of wine with dinner, while others must not keep it in their homes, sugar should not be an always available option for many of us. My children have shown that, given the option, they would eat candy/sweets in place of food with nutritional value. I, too, struggle with the when-to-say-when moment w/sugar, as does my mother.

    To suggest that it is a simple matter of conditioning or will-power is to ignore the powerful sway it holds over some, and it places an unfair value judgement on the rising number of people who struggle w/obesity. Surely, one of the main reasons sugar is now found in so many “real” foods (breads, cereals, soups, etc.) is that it makes us want to eat and buy more of it.

    • Hi Annie,

      I don’t think the inner voice is about luck, but skills and training.

      I was bulimic. I thought I had a problem for life with sugar and wheat. Once I started eating, I couldn’t stop.

      I went to overeaters anonymous which told me I was addicted to these food and made me feel more obsessed and crazy about them.

      I dont think I have could have felt food and ingredients in food had a more powerful hold over me than I did at the time.

      OA did not help me. I know it has helped some people. What helped me was a book “Overcoming Overeating” by Jane Hirschmann and Carol Munter. It took me a long time and hard work to learn the skills of tuning into my body. I also went to a program called Beyond Hunger in Marin that followed the Overcoming Overeating philosophy.

      Thanks so much for your comments,

  2. I am right now eating one of my favorite Halloween candies – candy corn. I eat it in a very ritualistic way -bite the top, then eat the yellow bottom,& last the orange middle. Yum Unfortunately I often can’t stop. It is a good thing these candies only come once a year.

  3. Thanks Cristel, I have thought so much about this stuff!

    I used to work for a talk show host that always told me just the TIME I spent thinking and reading about things he didn’t saved him from having to ruminate. Hope I can save some other people years of that.


  4. If you’re healthy and don’t binge yourself or with your kids, candy is one of life’s pleasures (especially for those of us with not one but all sweet teeth). I say balance in all things is the way to an life that’s actually “healthy” — and just in time for Halloween!

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