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!