It doesn't grow on trees. You can't plant it. But candy has become a much beloved and much reviled part of the American diet. That's nothing new. Samira Kawash, founder of the website CandyProfessor.com, has just written a book called "Candy." It is the sub-title, "A Century of Panic and Pleasure," that prepares us for the rocky road candy has traveled since its "invention."
At first considered only a luxury, candy became an everyday snack. When nutrition became calories, candy was raised in importance to a cheap, quick, efficient energy food. American soldiers have carried huge amounts of chocolate into battle. All along the way, there have been plenty of nay sayers who not only claimed candy was junk food, but at times even blamed it "for poisoning, alcoholism, sexual depravity, and fatal disease." The craze of sugar free everything — drinks, candy, cookies, cakes, etc. — still goes on. And so does the debate of just how bad "fake" sugar is for the human body.
It's true that candy is easy, cheap, convenient, and very tasty to most people's taste buds. While some children have to be cajoled into eating vegetables, it's rare to have to push anyone into eating candy. On the other hand, strange ingredients and fillers have been added to candy for texture, shelf life. Are these additions to candy unhealthy?
Actually, what surprised me was that the contradictions of candy over the years don't sound so different from today's arguments. While the pros and cons of candy haven't changed much, the weight of Americans certainly has changed, along with increased in Type 2 diabetes diagnosed now even in children. Is candy mostly to blame? Or is it all the other ways we ingest sugar in various forms?
Kawash's well-researched book with an extensive bibliography looks at candy from just about every angle, including the "lactic acid theory" of dental care, Space Food Sticks for astronauts, and so-called health benefits of dark chocolate. She ends with a chapter that defends candy. "Let candy be candy. Call it what it is and know when you're eating it. Choose the most delicious candy and let yourself enjoy it. Worry less about what's 'good' and what's 'bad.' It isn't so complicated: eat real food. And then, have a few jelly beans."
Keep that in mind especially on holidays that glorify the wonders of candy — like Valentine's Day!