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Defining Moderation In Candy Consumption

Headshot of NBC Cheif Medical Editor Nancy Snyderm
August 7, 2014
by Candy & Snack TODAY

Scientific evidence suggests candy can have a place in a healthful lifestyle, with balance as the key. A new definition of moderation is being proposed that could change the way we view confectionery.

A recently published paper proposing a definition of “moderate” consumption of candy in the context of overall healthful eating patterns and energy balance could inform the development of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans by the USDA and the Dept. of Health and Human Services (HHS). The goal is to establish a definition of moderation for candy consumption, which is suggested as 50 to 100 calories per day, depending on individual energy needs. The authors put forward that calories could be reserved to consume larger portions less frequently; for example, one to two 250-calorie candy bars per week, which is in line with typical American eating patterns.

The paper, “Proposing a Definition of Candy in Moderation: For Health and Well-Being,” published in Nutrition Today, a journal primarily targeting dietitians, is a collaboration by nutrition consultants Betsy Hornick, MS, RD; Roberta L. Duyff, MS, RD, FADA, CFCS; Mary M. Murphy, MS, RD; and Laura Shumow, MS, director of scientific and regulatory affairs at the NCA. Its release comes in the midst of efforts to develop the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Current thinking about nutrition favors moderate consumption of many types of foods as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle that achieves balance, rather than restriction of some foods, the authors explain, and Nancy Snyderman, MD, noted in a keynote address at the 2014 Sweets & Snacks Expo: “Living life to the moderate is something we need to get our arms around. The inability of people to self-regulate and self-moderate is becoming a scientific issue.”

Furthermore, research suggests forbidding or restricting certain foods might actually be counterproductive to developing and maintaining healthy eating behaviors. According to Snyderman: “When you deprive people of certain foods, they will get them anyway, and they will consume a lot.” Because the concept of moderation is loosely interpreted in general, the study authors assert that a specific definition could provide guidance for the intake of certain foods. They cite a 2011 Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) public opinion survey in which 82 percent of consumers said they did not want to stop eating foods they like.

Art of woman enjoying chocolate in moderationFurther, the authors suggest consumers’ receptivity to messages of moderation signals the timeliness of offering strategies for including occasional treats within average daily calorie goals. They caution that although they’re not encouraging candy consumption, they understand it is something most people enjoy (according to the authors, 97 percent of Americans eat candy). Duyff explains: “Our goal is to provide a practical, realistic approach to those who choose to consume candy as part of a healthy diet. It’s about putting candy in a healthy perspective in an overall healthy eating plan that meets the Dietary Guidelines and energy balance.”

Candy In Context A chart showing the amount of candy that can be co

To arrive at a definition of moderation, the authors considered nutritional guidance issued by health authorities including the Dietary Guidelines and the American Heart Association. Additionally, the authors took into account typical candy consumption patterns, including data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

According to the NHANES data, per capita candy consumption by respondents aged two years and older was estimated at less than 50 calories daily with typical frequency of two to three eating occasions per week.

Further, recent studies based on a larger set of NHANES data gathered from 1999 to 2006 reported that while candy intake slightly increased caloric intake on days when it was eaten, total candy intake and frequency of candy intake were not associated with increased weight or body mass. Additionally, decreased levels of cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors, metabolic syndrome and weight gain in children and adults were seen.

Research amassed within the past 10 years supports the benefits of cocoa and chocolate in improved cardiovascular and cognitive function, blood pressure and CVD risks in addition to long-term improvements in factors associated with metabolic syndrome.

The moderation paper’s authors note the proposed definition is consistent with dietary reference guidelines issued by the Institute of Medicine, which recommend that total added sugars not exceed 25 percent of total calories; the American Heart Association, which suggests no more than 50 to 150 calories per day come from added sugars — about 25 to 35 grams; and the USDA 2010 Dietary Guidelines For Americans, which limit maximum daily calories from both added sugars and solid fats at eight to 19 percent.

“Candy contributes a relatively small amount of calories, added sugars and saturated fats to the total diet for most people,” the authors write, noting it accounts for 2.2 percent of total energy intake — about 47 calories per day to the average diet. They add that only one in six people eats 100 calories or more of candy per day, and among children, 10 percent of those younger than eight years of age and 22 percent of those between ages nine and 18 ate 100 calories or more of candy per day. In addition, of the 21 teaspoons of added sugars per day eaten by children and adults, 1.3 teaspoons come from candy. For reference, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans ranks candy 18th as a source of calories among Americans.

Setting Boundaries

The paper supports encouraging consumers to choose the USDA-recommended amounts of nutrient-dense fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat and fat-free dairy products and lean protein foods daily; reduce amounts of solid fats, added sugars and refined grains; achieve energy balance; and increase physical activity. Within this regimen, candy and other treats in moderation can be factored into the diet for most people.

Further, by proposing a range of 50 to 100 calories from candy per day, the type and amount of candy can be adapted to an individual diet, consistent with USDA/HHS, American Heart Association and Institute of Medicine dietary guidelines and recommendations.

“Defining moderation in candy consumption might be a first step toward developing possible guidance for other types of foods,” Hornick tells Candy & Snack TODAY, adding the paper has been submitted to the USDA Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.

According to the authors, promoting moderation can aid consumers’ ability to maintain a healthy lifestyle. “We know restriction — forbidding certain foods — might not lead to healthy outcomes,” Duyff explains. “When messages are too restrictive, people have a tendency to push them aside.”

Research indicates that moderate candy and gum consumption can fit in a diet that contributes to overall health. Recent studies suggest cocoa flavanols could help to improve cardiovascular health, moderate candy consumption in childhood does not necessarily contribute to adult obesity and chewing sugarfree gum might be linked to improved dental health, overall concentration and mental focus.

“The mindful part of this is important,” Duyff says. “It’s about using calories to make choices.”

Although the authors concede achieving balance can be challenging, “consumers

must learn food regulation skills for achieving calorie balance,” they write. “Emphasis on education and information rather than restriction offers the practical guidance they need.” CST


Snyderman On Candy And The Brain

The body and brain crave sugar for energy and endurance, according to Nancy L. Snyderman, MD. “Health and wellness means taking care of the brain-body connection of satiation, pleasure and moderation,” the surgeon, author and award-winning journalist says.

She ties the rise in childhood obesity to the elimination of mandatory physical education in schools and the loss of unstructured outdoor playtime. Snyderman also advocates the revival of the sit-down family dinner, which she says establishes patterns of self-control and sharing. “Today there’s no sense of being done, and that’s an important thing to learn,” she points out. “Children want everything. It is the role of parents to reward — and to say ‘no.’”

While acknowledging the gravity of the rising incidence of heart disease, obesity and diabetes among Americans, she asserts the need for parents to teach moderation in the home. “I don’t believe in deprivation. I believe in rationing — limited consumption of resources so there’s always something left — and of saying ‘no’ when the time is right.”

In fact, Snyderman tells Candy & Snack TODAY: “There is always candy in my desk drawer. I have candy every day, it’s important to satisfy the urge — then it’s over.”

She also notes: “There’s a lot of work to be done. We need to put the cards on the table and do the right thing for the good of all of us.”

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