Poison candy: Are chocolates, sweets and sugary snacks ever healthy?

It’s got to be one of the toughest jobs to make candy and snacks fit for the discerning consumer in 2018. The list of ingredients that food producers insist they don’t use is so long it’s a wonder the packaging doesn’t say: May contain traces of … food.

No added sugars. No added colorants. No added flavors. No added aromas. No preservatives. Gluten-free. No salt. One hundred percent vegan! One thousand percent vegetarian! Totally tasteless. Hmmm … yummy.

Read more: WHO: Curb ads for junk food, sweets and beer to fight obesity

“It’s very difficult to make foods these days. And for the consumer, it’s such a maze to find a product that is right for you,” says Rob de Weert of Fruitfunk. “As an industry, we have a huge responsibility to communicate things fairly on packaging.”

I would have thought companies were getting close to overdoing their labelling with all the “bad things” they claim to leave out. De Weert suggests there’s a difference, though, between the front and back of packaging.

“On the back you cannot lie,” he says. “So you write gluten-free but packed in an environment where gluten may fly around.”

These claims may not be “fake,” says de Weert, they are true — but if they’re real, then they can’t live up to our expectations of a product.

So what are our expectations? 

Haven’t we lost sight of the fact that sweets, candy, chocolates, and other fruity snacks are all unnecessary additives? They are an indulgence by definition. If you eat three solid meals a day, including the recommended portions of fresh fruit and vegetables, chances are you won’t need any packaged goods at all. And that whole issue of what’s true on packaging is solved. Or is it?

Rob de Weert of Fruitfunk at Cologne's International Sweets FairRob de Weert of Fruitfunk: It’s hard to get healthy snacks right these days

Take a company like Loacker. They have been making sweet wafers and other creamy, chocolatey delights for almost 100 years. Yes, they have had to adapt to changing tastes, and that includes using as little sugar as possible. But ultimately they make “indulgence” products.

And do they offer any health benefits?

It seems the fairest answer is the indulgence itself. After all, indulgence in sugary products releases endorphins. So the happiness you score from sweets has got to be a chief health benefit.

Read more: Sweet silence: An industry shtum on artificial sugars unless they’re called Stevia

“Well, happiness is very important for people’s overall mental balance!” laughs Loacker’s Yvonne Profanter, albeit with a serious undertone. “So, yes, we definitely want to make people happy by creating indulgence. But we do not use anything that is really bad — we don’t use hydrogenated fats, we don’t use aromas, whether they’re natural or artificial. We try to avoid anything that is potentially bad for your health.”

Hydrogenated fats are a “trans” fat and generally recognized as unhealthy. So it’s an easy one to exclude and as such a rather handy health claim.

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