Candy science: where we stand

There is a growing body of evidence on candy and well-being. Studies to date show a lack of an association between candy consumption with weight and cardiovascular disease risk factors. Other evidence explains the positive health effects of cocoa flavanols and sugar-free chewing gum, while emerging research suggests that candy may promote happiness.

Daily Options for Candy Consumption

Over the past three years, multiple studies have shown that there is not an association between candy consumption and weight or cardiovascular disease. Studies of more than 15,000 U.S. adults and 11,000 children and adolescents showed that, while candy contributed modestly to caloric intake, there was no association between candy intake with increased weight/body mass index or risk factors for heart disease.

Likewise, two recent studies have shown that frequency of candy and chocolate intake was not associated with increased weight status or cardiovascular disease risk factors in adults. For example, a study in the Nutrition Journal found that frequency of total candy was not associated with risk of obesity and a study of approximately 1,000 men and women showed those who ate chocolate on more days a week had a lower BMI than those who ate chocolate less often.

Finally a 2014 publication in the Journal of Human Nutrition found that candy consumption in childhood is not predictive of weight or heart disease risk in early adulthood. Consistent with these studies, a review paper on the contribution of confectionery consumption to the global obesity epidemic concluded that current research on confectionery consumption does not demonstrate an unfavorable relationship with health.

The lack of association of candy consumption with weight may at first glance seem surprising, but is perhaps explained by recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and market data showing that candy is a small part of overall dietary intake:

  • Candy contributes only 2 to 3 percent of Americans’ calorie intake.
  • The average American eats less than 50 calories a day from candy.
  • Candy contributes only 6 percent of added sugars intake in the U.S.
  • Candy contributes 3.1 percent of the saturated fats consumed by Americans.

Furthermore, research suggests that forbidding certain foods or putting restrictions on eating may actually be counterproductive to developing and maintaining healthy eating behaviors. For example, studies have shown that dieting and restrained eating are often associated with overeating and poor body weight control. A recent study found that many parents engage in controlling eating practices with adolescents and, given the detrimental effects of restriction, concluded that it is far more productive to promote moderation rather than restriction. Perhaps this is why the results of a pilot study published last year showed that including a daily sweet snack within a reduced calorie diet promoted body weight reduction and body composition improvements in premenopausal women who were overweight and obese.

What’s even more exciting is that the body of evidence indicating positive health benefits associated with consumption of dark chocolate and cocoa (specifically attributed to the naturally-occurring flavanol compounds in cocoa) has grown tremendously. A recent Harvard review of 66 randomized clinical trials found consistent short‐ and long‐term improvements in blood pressure, insulin resistance, lipid profiles and vascular dilation. The evidence has evolved to the point that the European Food Safety Authority recently finalized approval of a claim about cocoa flavanols and healthy blood flow. If that’s not fascinating enough, emerging evidence shows cocoa flavanols may have promising effects on cognitive function, reducing anxiety and improving quality of life.

In short, enjoy your favorite candy in moderation and it can fit into a healthy and balanced diet.