From Hansel and Gretel to the “Candy Man” to the saying “sweets to the sweet” candy might just be the most beloved treat of kids and adults. Even many nutritionists and health experts would agree that an occasional candy treat is probably not going to be harmful, and can even be beneficial in certain ways.
There has in fact, been quite a bit of mounting evidence about the benefits of chocolate, certainly one of the most beloved candy treats of all time. In fact, the ancient Mayans referred to chocolate as the “food of the gods.”
Gods not withstanding there is quite a bit of recent scientific evidence about the many health benefits of chocolate. Chocolate was found to have special strong antioxidants. These substances in cocoa known as polyphenols, flavanols and catechins were found to actually help to prevent “bad cholesterol” from causing plaque buildup in the arteries. One study showed that cocoa and dark chocolate had more antioxidant activity, polyphenols and flavanols than any other fruits tested, which included blueberries and acai berries.
Coo Coo for Cocoa
However, it is not every chocolate candy bar that is so good for you. It’s about the amount of cocoa butter in the chocolate. Darker chocolate, which has more percentage of cocoa butter, has more of those good polyphenols. Darker chocolates can have about 70 percent cocoa butter, whereas most commercial candy bars contain only 20 percent cocoa butter.
Also it’s good to be aware that commercial chocolate bars might just also be highly processed, mainly sugar– nothing but empty calories with little cocoa or antioxidants.
Other good nutrients including magnesium and phosphorus are found in chocolate.
Studies about chocolate effects are actually quite interesting. In the March 2007 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, chocolate was ranked as one of the top flavonoid-rich foods associated with a protective effect, along with bran, red wine, grapefruit and strawberries. In 2006 a published study in the Archive of Internal Medicine, found that men who consumed high amounts of cocoa products had a 50% lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease, compared with men with the lowest consumption.
For you men dieters, note that a 2007 study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that men who preferred chocolate to other types of candy had a lower body mass index and waist circumference than men who did not eat chocolate!
Kick the Chemical Colors
The real downfall of candy—especially for kids, is the controversy about artificial colors. Candy is supposed to look yummy, like some kind of bright, scrumptious, fun, carnival of treats. Over the years candy colors have become more and more outrageous
The thing is, that Picasso-like pallet of color in candies (except for certain organic and others with truly all-natural ingredients) is made from artificial chemicals, or dyes. You will see them on the labels. Look for the terms “artificial color added,” “U.S. certified color added,” “FD & C red no. 3” (or “green” or “blue” or “yellow” followed by any number), as well as artificial sweeteners and monosodium glutamate (MSG). Dr. Andrew Weil, said on his web site, “I’m suspicious of chemicals used to dye foods. They are a group of highly reactive molecules that may interact with DNA and increase mutation or cell transformation. Read labels and avoid them.”
A recent report, by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), said that artificial dyes should be banned, pointing to the fact that none of the dyes have been proven safe. In fact, some years ago, the CSPI had asked the FDA for a ban on artificial dyes when studies showed the dyes were linked to hyperactivity in kids.
Other studies have found that artificial colorings may lead to rashes, asthma, or even tumors!
Remember, however, that some bright colors are natural, such as the red from beets, blue from blueberry juice, paprika, red cabbage, turmeric for yellow, or the orange from carrots. For your health and that of children, use common sense in locating unnatural colors. If you look at labels, it is shocking to see how things from Fruit Loops, to even white marshmallows, fruit roll ups, and gummies, all have added artificial colorings.
Here are some of those promised ways to make candy more dandy:
Open Sesame Krunch Kandy
2 cups sesame seeds, 1/2 cup honey, 1/3 cup brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Grease a baking sheet and a sheet of parchment or a silicone mat. Toast the sesame seeds in a frying pan on medium heat until golden. Stir and watch as the seeds begin to turn color –they burn quickly. Be ready to transfer the seeds to a cool container as soon as they’re done. In the same pan, mix the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a boil on medium heat, stirring continuously, then let boil for 2 minutes, still stirring. Remove from heat. Working quickly, stir seeds into the sugar mixture. Transfer immediately to the baking sheet, spreading as best you can with a spatula. Then quickly use a large wooden spoon (watch your hand—the hot sugar is HOT!) to press the seeds on the sugar mixture into an even and thin sheet. You could use a rolling pin for thin, even pieces. Cool for 15 minutes. Lift the entire sheet off the baking sheet, break candy into pieces. Store in layers separated by wax paper.
2 1/2 cups of raw sesame seeds, 1/3 cup honey, 1 cup tahini (ground up sesame seeds made into a paste like peanut butter, available at most markets)
Lightly grind up 3/4 of the sesame seeds until fine but not like peanut butter. Combine the ingredients and press into a lightly greased pan. Cover, and refrigerate a few hours to solidify. Cut into small squares.
Choco Nutty Dreams
8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped, 1 cup finely shredded unsweetened coconut.
3/4 cup finely chopped toasted nuts (pecan, cashews) (about 5 ounces), 1/2 cup dried cranberries.
Line a baking sheet with waxed paper. Melt chocolate in a bowl over a pan of hot water. Stir occasionally just until melted and smooth. Remove from heat. Stir in 3/4 cup of the coconut, 1/2 cup of the nuts, and cranberries. Spoon tablespoon-sized mounds onto waxed paper. Mix remaining coconut and nuts in a small bowl and sprinkle over tops. Chill until firm, about 1 hour. Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to two weeks.
1 1/2 cups whole raw almonds, pinch of salt, 1 1/2 cups pitted dates, 2 teaspoons maple syrup
Coarsely chop the almonds in a food processor Add salt and dates combining well. Add maple syrup and pulse just until combined and the mixture sticks together. Refrigerate for one half-hour. Roll into small balls and place on parchment paper or wax paper. Refrigerate again until firm.