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Don't Be Fooled by "Healthier" Candy Bars

Chocolate Candy Bars

Story at-a-glance -

  • Nestle USA has announced they will be removing all artificial colors and flavors from confections sold in the US
  • The candies are still high in sugar and contain other questionable ingredients, like corn syrup, soybean oil, and preservatives

By Dr. Mercola

Globally, $374 billion is spent on snacks each year. Nielsen’s 2014 Global Survey of Snacking revealed that many people are seeking out snacks with all-natural ingredients – 45 percent said natural snacks are very important and 32 percent said they’re moderately important.1

People are also looking for cleaner ingredients labels. Forty-four percent said they want snacks with no artificial colors, followed closely by no genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and artificial flavors.

Of course, the best snacks are whole foods… not those with ingredients labels at all. But major food companies are taking note of consumer demand, and at least one has plans to remove artificial ingredients…

Nestle Nixes Artificial Colors and Flavors in US Candy

Nestle USA has announced they will be removing all artificial colors and flavors from confections sold in the US. This includes replacing ingredients like Red 40 and Yellow 5 in its Butterfinger candy bar and replacing artificial vanillin in Crunch bars with natural vanilla flavor.

As is often the case, artificial colors and flavors are already absent in Nestle’s UK products – they were removed in 2012 in response to UK consumer demand. Starting mid-2015, you’ll see Nestle candy labels in the US touting “no artificial flavors and colors.” Nestle USA president Doreen Ida said:2

“We know that candy consumers are interested in broader food trends around fewer artificial ingredients. As we thought about what this means for our candy brands, our first step has been to remove artificial flavors and colors without affecting taste or increasing the price. We’re excited to be the first major U.S. candy manufacturer to make this commitment.”

Nine of Nestle’s chocolate candies still contain caramel coloring, however, which the company says they are “looking to remove.”3 Certain types of caramel color, which is widely used in brown soft drinks, may cause cancer due to 4-methylimidazole (4-MeI), a chemical byproduct formed when certain types of caramel coloring are manufactured.

Don’t Be Fooled by ‘Healthier’ Junk Foods

We’ve seen this many times before… a shrewd food manufacturer, looking to cash in on “healthy eat trends” in America, creates a “healthier” version of a beloved snack food. You can now easily find all-natural soda, potato chips, ice cream, and cake. Why not have healthier candy bars, too?

On the one hand, if you’re eating a candy bar as a very occasional treat, at least Nestle’s “healthier” version will no longer expose you to artificial ingredients. On the other hand, a wolf in sheep’s clothing is still… a wolf.

One Butterfinger bar, for instance, contains 29 grams of sugar.4 That’s the original size. If you opt for the king size bar, and you eat the whole thing, you’ll be eating 51 grams of sugar (the packaging is misleading, too, because a serving size is only one-third of the bar). Let’s put this into perspective…

The US government recommends consuming no more than 10 percent of your daily calories from sugar.5 This is about 12 teaspoons of sugar or 55 grams. So one king-size candy bar puts you toward the upper limit. Many believe this recommendation is far too liberal for health, however.

The American Heart Association and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend limiting your daily added sugar intake to nine teaspoons (38 grams) for men, and six teaspoons (25 grams) for women. The limits for children range from three to six teaspoons (12 - 25 grams) per day, depending on age. In that case, one regular size bar puts you nearly at the limit.

Too Much Sugar Can Easily Triple Your Risk of Heart Disease

The ramifications of snacking on candy bars might seem slight, but in reality they can put your health at serious risk, especially if you eat them regularly and/or combined with other sugary foods and drinks.

Research shows that people who consumed 21 percent or more of their daily calories in the form of sugar were TWICE as likely to die from heart disease compared to those who got 7 percent or less of their daily calories from added sugar.

The risk was nearly TRIPLED among those who consumed 25 percent or more of their daily calories from added sugar.6 The main problem with sugar, and processed fructose in particular, is the fact that your liver has a very limited capacity to metabolize it.

According to Dr. Robert Lustig, a professor of clinical pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology at UC San Francisco, you can safely metabolize about six teaspoons of added sugar per day. All that excess sugar is metabolized into body fat, and leads to all of the chronic metabolic diseases we struggle with, including but not limited to:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Dementia
  • Cancer

Sugar is a major problem with most candy bars… but it’s not the only one. For example, other ingredients in Butterfinger candy include:

General Mills Plans to Reduce Sugar in Yoplait by 25 Percent

Even foods that are typically considered “healthy” can contain shocking amounts of added sugar, and most commercial yogurt is a prime example. Fruit-flavored yogurt may contain upwards of 19 grams of sugar, 12 grams of which is added sugar.

If you're eating yogurt to help optimize your gut flora, chances are you're currently eating yogurt that has more similarities with candy than anything else... General Mills has been slowly trying to give its Yoplait brand yogurt a healthier image.

In 2009, they stopped using milk from cows treated with rBGH growth hormones. Then they replaced high fructose corn syrup with sugar in 2013, and now they’ve announced that they’ll be cutting the sugar in Yoplait Original by 25 percent and adding more milk, which slightly increases the protein content.7

Still… even with a 25 percent sugar reduction, this yogurt can hardly be considered health food. As it stands, one six-ounce container may contain 26 grams of sugar (for the red raspberry flavor, for example).8 Even after it’s been reduced, it will still be close to 20 grams of sugar in one container.

The negative effects of the sugar far outweigh any marginal benefits of the minimal beneficial bacteria they have. Remember, the most important step in building healthy gut flora is avoiding sugar, as that will cause disease-causing microbes to crowd out your beneficial flora.

The Yogurt Report Can Help You Find a Healthier Yogurt

If you want to know which commercial yogurts are healthy and which are not, refer to The Cornucopia Institute’s Yogurt Report. Their investigation found that many products being sold as yogurt do not even meet the standards for real yogurt. The report also includes a comparative cost analysis of commercial yogurt brands. The good news is that many organic yogurts are actually less expensive, on a price-per-ounce basis, than conventional, heavily processed yogurts (although some of the organic brands of yogurt actually contained some of the highest amounts of sugar!). As noted in their press release announcing the release of the report:

"Based on its industry investigation, The Cornucopia Institute has filed a formal complaint with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) asking the agency to investigate whether or not certain yogurts on the market, manufactured by such companies as Yoplait, Dannon, and many store brands including Walmart's Great Value, violate the legal standard of identity for products labeled as yogurt.

The Cornucopia Institute requests that the legal definition of 'yogurt' be enforced for product labeling, just as it is for products labeled 'cheese.' 'The reason that Kraft has to call Velveeta® 'processed cheese-food' is that some of the ingredients used, like vegetable oil, cannot legally be in a product marketed as 'cheese',' Kastel added. Cornucopia alleges that some of the ingredients that manufactures are using in yogurt, like milk protein concentrate (MPC), typically imported from countries like India, do not meet yogurt's current legal standard of identity."

Your absolute best bet, when it comes to yogurt, is to make your own using a starter culture and raw grass-fed milk. Raw organic milk from grass-fed cows not only contains beneficial bacteria that prime your immune system and can help reduce allergies, it's also an outstanding source of vitamins (especially vitamin A), zinc, enzymes, and healthy fats. Raw organic milk is not associated with many of the health problems of pasteurized milk such as rheumatoid arthritis, skin rashes, diarrhea, and cramps. If you want to sweeten up your homemade yogurt naturally, try adding in some whole berries.

Are You Hooked on Candy Bars and Dessert-Like Yogurt? There’s a Reason Why

When Yoplait yogurt was created in 1999, it contained 100 percent more sugar per serving than the company’s Lucky Charms cereal! Yet everyone recognized yogurt as a wholesome food, and sales of Yoplait soared. While food companies abhor the word “addictive” in reference to their products, scientists have discovered that sugar, in particular, is just that. In fact, sugar is more addictive than cocaine. Research published in 2007 showed that 94 percent of rats who were allowed to choose mutually-exclusively between sugar water and cocaine, chose sugar.9

Even rats who were addicted to cocaine quickly switched their preference to sugar, once it was offered as a choice. The rats were also more willing to work for sugar than for cocaine. The researchers speculate that the sweet receptors (two protein receptors located on the tongue), which evolved in ancestral times when the diet was very low in sugar, have not adapted to modern times’ high-sugar consumption. Therefore, the abnormally high stimulation of these receptors by sugar-rich diets generates excessive reward signals in your brain, which have the potential to override normal self-control mechanisms, and thus lead to addiction.

The truth is, processed foods contain carefully orchestrated flavors and other sensory factors designed to be as addictive as possible. This is in stark contrast to whole foods, the taste and consistency of which was created by nature and therefore work with your body to satiate hunger and nutritional cravings. One of the most effective ways I know of to eliminate sugar cravings (and shed unwanted weight) is intermittent fasting, as this will help reset your body to burning fat instead of sugar as its primary fuel. When sugar is not needed for your primary fuel and when your sugar stores run low, your body will crave it less.

There are many different variations of intermittent fasting. If you are like the majority of the population and have insulin resistance, my personal recommendation is to fast every day by simply scheduling my eating into a narrower window of approximately six to eight hours every day. I find this method to be easier than fasting for a full 24 hours or more, twice a week. Once you are at your ideal body weight, and do not have diabetes, high blood pressure, or abnormal cholesterol levels, you can be less rigid with your fasting. However, it is probably best to resume some type of scheduled eating regimen once in a while, to make sure you don't slip back into old habits.

The Healthiest Snacks Are Real Foods

In order to protect your health, I advise spending 90 percent of your food budget on whole foods, and only 10 percent on processed foods. Most Americans currently do the opposite, and this will undoubtedly have an effect on your health, especially in the long term. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ever snack… just that your snacks, like the rest of your diet, should be based on this whole-food principle. Once you're eating non-adulterated foods—foods that are as close to their natural state as possible—your body and mind will thank you. Examples of healthy snack options that will put your ordinary candy bar or sugary yogurt to shame, nutritionally speaking, include:

Organic pastured hard- or soft-boiled eggsA serving of fermented vegetablesAvocado slices
Macadamia nuts and pecansA cup of homemade bone brothYogurt and kefir made from raw organic grass-fed milk (unsweetened or lightly sweetened)
Vegetables, cooked or rawFruits in moderationCheese made from raw, grass-fed milk

Finally, if it’s candy you’re after why not indulge in a type that’s actually good for you? High-quality dark chocolate, in moderation, is a perfectly healthy treat.