While candy will never be considered a health food, taking a few extra seconds to read the label on your sweet treat can help you make a choice that’s better for you and the planet. Seeing palm oil on the ingredients list is one clue you may be indulging wisely.
The U.S. Census Bureau found that Americans consume about 22 pounds of candy annually. While moderation is still recommended, some candy manufacturers are trying to do the right thing by making gluten-free choices, using eco-friendly ingredients and insisting on higher quality ingredients. Here are some tips for reading a candy label:
1. Look beyond total calories. While choosing the one with the fewest calories might seem like a good strategy, in reality a lower calorie count might just mean it’s made of pure sugar.
2. Does it contain sustainable palm oil? The good news is more companies are using Malaysian certified sustainable palm oil in their candy, and integrative dietitian and author Esther Blum is among experts who are psyched about this change. “Palm oil has more carotenoids than carrots, it has vitamin E and it’s cholesterol neutral,” she told CT Live! viewers in Harford, adding: “Every time you use palm oil you’re actually sustaining the forests in countries like Malaysia. You’re supporting a country that is using a sustainable fruit. The palm fruit can be harvested every three to four months and renews itself for years.” Malaysia’s certified sustainable palm oil production is also credited with preserving wildlife and improving living standards for the country’s family farmers.
3. Is it free of artificial flavors and colors? This is especially important for kids, whose systems may be more sensitive to chemicals. Look for candy with natural food colorings from vegetable dyes such as beet or turmeric.
4. What other whole-food ingredients are on the list? Peanuts and cocoa are worth watching for.
5. How else is the manufacturer greening up this sweet treat? Many candy manufacturers are now using locally sourced ingredients, Fair Trade chocolate and/or organic chocolate which is free of lead and other adulterants. Others donate part of their proceeds to worldwide hunger and poverty relief.
Knowing that your treat may also be doing something good for other people and the environment has the potential to make that first bite just a little bit sweeter.