Legally Sneaky

Legally Sneaky: How the Candy Makers Fool Us

By Raquel Haggard

Healthy Candy?  Is that an oxymoron?   We like candy and want to believe that it is also good for us.  Candy makers play this up by stretching the truth–and it’s legal.

Candy makers actually pay people to fool us.  Ken Mundy, a Quality and Process Consultant, is one such person.  A big part of his job is to oversee the packaging of candy.  He makes sure the candy corn is not broken, starlight mints have definite lines, and the packaging is inviting.  Mundy says many companies are indicating terms on their packaging such as “reduced sugar, sugar free, light, fat free, reduced fat, contains real fruit juice” and “contains real honey” in ways that could be construed by the consumers as misleading.

“Reduced sugar” and “reduced fat” may mean this product simply has a little less than the original product made by this company; not that it is a “low sugar or low fat” product.  For instance, Pepsi created Pepsi Edge which has half the sugar of regular Pepsi, so it has reduced sugar, but not necessarily low sugar.  Kellog’s created Frosted Flakes and Fruit Loops with 33% less sugar. 

“Light” could mean just the color of the product is of a pale hue and does not necessarily mean the product is lower in fat or calories.  Read the small print.

“Fat free” is currently being used on items such as jelly beans and gummi bears, but these items were always fat free.  Jelly beans, for instance, contain Sugar, Corn Syrup, Corn Starch, Natural and/or Artificial Flavors, Artificial Colors.  There is no fat in these ingredients.  Suddenly companies started putting “fat free” prominently on packaging and sales increased.  Mundy says, “[This] wording …let the consumers know something they might not have been aware of when just browsing the shelves and comparing the products.  It’s not a lie- they are fat free.”

“Sugar free” does not contain more than 1% sucrose, but instead may contain corn syrup or  a sugar replacement.  One such sugar replacement is Sorbitol.  Sorbitol is a naturally occurring sweetener found primarily in fruits and berries. This product is manufactured from glucose, but is only 50-75% as sweet as regular sugar and contains two thirds the calories of sugar. Because it is absorbed and metabolized slowly, sorbitol has little effect on blood sugar levels, which makes it useful in replacing regular sugar in recipes for diabetic diets.

Mannitol is another sugar replacement used in diabetic foods, and “breath-freshening” candies.  According to the USFDA, in doses larger than 20 grams, mannitol acts as a laxative, which can make it unpopular with consumers.   Products containing mannitol are required to state the following on the package: “Excess consumption may have a laxative effect.”

“Contains real fruit juice”, says Mundy “could mean there’s 50% or 1% in the product.  People see the label and think ‘Oh, it’s healthier.’ When actually it may not be healthier than the product sitting next to it that does not have fruit juice.  It’s the same for ‘contains honey.’  The product may not have much honey in it.  But it’s not a lie.  It does have some in it.”

The only sure way to know what is in your candy is to read the label.  As of May 8, 1994, every candy product  (along with other packaged foods) must have a label including an ingredients list.   Labels include calories content, carbohydrates, fats, proteins, key vitamins and minerals, and for each, the daily value percentage on the basis of a 2000-calorie diet.  

The nutrition label lists the amount of sugars in grams (4 grams is equivalent to 1 teaspoon) in a serving of the food.  The sugar amount provided on the label includes sugars that are naturally present (such as fructose in fruit), as well as, sugars added during processing.  To see if a sweetener has been added to the food you are about to eat, check the ingredient list for terms such as “sugar (sucrose),” “fructose,” “maltose,” “lactose,” “honey,” “syrup,” “corn syrup,” “high-fructose corn syrup,” “molasses,” and “fruit juice concentrate.”


Ingredients are listed on labels in order of most content to least content, so if one of the above terms is listed first or second, or if several are listed, you can be pretty sure the product is high in sugar.

Maybe it is our own fault for wanting to believe that candy might be healthy. Do not be fooled- study the labels. 

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