Truer words are hardly ever sung: "A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. . . ." Americans have a definite sweet tooth. And there's nothing wrong with that - in moderation.

"It is misleading to say that confections are bad and should not be enjoyed," says Paul Lachance, a professor of nutrition and food science at Rutgers University. "As long as a person exercises regularly and eats a balanced diet, confections are an acceptable source of calories. In fact, I rarely go a day without having a piece of candy."A recent survey by Cambridge Reports shows that Americans often overestimate the levels of cholesterol, fat and calories in certain confectionary products, and tend to underestimate the amounts of some of these nutrient levels in other snack foods.

For example:


- 44 percent of those surveyed said chocolate was high in cholesterol. It is actually low, containing less than 7 milligrams per ounce.

- 36 percent thought cheddar cheese was low in cholesterol, when it actually has 30 milligrams of cholesterol per ounce (ounce for ounce, about five times what you find in chocolate).

(The American Heart Association recommends that daily cholesterol intake not exceed 300 milligrams.)


- 38 percent believed five butterscotch discs (1 oz.) were high in fat, when their fat content is actually low. The one-ounce serving of butterscotch discs contains one gram of fat.

- 58 percent thought breadsticks had a low or medium amount of fat, but a one-ounce serving has 4 grams of fat.

(Health professionals suggest that calories from fat contribute no more than 30 percent of daily caloric intake.)


- 53 percent of those surveyed thought a half-cup of candy corn was high in calories. The actual caloric value is 100 calories.

- 44 percent incorrectly guessed that a half-cup of raisins was low in calories, when it actually contains 250 calories.

(According to the National Research Council, the typical man age 25-50, weighing 174 lbs. and standing 5'8" needs an average daily energy intake of 2,900 calories; a woman age 25-50, weighing 138 pounds and standing 5 feet 3 inches needs an average daily energy intake of 2,200 calories.)

What this survey points out is that there are no "good" foods and no "bad" foods, but foods that work together in your overall diet. An occasional treat won't hurt. In fact, says Bob Mathias, former director of the U.S. Olympic Training Center, "many fitness programs fail because we feel we have to deny ourselves the things we enjoy to be successful." But, he says, these things can be part of a balanced exercise and weight control program.

Just so you know how certain candy and confections stack up, check the chart on this page that lists calories and nutrients for some of the most popular.


(Additional information)

Halloween's a treat

IT WILL SOON be time for all good little ghosts and goblins to don their costumes and enjoy the Halloween festivities.

According to a nationwide survey by Opinion Research Corp., strong participation in Halloween trick-or-treat activities is expected this year. An interesting trend is that more males seem to be getting involved in it all.

The survey shows that male participation - either by purchasing candy to give away, or by letting children participate in trick-or-treating, has increased from 76 percent in 1986 and 80 percent in 1987 to 82 percent in 1989. The study indicates that participation by women - 78 percent in 1989 - will remain about the same this year.

Not surprisingly, marital status, the presence of children in the household and the age of children in the household affect trick-or-treat participation. For example,

- Married respondents were more likely to participate (83 percent) than unmarried counterparts (75 percent).

- Respondents with children 12 years or younger living in the household (89 percent) were more likely to participate than those without children (74 percent).

- Overall participation in Halloween trick-or-treat activities by respondents with children 12 to 17 has increased from 82 percent in 1986 and 84 percent in 1987 to 87 percent in 1989.

Another survey, this one conducted by Crown Royal, finds that Halloween is a popular party day as well. About one-third of all those surveyed said they attended a Halloween party. The day of tricks and treats was most popular with 21- to 29-year-olds, with 41 percent saying they attended a party.

These figures mean that Halloween is the third most popular party date, following New Year's Eve and the Super Bowl.

"The great number of Americans participating in Halloween activities is indicative of this country's enduring love for this festive occasion and the sweet treats and fun it brings," notes Richard T. O'Connell, president of the National Confectioners Association.

But he also urges parents to make sure this is an enjoyable one by following the safety tips developed by the National Safety Council:

- Wear light-colored clothing, short enough to prevent tripping, and add reflectors. Make sure your children can see well through face masks.

- Accompany young children.

- Go out in daylight, and carry a flashlight in case of delay.

- Stay within the neighborhood and visit homes you know. Watch for traffic.

- Give and accept only wrapped or packaged candy and examine all candy before allowing children to eat it.

While a few extra treats at this time of year make it special, remember that moderation is the key. The extra treats need to fit in to a child's overall diet and exercise. Encourage children, too, to practice good dental hygiene.

And if you want a few non-sweet alternatives, the Nutri/System Health and Fitness Foundation suggests these possibilities: stickers, bubbles, baseball cards, boxed raisins and fruit juice, toothbrushes, balloons, shoelaces, sugarless gum, novelty pencils.