- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 7, 2004

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Here is a novel way to sell candy: Tell people it’s good for them.

That is the strategy of Bissinger’s Handcrafted Chocolatier, a long-established, upscale chocolate company in St. Louis.

Bissinger’s new Spa Chocolate urges you to “treat yourself to good health.” At a cost of more than $2 per candy and named to conjure up images of pampering and well-being, it definitely qualifies as a treat.

As for health, the elegant packaging says the candies contain ingredients “linked to improved cardiovascular health, lowered risk for certain types of cancer, a reduction in body weight and a slowing of the aging process.”

From a blueberry cup to a sugar-free walnut bear claw or cherry cordial, the bite-sized candies contain several ingredients thought to have health benefits: dark chocolate, fruits and nuts.

Connie Diekman, the university dietitian who helped develop the product, said eating one chocolate daily as part of good overall dietary habits can help people trying to start or maintain a healthy lifestyle. The candies come seven to a box for $15.95, each candy labeled for a day of the week.

Cocoa beans contain plant chemicals called flavonoids, a kind of antioxidant that some studies have found can protect the heart; walnuts contain omega-3 fatty acids also linked to lower heart disease risk; apricots have healthful beta carotene.

In a chocolate-scented conference room in St. Louis, Bissinger President Kenneth Kellerhals said the business wanted a way to include chocolate consumption as part of a healthy lifestyle.

“Do I, as the owner of a chocolate company, want somebody to go out and buy 15 boxes of whatever and consume them?” Mr. Kellerhals asked. “Well, really what I’d like to do is have the person be healthy and be a customer for 50 or 75 years.”

But the health claims amount to a trick, said the director of nutrition at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington dietary watchdog group derided as the “food police.”

“The claims that these candies can help you lose weight, fight cancer or improve your short-term memory are not supported by good evidence,” said CSPI’s Bonnie Liebman.

She said studies have been conducted on some, but not all, of the individual ingredients and the related claims, though Bissinger’s said they had thoroughly researched the ingredients. She didn’t think consumers would take in enough of the ingredients to result in the rewards. That, she said, could be misleading at a time when two out of three Americans are overweight.

“The bottom line is they’re trying to trick people into thinking these chocolates are good for them.”

Bissinger’s devised the new product with the help of the company’s chief chocolatier, Terry Wakefield, and Mrs. Diekman, Washington University’s director of university nutrition who works as a paid consultant to the candy maker.

She said people who cut calories but follow an eating plan with which they are comfortable are more successful than others at modifying their habits.

“So inclusion of a healthier sweet, if that’s something that gives them satisfaction, increases the odds that they’re going to maintain their eating plan,” she said.

The company officials acknowledged that people can’t keep bad habits, eat the chocolates and fool themselves into thinking they are fighting cancer or improving their heart health.

They said people who reward themselves with a treat might be more inclined to stay with a smart nutrition and exercise plan. With an average of 54 calories and 5 grams of net carbs, one of the chocolates a day could fit with a healthy lifestyle, they said.

Of course, that raises the biggest dilemma of all: having the willpower to eat just one.

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