Can Fruit Kick Candy to the Curb?

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Fruit vs. candy: super-sweetness may give fruit a kid-choice advantage.
Misty Bedwell/Corbis

"Fruit is nature's candy," Marge Simpson once said after serving apples and oranges during a Halloween party. Screams from Bart and the other children at the party followed her offer of healthy snacks.

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In the real world, super-sweet, novelty-flavored fruit varieties bridge the gap between fruit and candy, and may help fruit compete against candy in the market. For example, grapes bred to taste like cotton candy will go on retail sale from International Fruit Genetics this month.

Despite higher sugar content, super-sweet fruit varieties still contain folate, vitamins, water, fiber and other nutrients that candy doesn't have, which makes produce a far healthier choice than sweets, Joannie Dobbs, human nutritionist at the University of Hawaii told Discovery News.

However, even candy-flavored fruit faces barriers to conquering candy's turf.

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“I don't know many kids that won't eat fruit,” Dobbs said. Taste poses less of a challenge to increasing American's fruit feasting than other factors.

Candy has a physical advantage over fruit. Fruit quickly rots into slimy mush while a candy bar stays pristine in its slick packaging, noted Dobbs. Vending machines, for example, would need to re-stock cotton candy grapes on a nearly daily basis to keep the fruit appetizing. At home, keeping a supply of fruit requires more frequent trips to the market.

In addition to the convenience factor, cost can discourage people from choosing new fancy fruit varieties.

“Since these fruit varieties result from long-term breeding programs, they will be expensive,” said Lianne Roe, nutritionist at Pennsylvania State University. “I saw one quote of $6 per pound for the cotton candy grapes. This puts them out of the reach of the kids who need fruit the most - those on limited budgets.”

Even if fantastically flavored fruits can win over taste buds, it doesn't mean they will kick out candy.

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People only eat 10 to 20 percent less fruits and vegetables than health guidelines recommend, but they ate 60 to 120 percent too much junk food, according to research published in Public Health Reports by Deborah Cohen of the Rand Corporation, a non-profit research institution.

“If people actually replaced candy and junk food with fruit, that would by definition reduce junk food consumption,” Cohen said. “The problem is that people tend to add on, rather than replace.”

The key to a healthy diet is to not go overboard on particular foods, said Dobbs. Even fruit can be overdone, because people feel it is a “guilt free” food. A diet dominated by fruit lacks protein, iron, zinc and other essential nutrients. In addition to this, not all fruits and vegetable are created equal. Grapes, including cotton candy ones, don't contain as many nutrients as tomatoes or broccoli, for example.

Dobbs recommends consumers use the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Nutrient Database to determine which foods will give them a balance of the nutrients their bodies need.

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