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Camilo Silva, Specialist in Endocrinology and Nutrition, Clínica Universidad de Navarra

Nutritious snacks

Mon, 14 Mar 2011 08:56:21 +0000 Published in El País (Madrid)

The RAE dictionary defines chuchería as a "short and light food, generally appetizing". In the same dictionary the word golosina is defined in a more revealing way: "delicate delicacy, generally sweet, which serves more for taste than for sustenance". Surprising, yes, but it is not essential that the treat be sweet. It is a cultural issue. Thus, in countries such as Mexico, where the use of spice in many dishes is a long-established custom, the use of hot chili peppers in the preparation of candies for children is common. Acidic flavors, achieved mainly through the addition of citric acid, are also frequent in these products.

The RAE definition is correct in considering that sweets are not a source of sustenance in the per diem expenses of the population. From a nutritional point of view, their composition is generally poor: simple sugars (glucose, sucrose, fructose), colorants and other additives or polyols such as sorbitol. They provide so-called "empty calories", energy without nutrients. Therefore, in the context of the current obesity epidemic in many countries, sweets are perceived as a hostile ingredient of the per diem expenses of millions of people, especially children. The Spanish Society of Community Nutrition, in its 2004 Healthy Eating Pyramid, advises against the habitual consumption of sweets, reserving it for sporadic intake.

Even so, sweets are a simple and tasty treat for many children and, from this perspective, they have had relevance in the Education of thousands of children immersed in the process of effort and reward. We can see the good use given to candies as a vehicle for some drugs (cough drops, appetizingly flavored lozenges for sore throats). They make taking the medicine a more pleasant experience. It is therefore worth asking whether it is possible to give a new meaning to the intake of sweets by using some nutrients (vitamins, minerals, amino acids, antioxidants, fatty acids with heart-healthy profile , etc.) in their preparation. A lot of medical and bromatological research is necessary, but there is the example of cocoa, once reviled and nowadays the subject of many scientific articles due to its antioxidant properties and cardiovascular benefits.