Consumers are growing more and more aware of what they’re putting in their bodies. There’s a push for cleaner food and fewer artificial ingredients, but there’s also been a push to lessen the amount of sugar the average consumer takes in.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s new “My Plate” guidelines are meant to help consumers make smart choices about their diets. It emphasizes choosing foods that are lower in saturated fat, sodium, and added sugar.

“Eating fewer calories from foods high in saturated fat and added sugars can help you manage your calories and prevent overweight and obesity,” it says.

In this industry, that can be problematic as consumers begin to look for alternatives to sugar.

Suppliers like Cargill have been developing alternatives though. Zerose erythritol, for example, is a natural, zero-calorie bulk sweetener that looks and tastes like sugar. It’s non-cariogenic, meaning it’s not fermented by oral bacteria, which makes it suitable to use in toothpaste and oral rinse as well as in candy.

“It is ideal for reducing sugar in confectionery applications and can be used with high-intensity sweeteners to mask aftertaste,” says Pam Stauffer, global marketing programs manager, Cargill.

It’s clinically proven to have dental benefits as well. A three-year study was conducted in Estonia testing the effects of erythritol and similar polyols like xylitol and sorbitol. The double-blind study was conducted with 485 primary school children, who took 2.5-g. polyol tablets three times a day during school days.

The study was meant to test the efficacy of long-term daily intake of the candies, determined by dentin caries development, plaque weight, and oral counts of Streptococcus mutans and Lactobacilli. In all three categories, erythritol out-performed both xylitol and sorbitol. The children in the erythritol group had less dental plaque, fewer dentine caries on their teeth, and lower counts of Streptococcus mutans.

As consumers become more conscious of the amount of sugar they consumer, sugar replacements like this can transform candy from a culprit into a functional part of consumers’ diets.

Zerose erythritol can help to reduce sugar and calories in products while delivering taste and functionality similar to sugar such as a clean sweet taste and a unique cooling effect,” says Stauffer.

And there’s plenty to look forward to.

“As the dental health benefits of Zerose erythritol become more widely known, we see an emerging market particularly for confectionery products such as gum, mints and hard candy positioned to oral health,” she says.

Jungbunzlauer similarly offers alternatives to sugar.

EryliteBronze is a natural version of brown raw sugar, consisting of the sugar alcoholerythritol, a coloring fruit extract, and a natural flavor that creates a unique taste sensation, says Rocio Aramburo, market development manager, health and nutrition, Jungbunzlauer. It’s another zero-calorie sweetener that can replace sugar in confections.

Erylite Bronze occurs as crystals with a nice appealing bronze color,” says Aramburo. “It has a unique caramel flavor and a sweetness level of 70 percent compared to raw sugar.”

It’s also freely soluble in water, non-cariogenic, and has a zero glycemic index.

Jungbunzlauer’s sub4salt is a mineral salt blend that can reduce sodium content by up to 50 percent, while a newly-developed binder/filler-grade tricalcium citrate contains 21 percent of elemental Calcium. It’s an ideal solution for fortified confections with great compressibility properties, meaning it can be used in compressed mints and candies.

Indeed, reducing sugar is not the only option for adding a healthy spin on confections. Adding sought-after nutrients can also help improve the way candy is perceived by consumers.

“As the concern about health and well-being rises, consumers are looking for great-tasting foods with health benefits. In particular, consumers have sought out products with higher levels of protein,” says Bill Vlach, food technologist, Cargill Cocoa and Chocolate. “Chocolate, because it can mask the flavors of added nutrients such as protein, offers a great way to deliver on this consumer demand.”

To that end, Cargill has developed a variety of Wilbur protein products that are compatible with confections. Wilbur Y854 cocoa protein wafers and Wilbur Y855 milk confectionery protein wafers are formulated with 20 percent total protein. Wilbur Y938 white chocolate protein drops are made with 10 percent total protein and meet the Standard of Identity for white chocolate. Wilbur Y958 cocoa confectionery protein drops come with 25 percent total protein.

“It’s not just about trying to build muscle, it’s also about weight control, satiety, healthier snacking and sport nutrition,” says Vlach. “Protein products have become applicable to a wide audience, from aging baby boomers and individuals trying to maintain or lose weight, to athletes and anyone seeking products that keep them fuller longer. Chocolate and protein pair well together, and Wilbur protein coatings and inclusions offer versatile product solutions for manufacturers.”

There’s been a sharp increase in the number of active individuals looking for a treat-like supplement to their diets, he says.

 And when you’re talking about additives to candies, it’s impossible to forget basic ingredients that pair naturally well with candy: Fruit. Berries of all sorts have often been used in partnership with confections, and many offer health benefits.

“Cranberries have gained a venerable reputation in the nutrition world because they are nutrient dense and boast a myriad of health benefits, including improving urinary tract health and heart health, as well as protecting against cancer,” says Terry Humfeld, executive director, the Cranberry Institute.

And they’re available in such a wide range of forms that the applications are all but endless.

Ultimately, says Vlach, chocolate offers a great way to bring the sometimes conflicting consumer desires for indulgence and wellness together.

And there are plenty of opportunities for innovative, fortified confections with added protein, fiber, or other health benefits.