Two registered dietitians share their picks for the healthiest and least healthy candy, so you can indulge smarter when a sugar craving strikes.
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may find that your cravings for sweet foods are going haywire, and scientifically speaking, it makes sense. Sweet foods activate the reward centers of the brain and lessen the body’s stress response, according to an article published in April 2016 in Stress.
When the holidays roll around, starting with Halloween, these temptations can become nearly ubiquitous. Amy Gorin, RDN, owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in Jersey City, New Jersey, admits that given this reality, indulging can be difficult to resist. “That’s why it’s best to have an action plan in place to enjoy the candy in moderation,” Gorin adds.null
Plus, there’s the fact that reaching for candy to satiate a sweet tooth may be in your genes anyway, according to a study published in May 2017 in the journal Cell Metabolism. Another review, published in January 2016 in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, suggested that planning for these indulgences may help you stick to healthy eating habits. So go ahead and embrace the sweet season — just do it in a smart way.
First, put candy out of sight, like in the back of your pantry, or in the freezer, says Gorin. When it’s not staring you in the face, “you’re not constantly tempted by it,” she says. Eating it as a planned part of dessert rather than when you’re running around or doing other things — like working, or driving in the car — will help you truly enjoy it. Of course, you can and should enjoy festive candy, but there comes a point where it loses its luster and you may be eating it out of habit, so get rid of it after a week, Gorin advises.MOST HELPFUL
Above all else, choose what you like best. (Yes, even regardless of the best and worst choices below!) If you truly enjoy what you’re eating, you’ll be satisfied by it. That means don’t let “fat-free” labels or calorie counts sway you from what you truly know you want. Mia Syn, RDN, who’s in private practice in Charleston, South Carolina, puts it simply: The best candy choice is the one you can eat and enjoy in moderation.
Now onto the sweet stuff. Here are the healthiest (and least healthy) candies, per Gorin and Syn:
The 6 Healthiest Candy Options
1. UnReal Milk Chocolate Gems
“I’m really impressed with these,” says Gorin. “The candy contains no artificial flavor or color, and the coloring comes from natural sources, like hibiscus and turmeric.” Because these contain a fair amount of sugar, though, you’ll want to stick with the mini 0.42-ounce (oz) bags, which are available on Amazon and make the perfect single serving.null
2. Endangered Species Dark Chocolate Bites
These chocolates are low on the sugar scale, and two squares contain 3 grams (g) of fiber, too. That’s because the high level of cocoa (88 percent) means the the sugar content is lower. What’s more: “Research shows regularly eating a small amount of dark chocolate may help heart health by lowering risk of heart disease and stroke,” says Gorin. But again, be sure to enjoy in moderation, as these treats also contain saturated fat, which can instead be harmful to your heart if eaten in excess, according to the American Heart Association. The organization recommends taking in no more than 13 g of saturated fat per day.RECOMMENDED
What’s Inside 120 calories for two pieces, 9g fat, 6g saturated fat, 8g carbohydrate, 2g sugar, 2g protein
3. Peanut M&M’s
It’s got peanuts, which means you’ll get protein and fiber, which help prevent blood sugar spikes and overindulging, says Syn.
What’s Inside 90 calories per “fun-size” pack, 5g fat, 2g saturated fat, 10.5g carbohydrate, 9g sugar, 1.5g protein
Surprised? Although Snickers is relatively higher in calories than other candy, Gorin recommends a “fun-size” bar because it’s more likely to leave you satisfied, thanks to its filling protein. “It also has less sugar than some other candies that are almost entirely pure sugar,” she says.null
What’s Inside 80 calories per “fun-size” bar, 3.5g fat, 1.5g saturated fat, 11g carbohydrate, 9g sugar, 1g protein
5. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups
The satisfying combo of protein and (a small amount of) fiber makes this another good pick, says Gorin. Plus, around Halloween, it’s easy to find single cups (whereas they’re usually packaged as a double).
What’s Inside 110 calories per PB cup, 6.5g fat, 2g saturated fat, 12g carbohydrate, 11g sugar, 2.5g protein
6. Blow Pop
For the non–chocolate lovers, a Blow Pop can be a practical pick. “It has less sugar than many of the other candies out there, and because of the gum center, you can enjoy it for longer,” says Gorin.MOST RECENT
What’s Inside 70 calories per pop, 0g fat, 0g saturated fat, 17g carbohydrate, 13g sugar, 0g protein
The 5 Least Healthy Candy Options
1. Candy Corn
It has a reputation as being one of the most hated candies, and an October 2018 CandyStore.com survey on the best and worst Halloween candy suggested this festive confection is indeed the second-most hated — second to Circus Peanuts. But regardless of whether you agree, candy corn certainly isn’t the most nutritious way to satisfy your sweet tooth. “It contains more than double the sugar of a Snickers or Reese’s,” says Gorin.
What’s Inside 110 calories for 15 pieces, 0g fat, 0g saturated fat, 22g sugar
Yes, they’re low in calories, but those are purely empty calories, meaning “it’s devoid of nutrition,” says Syn. “They give your body energy it needs from calories but not the nutrition it needs, like protein and fiber,” she says.
What’s Inside 25 calories for 1 roll, 0g fat, 0g saturated fat, 6g carbohydrates, 6g sugar, 0g protein
3. Gummy Bears
Again, it’s pure sugar, so it’s unlikely to keep you as satisfied as chocolate, says Gorin.
What’s Inside 140 calories for 17 pieces, 0g fat, 0g saturated fat, 33g carbohydrates, 18g sugar, 2g protein
4. Jelly Beans
The package may get you because it says it’s fat free, but unless you absolutely love jelly beans — and can keep your portion reasonable — they’re still just sugar, says Gorin.
What’s Inside 100 calories per oz, 0g fat, 0g saturated fat, 25g carbohydrates, 20g sugar, 0g protein
Packed with artificial colors and flavors and pure sugar, these may take you back to when you were a kid, but they won’t satisfy.
What’s Inside 60 calories per bar, 0g fat, 0g saturated fat, 15g carbohydrates, 11g sugar, 0g protein
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