Fall is here — and with the cooler weather comes bag after bag of Halloween candy on display at your local drugstore. Walking down all of those aisles stuffed with sweet, spooky treats sure makes it tempting to pick up a few.
While Halloween candy wouldn't be classified as a health food, that doesn't mean you can't enjoy any without feeling guilt afterward. "My philosophy is that you can have these things in moderation," says Amy Gorin, RDN, owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in Jersey City, New Jersey.
There are a few strategies you can use to keep yourself in check. "One thing that I like to suggest is to only buy Halloween candy the week of — or maybe even the day before — Halloween so that it's not sitting around your house and you're not inclined to eat it before trick-or-treaters come over," says Natalie Rizzo, RD, New York city-based registered dietitian.
When you do head to the store for Halloween candy, pick up ones that come in bite-size, individually wrapped packaging, says Gorin — and see if you can limit yourself to one or two. Take a long time to chew on a piece of candy so that you really savor the flavor and feel satisfied after just a little bit, suggests Gorin.
A study found that people ate about two more pieces of candy when it was placed in clear bowls near their desks versus in opaque containers further away from them.
Another tip: Store your Halloween candy on a top shelf in a sealed container so it's out of sight, says Samantha Cassetty, RD, head of nutrition at Next Jump. "That way when you're reaching for it, you're doing so with purpose and mindfulness," she says. A study published in the International Journal of Obesity, found that people ate about two more pieces of candy when it was placed in clear bowls near their desks versus when candy was stored in opaque containers further away from them.
But what if you do down a whole bag of candy corn or peanut butter cups in one sitting? "Obviously, it's a hard time of year — if you're at an office, there's probably a candy bowl, and if your kids are trick or treating, it's hard to say, 'I'm not going to touch it,'" says Gorin. "If you have more than planned, just start over right away. Say, 'OK, I ate too much candy, and right now I'm going to stop.'"
Now that you know how to snack on Halloween candy wisely, it's time to figure out what you should have. Along with our experts, we've sized up the nutritional labels of some of the most popular Halloween candies, with a strong focus on calories, portion size, and sugar content so that you can make better choices in the lead-up to October 31st. (To keep things in perspective, the American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugar intake to 37 grams for men and 25 for women per day.)
Nutritionist Pick #1: Trolli Sour Brite Crawlers
One serving — eight pieces — of these brightly colored gummy worms comes in at 100 calories and 14 grams of sugar. Cassetty points out that due to their flavor and texture, oftentimes a smaller amount of gummies goes a long way — so you may not find the need to polish off eight worms. If you eat three of them, you're taking in just north of five grams of sugar. "I know that there's a bunch of artificial junk in there and things you don't want to be doing everyday, but they're chewy, so you can eat them slowly," says Cassetty. (And remember: The longer you take to finish a piece of candy, the more satisfied you'll feel.)
Nutritionist Pick #2: Snack-Size Reese's Peanut Butter Cups
A single peanut butter cup has 110 calories and 11 grams of sugar. Despite the sugar content, it's still a top choice given that it's individually wrapped and does have some protein (two grams) and fiber (one gram), says Gorin. "The protein and fiber will help keep you fuller longer," she says.
Nutritionist Pick #3: Charms Blow Pop
Although this lollipop with gum in the center has 13 grams of sugar, it's only 70 calories. The low calorie count and the fact that sucking on one will occupy you for a while make this choice another acceptable treat. "It takes a while to eat, so you're satisfying that craving for sweet over a period of time," says Rizzo.
The Best — and Worst — of the Rest (in That Order)
Of course, the Halloween candy options are practically endless. Here are how some of the other popular picks fare.
Like Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, a four-piece serving of Snickers Minatiatures does offer you some protein (three grams) and fiber (one gram), which can help keep you full. But one serving has 170 calories and 18 grams of sugar. Gorin likes this candy if you only eat one, which knocks your sugar intake down to less than five grams.
TWIX Caramel Cookie Bars Minis
Three of these bite-size crunchy candies come to 150 calories and 15 grams of sugar. That's why Cassetty suggests sticking to one individually wrapped piece, which'll set you back only five grams of sugar. "Re-think how you approach candy," says Cassetty. "Instead of looking at it as, 'I can only have one,' view that one piece as a treat."
Kit Kat Minis
"I like chocolate candies more, especially if they come in small packages," says Rizzo. These tiny Kit Kats clock in at 170 calories and 17 grams of sugar for four pieces. Again, our experts recommend limiting yourself to one piece to stay under five grams of sugar.
Twizzlers Strawberry Twists
Rizzo notes that while some chocolate candies may have more sugar than Twizzlers, they're at least giving you a little fiber and protein. But at 120 calories and 16 grams of sugar for three pieces, Twizzlers aren't a terrible choice if you eat less than the serving size. Cassetty suggests limiting yourself to one Twizzler (so that you stay at about five grams of sugar) and taking your time eating it. "One Twizzler seems like a decent way to get a sweet fix," she says. Gorin adds that because it can be difficult to stop at one, focus on taking small bites and enjoying the experience.
Tootsie Roll Minis
"Tootsie Rolls are chewy, so you can take your time to enjoy them," says Cassetty. Four mini Tootsie rolls have 150 calories and 19 grams of sugar but no protein or fiber. As our experts have advised for the other candies on our list, cut down the serving size and stick to one piece to limit your sugar intake. One mini Tootsie Roll has less than five grams of sugar.
Brach's Candy Corn
Ah, candy corn — you've sadly earned the lowest score of all Halloween candies. A serving size of candy corn — 19 pieces—is 140 calories and 28 grams of sugar. Since candy corn comes in a bag (and not in smaller portions), this one doesn't get very high marks. "If you have three pieces, it's not so bad, but most people don't do that," says Rizzo.
How to Adult-ify Your Halloween Candy Craving
Classic Halloween candies aren't your only choice if you have a hankering for something sweet. Consider satiating your craving with individually wrapped 1-ounce pieces of dark chocolate, which has health benefits that super-sugary, relatively nutrient-free Halloween candy doesn't, says Gorin. (For example, according to a study published in the Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology, dark chocolate contains antioxidants —known as flavanols — that could protect your heart.) Rizzo is a fan of Kind minis, which clock in at only 100 calories and have varieties made with dark chocolate, along with more nutritional value than candy.
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