Aisle by Aisle: Candy and Chocolates
Yes, I’m a candy addict! But there’s a time and place for “junkie foods,” as I call them. Here’s a rundown on some of the popular candies and the best choices for snack bags, party favors or even Halloween trick or treaters.
When perusing the labels, you’ll find most candy varieties contain high fructose corn syrup or other sweeteners. There’s a reason why the USDA suggests eating sweets sparingly: They’re full of sugar, saturated fat and not very many nutrients (that’s why they’re called “empty calorie” foods). If you're having some, buy the smallest kinds or the mini-sized packs to keep from overdoing it.
There are other issues to worry about with sweets, especially if you’re passing them on to others. Nut allergies are a big concern these days, so choose nut-free varieties. Also, be mindful of candy that may be a choking hazard. I’ve emptied many goodie bags from children's birthday parties only to find taffy, bubble gum and tootsie rolls — all risky to give to toddlers! Go through the goodie bag before your child takes a peek inside. This way they won't know what they're missing.
Yes, candy rocks! But sticky candies such as gummies, caramel and taffy do just that -- stick! In this case, it's to your teeth, which helps cavities form. It’s always important to brush your teeth after eating tons of sugar, but those super gooey choices are even tough to get off with a toothbrush. If you want a sugary treat, try Twizzlers, lollipops, Smarties or hard candies (if choking isn't an concern with your kids).
Don't fall for those labels claiming a candy is a fat-free treat; sugar is naturally free of fat. All that sugar, however, will rack up those calories. Check out the comparisons below:
- Twizzlers (4 pieces): 160 calories, 19 grams sugar
- Gummi Bears (10 pieces): 87 calories, 13 grams sugar
- Candy Corn (8 pieces): 140 calories, 28 grams sugar
- Starburst (8 pieces): 160 calories, 23 grams sugar
And look at the serving size -- most likely you're not meant to eat the whole bag!
A large Hershey’s Symphony milk chocolate bar (2.4 ounces) contains 361 calories, 21 grams of fat and 12 grams of saturated fat. Down the entire bar and you’ve just eaten 60% of the recommended saturated fat for the entire day. Many companies have the “fun sizes,” which are smaller portions of the same bar. Even eating two or three of those is less calories than one large bag (we still recommend sticking to one mini bar).
- 3 Musketeers Bar: 260 calories, 8 grams total fat and 5 grams saturated fat
- 3 Musketeers Mini Bars (3 fun-sized bars): 190 calories, 6 grams total fat, 4 grams saturated fat
- York Peppermint Patty (1 piece): 140 calories, 2.5 grams total fat, 1.5 grams saturated fat
- Plain M&Ms (1.69-ounce pack): 240 calories, 10 grams total fat, 6 grams saturated fat
Peppermint Patty lovers are in luck -- it has the least amount of calories and fat. If peppermint isn't your thing, choose the 3 Musketeers minis, which have fewer calories than a chocolate bar or a regular-sized pack of chocolate candies. When you go shopping, pick up you’re two or three favorite options and compare nutrition labels just as we’ve just done above.
Dark chocolate is another choice you might consider. Read up on its health benefits here. Be mindful that companies want to sell their chocolate and may slap hyped-up health claims on their products. Stick to a small portion (more is not better).