Confession: I have a huge bag of Halloween candy stashed in my closet. It's full of Reese's Cups, KitKats, and the superior Halloween treat — Snickers. It's like having a singing Siren or the Mirror of Erised sitting behind my work attire — pure temptation. If I'm being truthful, I've stolen more than a few pieces. I've also used some as bribes for my kids. Halloween candy is just so cheap and plentiful right now, what's a gal to do? But how bad is it? In my quest to learn, I had the nutrition of Halloween candy ranked by a dietitian.
Asking a dietitian for the healthiest Halloween candy is a bit like asking a doctor to rank their favorite diseases. The puzzled stare that crosses their faces is an untapped market in entertainment. But once they get into it, there is a lot of insight and tidbits of information that simply wouldn't occur to people who don't study food for a living.
I spoke with school dietitian Marcy Aaronovitch of Brooklyn (who happens to know my candy problem intimately because I'm that mom, who sends in cookies and candy for every school party), and she tells Romper that it depends. "If you're looking purely at calories, that's one thing, but complete nutrition on top of what it does to the body, especially the teeth? That's different."
Not to worry, I was prepared with a very unscientific list gathered from some of the top Halloween candies by state and chose my favorite. (Double Bubble, Montana? Really? I'm judging you.) Here are some classic Halloween candies ranked from worst to best by Aaronovitch.
In my not-so-humble-opinion, Skittles is the number two Halloween candy, and the number one chewy option. Aaronovitch is not impressed with my choice on this one, either. "It's all sugar and additives. It gets in your teeth, and you need to watch your kids brush after." The 100-calorie packs have a whopping 19 grams of sugar. That's a lot by any measure.
Candy corn gets low marks because of its high sugar to satiety ratio. "Candy corn usually comes in multi-serving packages and that leads to over-indulging," Aaronovitch says. A serving size is 19 pieces, which is just a few tablespoons of candy for 140 calories and 28 grams of sugar.
When I told her I like to add it to peanuts and pretzels, she didn't roll her eyes, which I thought was nice of her.
Salt Water Taffy
Both Nebraska and Washington boast salt water taffy as their top Halloween candy. I know, I don't get it either. Aaronovitch says this is a mixed bag. "They're full of sugar and salt, but you're probably not going to want to eat more than a piece or two at a time, and they take a long time to eat." She says that the high satisfaction rating of taffy means it's not terrible, but the sugar and sticky tooth factor bump it down.
M&M's in and of themselves aren't that bad. In fact, they come in dark chocolate, which was found to be more satisfying than milk chocolate in a study and helps curb cravings. The problem is in the serving sizes. "Rarely will someone stop at one of the small packages of M&M's, and that's about a serving. Before you know it, you've had four, five, or six servings," Aaronovitch says.
The Better Candy
OK, so those first five are the worst, but these candies are the better options — although Aaronovitch notes that this is one day per year, and going to town on some candy for a day is not a big deal for most kids. She doesn't even advocate rationing or hiding candy, saying that allowing your children to learn their own body is best. She does, however, advocate for "Mommy taxing" some of the peanut butter cups off the top of the bags for "testing purposes." Gotta make sure those things aren't poisonous.
I know, I'm as shocked as you are. But "twizzlers are fat-free, and they're slow eating, and that gives the body feedback that you've eaten enough, even if you haven't had a lot," Aaronovitch says. At just 80 calories per two strands, with 10 grams of sugar, it's not the worst choice.
Although these are probably less healthy when you bite off each end to suck up a Dr. Pepper, but it's delicious. Try it.
Mini Reese's Cups
They're not perfect, but the mini Reese's cups have some protein and fat to keep you satisfied for longer than most candy. "Many schools don't allow them, but the little ones aren't calorie bombs and they stick to your ribs as much as any candy can," Aaronovitch says.
They're also delicious pushed into the top of a chocolate chip cookie as they bake. It's like a peanut butter blossom got upgraded.
Each one has 20 calories and about four grams of sugar. It's really a paltry amount of anything. The thing is, they take a while to eat, and if you don't bite them, they're not going to get stuck in your teeth. Just drink some water after eating them to rinse out the remaining sugar. Aaronovitch says, "The longer it takes to eat, the better. Lollipops are some of my favorite candies because they're king of mindful eating."
Sour Patch Kids
"Generally," Aaronovitch says, "if a candy is sweet and sour, you end up eating less, but feeling very satisfied because of the instant gratification in your mouth and in your brain." This is true for Sour Patch Kids, Lemonheads, or sour worms. Just be sure to brush afterwards, as they are sticky little demons.
Small amounts of dark chocolate, especially dark chocolate with omega-rich nuts like walnuts or pecans, "are actually pretty good for you," according to Aaronovitch. Dark chocolate, she notes, is a perfect treat to have after a meal or during the movies. So maybe hoard the special dark bars from the Halloween bucket and give them out a little bit at a time.
Again, on Halloween, it's not a big deal to overindulge a little. Everything in moderation — including moderation. Your kids' tummies will tell them they've had enough, and the crash will stop them cold, even if it is face first into a pile of wrappers.