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Along with scary movies and spooky decorations, Halloween also means candy — and lots of it. Whether you’re eating it yourself or sitting back and letting your kids enjoy the sugar rush, it’s still a good idea to think about which candy everyone is enjoying. While you can’t control what your kids get while they’re trick-or-treating, you can decide which candy you’d rather not have in the house.
According to data collected by Coupon Follow in 2013, the average trick-or-treater will consume about 3.4 pounds of candy on Halloween. That equals out to around 384 grams of sugar (depending on what candy is being eaten), which is almost 16 times the American Heart Association’s maximum daily recommendation of 25 grams.
While avoiding candy altogether might be the healthiest solution, that’s clearly no fun. Instead, be smart about which candies you eat.
For help in figuring out what to choose, I spoke to two nutritionists and a dentist’s office about which options are better than others.
The Most ‘Nutritious’ Candies Out There
The best thing to do, of course, is to simply scrutinize a candy’s ingredients. Is there only sugar in it, or are there other, better-for-you ingredients included in the mix?
“For example, eat a Snickers instead of Starburst,” dietitian and mom of two Mitzi Dulan said. “Starburst is a straight sugar candy, whereas Snickers and other candies with nuts… peanut butter… have a better balance of fats and carbs and sometimes a little protein as well.”
Keeping this in mind, I did some digging and found that there are plenty of candies that are more than just pure sugar. And while they may not necessarily be lower in calories, it’s more important to stay away from those items that offer no nutritional value at all (like jelly beans, gummy bears or candy corn).
One caveat: This post is about those candies you’re likely to find at your local store. If you’re willing to spend more money and do the research, you can find even healthier alternatives on Amazon or specialty candy websites.
Researchers have even found that dark chocolate can possibly lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels, and that some of the components of cocoa can help boost your mood, though you probably don’t need a study to tell you that. It’s pretty hard to be sad when you’re eating chocolate!
Dr. Joan Salge Blake, EdD, RDN, clinical professor at Boston University and the host of the health and wellness podcast SpotOn! says that if it’s protein you’re looking for, combining the benefits of chocolate with peanuts or almonds will do the trick. Not only do nuts have protein, but they also provide fiber, both of which can help you stay full longer and perhaps avoid stuffing yourself with a ton of other candy. Think Peanut M&M’s and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
If chocolate isn’t your thing, go for these Welch’s Halloween Fruit Snacks in fun shapes, including bats, witches, ghosts, haunted castles and pumpkins. They’re made with real fruit, are gluten- and fat-free and have no preservatives. You can find them at Walmart, Target and other national retailers.
Twizzlers are another great option. While they don’t have much in the way of nutritional value, they do have zero grams of fat and are only 40 calories each.
Best Candies For Dental Health
Of course, when it comes to candy, you should also be concerned about the health of your teeth. Both Salge Blake and an Aspen Dental spokesperson agree that sticky candies are the worst offender. Salge Blake advises staying away from sour gummies and hard sucking candies.
“The gummies stick to your teeth and cause prolonged contact with sugar while hard candies are more likely to cause tooth damage — including breakage,” she said. She suggests sugarless gum instead.
A spokesperson from Aspen Dental suggests pre-packaged snack-bags, flavored honey sticks or fruit leathers to celebrate Halloween “without compromising your fangs.” Additionally, chocolate and softer non-sticky candies dissolve fairly quickly and are less destructive to your enamel.
The best dentist-friendly candy? Again, dark chocolate comes out on top because it contains less sugar. Dr. Anita Imadomwanyi, director of clinical support and charitable giving at Aspen Dental, says sometimes dark chocolate even has compounds (epicatechin and polyphenols) that may help fight bad bacteria, thus helping to prevent cavities.
Finally, choose candies you can enjoy longer, like suckers or gum. This will make you less likely to binge on large quantities of candy. For example, try a Blow Pop. Registered dietitian nutritionist Amy Gorin spoke to Everyday Health, saying, “[Blow Pops have] less sugar than many of the other candies out there, and because of the gum center, you can enjoy it for longer.”
This isn’t the best dentist-friendly choice, however, as Imadomwanyi warns prolonged sucking on candy exposes the teeth to the sugars longer.
“Because it stays on the teeth longer, essentially bad bacteria will use the sugars as fuel that can make one vulnerable cavities/build plaque,” she said. “(Sucking on hard candy) can leave one at risk to chipping of tooth or restorations or irritate the gums.”
The most important thing to remember about Halloween candy?
“Have fun with your little one and let them (and yourself!) eat candy in moderation,” Dulan said. “It only happens once a year.”
What’s your favorite Halloween candy?