Most of us consume significantly more candy on Halloween than we do on any other day of the year (at least, you’d hope). But if you want to participate in the sugary festivities without putting on extra pounds or developing diabetes, it might be helpful to recognize that some popular Halloween candies are slightly healthier than others (emphasis on slightly).
I sent Dana Hunnes, senior dietitian at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, an exhaustive list of popular Halloween candies throughout America, and she responded as expected: “None of these are particularly healthy.”
Hunnes went on to explain that most Halloween candies are comprised mostly of sugar (which contributes to weight gain and the development of diabetes), artificial colors (which are potentially carcinogenic in high amounts), high fructose corn syrup (which has been linked to obesity and diabetes by many, many studies), palm oil (which basically ruins the environment and everything in it) and dairy (which can also contribute to weight gain and contains casein, a potential tumor promoter).
But let’s get back to this idea that some Halloween candies are slightly better for you than others. “There are many different ways for Halloween candies to be ranked: By calorie contents, ingredients lists (plus calorie contents) or environmental destructiveness,” Hunnes explains. “I tried to take an approach that combines all of this.”
Before we dive into our ranking, however, consider this: “If you eat two fun-sized pieces of candy, you get somewhere between 120 and 200 calories,” Hunnes says. “As long as you don’t make this a habit for the next two months, you should be okay: Eating an extra 200 calories per day may increase your weight by one pound every two weeks, give or take.” The lesson here: Get your fill of Halloween candy on Halloween, rather than eating it year round.
Now, let’s rank some candy from least unhealthy to most unhealthy…
1. Hershey Kisses: “These have the fewest ingredients and additives,” Hunnes says. “The main ingredients are sugar, cacao and milk. Plus, each one only has 20 calories or so [and approximately three grams of sugar].”
2. Hot Tamales: “While these are essentially sugar, more sugar and even more sugar, they aren’t too bad calorie-wise,” Hunnes explains (20 pieces, which is a single serving, contain 25 grams of sugar and 140 calories). “They’re terrible for your teeth, but they actually don’t contain any artificial coloring, and they have fruit juice.”
3. Jolly Ranchers: “These are small and have very few calories per piece,” Hunnes says (three pieces contain only 70 calories). “However, they take a while to eat.” Which could be good or bad, depending on how you look at it.
4. Candy Corn: “These are essentially colored sugar, but per portion, they have relatively few calories,” Hunnes says (21 pieces contain 150 calories and 27 grams of sugar). “Because they’re so sickly sweet, you’re also not too likely to overdo them.”
5. Sour Patch Kids: “These are similar to Candy Corn, but they’re essentially peppered with sugar and food coloring,” Hunnes explains (approximately 10 pieces contains 110 calories and 19 grams of sugar). “These also aren’t so great for your teeth.”
6. Tootsie Pops: “These also have fairly few ingredients and don’t contain palm oil,” says Hunnes (one pop contains 60 calories and 11 grams of sugar). “They also take a long time to eat, which is another pro. But they do have food colorings in them.”
7. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups: “This product has ingredients that are recognizable, and while it has quite a few calories, it also has some protein from the peanuts,” Hunnes says (two cups contain 220 calories and 22 grams of sugar). “To my surprise, it doesn’t have any palm oil in it. It does have some dairy, but there are worse choices out there (see below).”
8. Starbursts: “Calorie-wise, these aren’t so bad, but the ingredients list certainly isn’t something to give a standing ovation for,” Hunnes says (eight pieces contains 160 calories and 22 grams of sugar). “They also contain food coloring and that environmentally destructive palm oil.”
9. M&Ms: The normal-sized bag of M&Ms contains 240 calories (while the fun-sized contains about 80 calories) and 30 grams of sugar; however, Hunnes says that these actually have a relatively safe ingredients list (except for high doses of food colorings).
10. Skittles: The amount of calories and sugar in Skittles is similar to those in M&Ms; however, Hunnes points out that these have no protein at all. “They’re nothing but sugar, food colorings and environmentally destructive palm oil.”
11. Snickers: A regular-sized Snickers contains 250 calories (the fun-sized contains approximately 80 calories) and 27 grams of sugar. “At least these have peanuts (protein) going for them,” Hunnes says. “But they’re high in calories and contain palm oil.”
12. Twix: “These may feel a bit more substantial than, say, a Milky Way, because they provide something for you to really bite into,” Hunnes mentions, adding that most of the candies toward the bottom of this list have comparable amounts of calories (a regular-sized Twix contains 250 calories). “These also contain palm oil.”
13. Milky Way: “These are basically Snickers without the peanuts,” Hunnes explains. “They contain palm oil, a lot of calories and minimal amounts of protein.” More specifically, a regular-sized Milky Way contains 240 calories and 31 grams of sugar.
14. Almond Joy: “This product contains a lot of sugar, a lot of calories and palm oil,” says Hunnes (a regular-sized Almond Joy contains 220 calories and 20 grams of sugar). “It’s only redeeming qualities are the cacao and almonds.”
15. 3 Musketeers: “This product has a lot of sugar and some cacao, but it also contains hydrogenated palm oil,” Hunnes explains (a regular-sized 3 Musketeers contains 240 calories and 36 grams of sugar). “The hydrogenation process may make the oil more like trans fat, which is also terrible for your heart health [more about that here]. Again, there isn’t too much good to say about this product.”
All in all, maybe you’re better off egging your neighbor’s house instead of asking them for candy.