A Dietitian's Guide to Candies: Can Sweets Be a Part of the Diet?

Candies are a universal delight, enjoyed not just by children but by people of all ages. While candies often boast a high content of added sugars and may include additives and preservatives, healthy individuals don't have to avoid them completely. Within a well-rounded and healthy diet, there exists space for occasional indulgence. Learn how to select healthier candy options by perusing nutrition labels.

Top picks: healthier candy choices

Candies are meant for enjoyment rather than nutrition. Nevertheless, there are healthier choices with reduced added sugars, trans fats, additives, and preservatives. Options include hard candies, gummies, sour candies, licorice, chewing gums, cotton candy, chocolates, and more.

Candies typically consist of water, sugar, and flavorings, making them generally unhealthy. However, there are healthier alternatives with less sugar and fewer artificial ingredients.

Hershey's Unsweetened 100% CocoaHu Kitchen Organic Dark Chocolate GemsKeto Krack'd Aloha Coconut CaramelsKoochikoo Organic & Sugar-Free Lollipops Pouch
Serving size5 g30 g30 g (2 pieces)12 g (2 pieces)
Calories10 kcal180 kcal120 kcal28 kcal
Total carbohydrates3 g13 g 15 g11 g
Added sugars 0 g9 g0 g0 g
Protein 1 g2 g2 g0 g
Total fat0.5 g13 g7 g0 g
Pros No artificial and industrial ingredientsOnly 3 ingredients: cacao, coconut sugar, and cocoa butterLess than 2 g saturated fat and no artificial ingredients Organic and no added sugar
ConsNot organicHas 8 grams of saturated fatsNot organicContains additives and flavors

Sugar shock: what are the unhealthier candy options?

Reading labels is the most important thing when choosing candy. When you look at a candy's ingredient and nutrition facts label, you'll see some options are composed of more than 95% sugar.

Excessive sugar consumption may lead to health problems such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting sugar intake to 10% of daily calories for individuals aged 2 years and older, which equals no more than 50 grams of sugar in a 2,000-calorie diet. The recommendations from the American Heart Association (AHA) and National Health Service (NHS) are lower, suggesting no more than 30 grams on average.

Added sugars include but are not limited to:

  • Fruit or vegetable juice concentrate
  • Sucrose
  • Dextrose
  • Table sugar
  • Cane sugar
  • Beet sugar
  • Coconut sugar
  • Syrups
  • Honey
  • Molasses
  • Caramel
Nerds Gummy Clusters CandySour Patch Kids Original Soft & Chewy Candy Swedish Fish Soft & Chewy CandySkittles Original Fruity CandyBrach's Classic Candy Corn
Serving size31 g (17 pieces) 30 g (12 pieces) 5 pieces (30 g)28 g (27 pieces) 31 g (15 pieces)
Calories100 kcal110 kcal110 kcal110 kcal110 kcal
Total carbohydrates26 g27 g27 g26 g28 g
Added sugars 22 g24 g23 g21 g23 g
Protein 1 g0 g0 g0 g0 g
Total fat0 g0 g0 g1 g0 g

What additives and artificial components should you be aware of?

Candies contain ingredients with little to no nutritional value. Besides added sugars, be aware of additives, such as colorings and flavorings. Common artificial ingredients found in candies include but are not limited to:

  • Colorings. Added to make candies colorful (e.g., Red 40, Yellow 5, Blue 1)
  • Flavorings. Added to create the desired aroma and taste (e.g., ethyl acetate, vanillin)
  • Artificial sweeteners. Added to give sweeteess without adding calories (e.g., aspartame, sucralose, saccharin)
  • Preservatives. Added to prevent spoilage and preserve color, texture, and taste (e.g., butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) or butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT))

Healthier alternatives at home

When the craving for something sweet hits, consider healthier alternatives to candies. Mother Nature offers a variety of naturally sweet foods, including fresh fruits, that can be transformed into delectable desserts using wholesome and nutritious ingredients. Explore options such as:

  • Nut mix glazed with dark chocolate. Nuts and chocolate are a great match. You can melt a dark chocolate on a mix of nuts, then let it cool down.
  • Fruit balls. Fruits and vegetables can turn into delicious desserts. For instance, take dates, mix them with oatmeal and cacao powder, add molasses or honey; blend all, then turn them into little fruit balls.
  • Homemade hard candy. All you need is something sweet (such as sugar and honey), water, and lemon juice; the rest is up to what aroma you want in candy.

You CAN enjoy candies moderately in a healthy diet

Eating a balanced diet means moderation is key. You don't have to completely avoid candies, but be mindful of their low nutritional value. Enjoying sweets in moderation is okay for a healthy person. However, be aware that candies often have high sugar, trans fat, additives, and preservatives.

To make better choices, opt for healthier candy alternatives by reading labels, eating smaller portions, and giving homemade candies a try when the sweet tooth hits.

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