Everyone has a favorite Halloween candy, from chocolatey M&Ms to pucker-inducing Sour Patch Kids ― or my personal favorite, Reese’s peanut butter cups. But if you’re feeling guilty about doling out bags full of sugar to the kids in your neighborhood, you only have a couple of options: Be the person who passes out apples on Halloween, or opt for “healthier” candy.
Healthier alternatives, made with less sugar or natural sweeteners, dark chocolate, the addition of vitamins, fiber or the latest superfoods, claim they are better for you. But is that really the case?
HuffPost spoke with nutritionists about whether there’s any reason to choose a healthier Halloween candy, and if so, who may benefit from the switch. We also checked in with nutritionists for recommendations.
Nutritionists aren’t anti-candy
The nutritionists we spoke to agreed that since sweets should be enjoyed in moderation, most people should choose the Halloween treats they like best, regardless of health halos.
“Sugar-free or buzzwords like ‘keto,’ ‘low-carb’ or ‘superfood’ don’t necessarily make sweets healthier,” registered nutritionist Amanda Frankeny told HuffPost. “While these labels sound nutritious at face value, too much candy of any type can lead to cavities and poor nutrition.”
What may be more important than the nutritional composition is the relationship to eating it. ”You don’t want to deprive your little ones of the real deal, or else they may go scrounging around for it without your supervision and eat large quantities of that candy,” said Tracy Lockwood Beckerman, author of “Better Period Food Solution.” “Overeating candy in secrecy can short-term lead to belly woes or worse, potentially create long term disordered eating issues with candy or sweet treats.”
Frankeny pointed out that the benefits of a healthy relationship with sweets may “far outweigh the nutritional components in each candy serving.”
“People who celebrate eating candy rather than thinking of it as a guilty pleasure are less likely to have body image issues or worry about overdoing it,” Frankeny said.
Candy is never going to be broccoli
Many “healthier” candies promote the addition of vitamins, trendy prebiotics and probiotics, and even the illusory fiber that most Americans lack in their diets. In many ways, we can feel judicious by eating these candies or handing them out to trick-or-treaters.
But if you’re looking to add more nutrients into your day, candy ― no matter what the claim on the packet ― isn’t going to meet your needs. “You may see some candies that bring 30% of your daily vitamin C needs,” Frankeny said. “But honestly, they’re still just sugar-covered calories making the tiniest nutritional contribution to what you need throughout the day.”
“Candies just can’t replace the vegetables you downed for lunch, snack and dinner. By munching on one cup of broccoli, you get double that amount of vitamin C, ample amounts of other vitamins and minerals, water, not to mention the naturally-occurring mix of fiber.”
Who may actually benefit from healthier candies?
Treats designed with less sugar or sweeteners could be an excellent option for those who want to indulge, but must be mindful of certain medical conditions.
“If there is a medical need related to blood sugar control like diabetes, prediabetes, gestational diabetes or insulin resistance, it’s wise to opt for a low-sugar candy when possible,” Beckerman said. “Otherwise, Halloween comes once a year and should be enjoyed as is, without making nutritional modifications, if possible.”
The same is true for those who have food allergies or sensitivities to certain ingredients.
“Depending on the severity, diarrhea is one of the many symptoms that can result” for individuals with food sensitivities or allergies, registered dietitian Kim Rose Francis explained. ”All in all, whether one should buy candy with food additives or not depends on the individual.”
Health halos to watch out for
Natural sweeteners often tout nutritional superiority, and are beloved for less processing and slightly lower glycemic index. But, as Beckerman noted, “At the end of the day, cassava sugar and organic sugar all digest into glucose molecules, so it doesn’t move the needle that much nutritionally. Some candies have more protein and fiber coming from nuts or seeds, so my advice is to opt for that so blood sugar doesn’t spike as high.”
Additive-free is another buzzy claim touted in “healthy” candies. But before you opt for this alternative, Rose Francis noted that additives can actually be good. ”Additives may prove to be helpful or harmful, depending on the person,” she pointed out.
“For instance, food additives preserve color, texture and flavor and prevent foodborne illnesses,” Rose Francis said. “If preservatives are not added to candy, depending on what foodborne illness arises, this can result in diarrhea.”