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  • Anastasia Lowe

Don't get TRICKED by these TREATS: "Healthy" Candy vs. Popular Candy Showdown

Updated: Oct 29, 2020

It’s that time of year again my ghouls and ghosts! Grocery stores are stocked to the brim with terrifying decorations and that sweet, tantalizing Halloween candy.

For the candy fanatics who are watching their macros, Halloween can be ROUGH. However, as consumers become more health conscious, “healthier” versions of our favorite popular candies have become more widely available. (For the purpose of this article I will use the term “healthy” to refer to a wide range of adjustments including organic ingredients, natural colors or alternative sweeteners). There’s a major catch though: Not all of these “healthy” treats are what they are made out to be, in fact I would consider some of them downright tricks. I don’t know about you, but I’m not a fan of dropping an extra $1.99 on a “healthy” version of a Reese’s cup if it’s not going to be any better for my health than an actual Reese’s cup.

Today we will be evaluating the common ingredients and macros of several popular candies, in order to help make more informed decisions for your sweet tooth. Let’s dive in:

Ingredients

When it comes to cleaning up your diet, what is IN your food can be as important as the macro content. Therefore, while the caloric content of some popular candies and their “healthy” alternatives are not significantly different, the ingredients can be a major dealbreaker. We will begin our candy quest by exploring a few of the common and potentially problematic ingredients that you will see in both popular and “healthy” sweets.


Artificial Colors

Artificial colors are derived from petroleum. There are nine synthetic color additives approved by the FDA: Blue #1, Blue #2, Green #3, Orange B, Citrus Red #2, Red #3, Red #40, Yellow #5, and Yellow #6. Artificial colors have been linked to complications in individuals with hyperactivity disorders, specifically children. They also could be carcinogenic and may increase cancer risk. Red #40, Yellow #5 and Yellow #6 are regarded as some of the most toxic color additives, as they have all been connected to increased tumor growth and/or cancer risk.


Artificial flavors

Both natural and artificial flavors are synthesized in laboratories, but artificial flavors come from petroleum and other inedible substances, while “natural flavor” can refer to anything that comes from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf, etc.


High Fructose Corn Syrup and Corn Syrup

With all the bad publicity of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), it’s easy to think Corn Syrup is equally evil. This is not exactly the case. HFCS 55, the most commonly used version of High Fructose Corn Syrup, contains 55% Fructose and 45% Glucose. Pure Corn Syrup does not contain Fructose, and it is the fructose in High Fructose Corn syrup that makes it an especially gnarly sweetener. HFCS’ place in the American diet is a hot debate, partly due to the fact that your body does not process fructose in the same way it processes glucose; this is one of the reasons HFCS has been linked to America’s obesity epidemic.

Pure Corn Syrup, on the other hand is made up entirely of glucose. It does not contain fructose, which means on the scale of disastrous refined sweeteners, Corn Syrup and High Fructose Corn Syrup are not exactly on the same level. That being said, Corn Syrup is still a highly refined sweetener, just like any form of sugar, you should not be consuming it in excess. Additionally, some manufacturers add High Fructose Corn Syrup to their Corn Syrup, so it will be hard to know if the Corn Syrup in your candy is pure corn syrup or if it contains HFCS.

Non-GMO Soluble Corn Fiber

(also known as Resistant Maltodextrin)

Both Resistant Maltodextrin and Maltodextrin are made from corn. Maltodextrin closely resembles Corn Syrup solids. Resistant Maltodextrin is special due to how its processed. Soluble Corn Fiber is essentially a little running back that dodges your bodies standard digestive processes. Instead of being digested in the small intestine, it’s fermented in the large intestine. Which means it does not trigger the same spike in blood sugar that regular maltodextrin and other sweeteners cause. For this reason, Soluble Corn Fiber is very popular among those following a ketogenic diet, because elevated blood sugar kicks you out of ketosis. Soluble Corn Fiber can have a laxative effect, is highly processed, and companies do not always source it purely, so it should still be used with caution.

Palm Oil

Palm Oil is a vegetable oil that comes in two forms: Palm Oil, which is extracted from the pulp of from the palm fruit, and Palm Kernel Oil which is derived from the crushed kernel in the center the palm fruit. It’s a highly versatile, tasteless oil with a high smoke point, that helps give thousands of products a longer shelf life. If you check your labels you already know, Palm Oil is in everything. Both forms of Palm Oil are high in saturated fat, but Palm Kernel Oil is especially high with 11.1g of saturated fat per tablespoon, while Palm Oil contains 6.6g of saturated fat per tablespoon. While Palm Oil isn’t the WORST oil, it’s definitely not the best. I would be remiss if I did not mention that Palm Oil has been a major driver for deforestation. So, if you want to lower your cholesterol and save the Orangutans, you might want to steer clear of this oil.


Soy Lecithin

Soy Lecithin is commonly used as an emulsifier, it helps bind ingredients together and keeps foods from being sticky. Like Palm Oil, Soy Lecithin is used in thousands of food products, mostly because soybeans are one of the cheapest, widely grown crops in the United States. There is an inherent problem with any product that is in EVERYTHING: you might be getting higher doses of it than you realize. While soy is not inherently precarious (fermented soy products have actually been shown to have numerous health benefits), the effects of long term excessive consumption of Soy Lecithin are a little less clear; and some of the chemicals in soy products have been shown to be estrogenic, meaning it could potentially disrupt healthy thyroid and hormone function.


Cane Syrup/Dextrose/Dried Rice Syrup/Glucose Syrup/Invert Sugar/Tapioca Syrup

"Hey guys it’s me, SUGAR.” These are all just different names for various forms of refined sugar. It is sugar processed and sourced differently; and your body will process some forms of these sugars differently, but in the end, it is all sugar.

Now for the moment you've all been waiting for...


The Spooky Sweets Showdown

Smart Sweets Sour Blast Buddies vs. Sour Patch Kids

SmartSweets Sour Blast Buddies

Serving size: 1 bag – 50g (1.8 oz.)

Calories 100

Total Fat 0g

Saturated Fat 0g

Sodium 70mg

Total Carbohydrate 42g

Sugars 13g

Protein 0g

Ingredients: Non-GMO Soluble Corn Fiber, Allulose, Isomalto-Oligosaccharides (Vegetable Source), Lactic Acid, Chicory Root Fiber, Pectin, Rice Flour, Fumaric Acid, Malic Acid, Citric Acid, Natural Berry, Blue Raspberry, Orange, Lemon, And Lime Flavors, Sodium Citrate, Fruit And Vegetable Juice (For Color), Coconut Oil, Carnauba Wax, Spirulina Extract (For Color), Stevia Leaf Extract.


Sour Patch Kids Original

Serving size: 1 bag – 56g(2 oz.)

Calories 210

Total Fat 0g

Saturated Fat 0g

Sodium 50mg

Total Carbohydrate 51g

Sugars 44g

Protein 0g

Ingredients: Sugar, Invert Sugar, Corn Syrup, Modified Corn Starch, Contains Less Than 2% Of Tartaric Acid, Citric Acid, Natural And Artificial Flavor, Yellow 6, Red 40, Yellow 5, Blue 1.

WINNER: SmartSweets Sour Blast Buddies. Sour Blast Buddies have a dramatically lower sugar content than Sour Patch Kids, but Allulose is a relatively new sweetener. I wouldn’t consider it time tested so it might be too soon to give this candy a full stamp of approval. Even so, SmartSweets natural colorings help edge out Sour Patch Kids.

Smart Sweets Sweet Fish vs. Swedish Fish

SmartSweets Sweet Fish

Serving Size: 1 bag – 50g (1.8 oz.)

Calories 100

Total Fat 0g

Saturated Fat 0g

Trans Fat 0g

Sodium 70mg

Total Carbohydrate 42g

Sugars 3g

Protein 0g

Ingredients: Non-GMO Soluble Corn Fiber, Allulose, (Vegetable Source), Pectin, Natural Berry Flavor, Sodium Citrate, Malic Acid, Citric Acid, Fruit and Vegetable Juice (For Color), Coconut Oil, Carnauba Wax, Stevia Leaf Extract.

Swedish Fish

Serving size: 1 bag – 56g(2 oz.)

Calories 200

Total Fat 0g

Total Carbohydrate 50g

Total Sugars 43g

Protein 0g

Ingredients: Sugar, Invert Sugar, Corn Syrup, Modified Corn Starch, Contains Less Than 2% Of Citric Acid, White Mineral Oil, Natural And Artificial Flavor, Red 40, Carnauba Wax.

WINNER: SmartSweets Sweet Fish. SmartSweets wins the macro battle again, and it has a clear advantage in ingredients thanks to Swedish Fish’s use of Red 40#, artificial flavors, and a combo of refined sugars.

Black Forest Organic Gummy Worms vs. Haribo Twin Snakes

Black Forest Organic Gummy Worms

Serving size: 8 pieces – 30g(1 oz)

Calories 100

Total Fat 0g

Saturated Fat 0g

Sodium 0mg

Total Carbohydrate 23g

Sugars 14g

Protein 1g

Ingredients: Organic Tapioca Syrup, Organic Cane Sugar, Gelatin, Organic Lemon Juice Concentrate, Organic Tapioca Starch, Organic Potato Starch, Agar, Colors (Black Carrot Juice, Blackcurrant Juice, Turmeric, Carrot Juice, Purple Sweet Potato Juice, Cherry Juice, Radish Juice), Citric Acid, Organic Sunflower Oil*, Natural Flavors, Organic Carnauba Wax*.

Haribo Twin Snakes

Serving size: 3 pieces – 26g (about 1 oz)

Calories 90

Total Fat 0g

Saturated Fat 0g

Sodium 5mg

Total Carbohydrate 20g

Sugars 11g

Protein 1g

Ingredients: Glucose Syrup (From Wheat Or Corn), Sugar, Gelatin, Dextrose (From Wheat Or Corn), Citric Acid, Tartaric Acid, Malic Acid, Natural And Artificial Flavors, Palm Kernel Oil, Carnauba Wax White Beeswax, Yellow Beeswax, Yellow 5, Red 40, Blue 1.

WINNER: Black Forest Organic Gummy Worms. Black Forest wins, but not exactly in superior fashion. Taking into account the slightly smaller serving size weight of Haribo, the macros of both products are nearly identical, and the first 3 ingredients of both the Black Forest Organic Gummy Worms and Haribo Twin Snakes are essentially the same as well. Still, Haribo Twin Snakes lose due to their inclusion of artificial colors, palm oil and artificial flavors.

Red Vines Made Simple vs. Twizzlers

Red Vines Made Simple

Serving size: 3 twists – 30g (1 oz)

Calories 100

Total Fat 0g

Saturated Fat 0g

Sodium 8mg

Total Carbohydrate 21g

Sugars 18g

Protein 1g

Ingredients: Cane Sugar, Wheat Flour, Radish Extract (Added for color), Citric Acid, Natural Cherry Flavor with Other Natural Flavors

Twizzlers Twists Strawberry Licorice

Serving size: 3 twists – 34g (1.23oz)

Calories 120

Total Fat 0.5g

Saturated Fat 0g

Sodium 70mg

Total Carbohydrate 27g

Sugars 16g

Protein 1g

Ingredients: Corn Syrup; Enriched Wheat Flour [Flour; Niacin; Ferrous Sulfate; Thiamin Mononitrate; Riboflavin; Folic Acid]; Sugar; Cornstarch; Contains 2% Or Less Of: Palm Oil; Salt; Artificial Flavor; Citric Acid; Artificial Color [Red 40]; Mineral Oil; Lecithin (Soy).

WINNER: Red Vines Made Simple. Red Vines Made Simple whoops Twizzlers in stunning fashion. Not only are the macros for the Red Vines pretty darn stellar, the ingredients list is short and sweet. Making it not only the king of licorice, but the overall winner of the candy portion of this showdown.


Unreal Dark Chocolate Peanut Gems

1 bag – 43g (1.5 oz)

Calories 220

Total Fat 14g

Saturated Fat 6g

Sodium 0mg

Total Carbohydrate 23g

Sugars 19g

Protein 5g

Ingredients: Dark chocolate (*organic chocolate liquor, *evaporated organic cane sugar, *organic cocoa butter, *organic vanilla), roasted peanuts (peanuts, peanut oil), *organic cane sugar, colored with (red cabbage juice, beetroot juice, carrot juice, hibiscus juice, annatto extract, turmeric extract), tapioca syrup, sugar, gum acacia, carnauba wax, vanilla extract.

M&M's Milk Chocolate

Serving size: 1 bag – 47g (1.69 oz)

Calories 230

Total Fat 9g

Saturated Fat 5g

Sodium 35mg

Total Carbohydrate 35g

Sugars 31g

Protein 2g

Ingredients: Milk Chocolate (Sugar, Chocolate, Skim Milk, Cocoa Butter, Lactose, Milkfat, Soy Lecithin, Salt, Artificial and Natural Flavors), Sugar, Cornstarch, Less Than 1% - Corn Syrup, Dextrin, Coloring (Includes Blue 1 Lake, Yellow 6, Red 40, Yellow 5, Blue 1, Yellow 6 Lake, Red 40 Lake, Yellow 5 Lake, Blue 2 Lake, Blue 2), Carnauba Wax, Gum Acacia.


WINNER: Unreal Dark Chocolate Peanut Gems. Red cabbage, beetroot juice, and carrot juice are a just a few of the naturally derived colors that Unreal uses in their Dark Chocolate Peanut gems. M&M’s Milk Chocolate on the other hand, is a fright fest of artificial colors. Remember the not-so-savory artificial colors I mentioned earlier? M&M’s Milk Chocolate contain all of them and more. Unreal receives a minor knock due to its saturated fat content, but it still easily bests M&M’s.

Ocho Caramel & Peanut Butter vs. Snickers

Organic Ocho Caramel and Peanut Butter

Serving size: 1 bar – 42g (1.5 oz)

Calories 210

Total Fat 9g

Saturated Fat 4.5g

Sodium 105mg

Total Carbohydrate 29g

Total Sugars 24g

Protein 2g

Ingredients: Organic Milk Chocolate (Organic Dried Cane Syrup, Organic Cocoa Butter, Organic Whole Milk Powder, Organic Chocolate Liquor, Organic Soy Lecithin (Emulsifier), Organic Vanilla), Organic Tapioca, Organic Peanuts, Organic Sugar, Organic Peanut Butter (Peanuts, Salt), Organic Milk Butter (Cream, Salt), Organic Egg Whites, and Salt.

Snickers

Serving size: 1 bar – 52.7g (1.86 oz)

Calories: 250

Total Fat 12g

Sat. Fat 4.5g

Sodium 125mg

Total Carb. 32g

Total Sugars 28g

Protein 4g

Ingredients: Milk Chocolate (Sugar, Cocoa Butter, Chocolate, Skim Milk, Lactose, Milkfat, Soy Lecithin), Peanuts, Corn Syrup, Sugar, Palm Oil, Skim Milk, Lactose, Salt, Egg Whites, Artificial Flavor.

WINNER: Organic OCHO Caramel and Peanut Butter. Taking the serving size weight into mind, the macros of these bars are pretty similar. OCHO packs a hefty punch of sugar and the inclusion of soy lecithin is a little puzzling, (WHY OCHO!?) but it still has Snickers beat in the ingredients and macro department.

Justin's Peanut Butter Cups, Lily's Peanut Butter Cups, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups

Justin’s Organic Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups

Serving size: 2 PB cups – 40g (1.4 oz)

Calories 230

Total Fat 15g

Saturated Fat 8g

Sodium 120mg

Total Carbohydrates 20g

Sugars 16g

Protein 4g

Ingredients: Organic milk chocolate (organic evaporated cane sugar, organic cacao beans, organic full cream milk, organic cocoa butter, organic soya lecithin [emulsifier]), organic peanuts, organic cane sugar, organic peanut flour, organic palm oil, organic vanilla powder (organic vanilla extract, organic vanilla ground, organic vanilla absolute), sea salt, organic soy lecithin.

*Justin’s palm oil is sustainably sourced.

Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups

Serving size: 2 PB cups – 42g (1.5 oz)

Calories 210

Total Fat 12g

Saturated Fat 4.5g

Trans Fat 0g

Sodium 150mg

Total Carbohydrate 24g

Total Sugars 22g

Protein 5g

Ingredients: Milk Chocolate [Sugar, Cocoa Butter, Chocolate, Skim Milk, Milk Fat, Lactose, Lecithin (Soy), Pgpr], Peanuts, Sugar, Dextrose, Salt, TBHQ and Citric Acid, To Maintain Freshness.


Lily’s Milk Chocolate Style Peanut Butter Cups

Serving size: 2 PB cups – 36g (1.25 oz)

Calories 170

Total Fat 15g

Saturated Fat 9g

Trans Fat 0g

Sodium 120mg

Total Carbohydrate 16g

Sugars 1g

Protein 3g

Ingredients: Milk Chocolate Style Coating (Unsweetened Chocolate, Cocoa Butter, Erythritol, Chicory Root Fiber, Dextrin, Whole Milk Powder (rBST FREE), Milk Fat (rBST FREE), Sunflower Lecithin, Stevia Extract, Vanilla Extract), Peanut Butter (Peanuts, Palm Kernel Oil, Erythritol, Peanut Flour, Chicory Root Fiber, Coconut Oil, Palm Oil, Salt, Sunflower Lecithin, Stevia Extract)

TIE: Technically Lily’s has Reese’s and Justin’s beat. However, the epic stomach distress that Erythritol can produce makes Lily’s not worth the lean macro profile in my book. Justin’s and Reese’s have several tradeoffs that cause them to nearly break-even; while Justin’s is lower in sugar than Reese’s, it is also much higher in saturated fat. Reese’s uses soy, as well as potentially problematic preservatives TBHQ and PGPR; Justin’s uses all organic ingredients, but still includes palm oil and soy lecithin. In the end, considering the fact Justin’s is typically priced significantly higher than Reese’s, it’s a shame the profile is not better.

Enjoylife Ricemilk Crunch vs. Nestle Crunch

Enjoylife Ricemilk Crunch

Serving size: 1 bar – 32g (1.12 oz)

Calories 170

Total Fat 10g

Saturated Fat 6g

Sodium 30mg

Total Carbohydrates 19g

Sugars 14g

Protein 1g

Ingredients: Cane Sugar, Cocoa Butter, Unsweetened Chocolate, Rice Crisps (rice flour, rice bran, raisin juice concentrate, honey, salt), Dried Rice Syrup, Salt.

Nestlé Crunch Bar

Serving size: 1 bar – 44g (1.55 oz)

Calories 230

Total Fat 12g

Saturated Fat 8g

Sodium 60mg

Total Carbohydrate 29g

Dietary Fiber 1g

Sugars 24g

Protein 2g

Ingredients: Milk Chocolate (Sugar, Chocolate, Cocoa Butter, Nonfat Milk, Milkfat, Lactose, Soy Lecithin, Natural Flavor), Crisped Rice (Rice Flour, Sugar, Barley Malt, Salt).

WINNER: Enjoylife consistently produces excellent clean snacks that are free of 14 common food allergens, it’s no surprise then that their Ricemilk Crunch bar takes the WIN against Nestlé Crunch, and gets the crown of best overall chocolate bar. However, compared to the other popular chocolate bars on this list, I have to give Nestlé Crunch some props for a relatively short and straightforward ingredient list.

That’s a wrap folks! I hope you found this helpful and feel better equipped to make superb sweet decisions this Halloween. Remember no matter what candy you choose, the true keys to a healthy lifestyle are moderation and consistency. Sweets and sugar are not something you need to FEAR. Please know that it's OK to treat yourself, as long as you are doing so mindfully and consistently feeding yourself appropriately! If your sweet tooth is the captain of your diet and you struggle with creating moderation and consistency in your daily eating, I'd love to help! Cruise on over to the contact tab and let's talk!


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