Eat, Drink and Be Healthy
Correction to This Article
The column incorrectly stated that SweeTarts contain whey and did not note that Tootsie Pops contain whey, an ingredient to which some people are allergic.

Trick or eek!! Halloween candy nutrition labels!

Kids trade in Halloween candy for cash at orthodontist's office.
Kids trade in Halloween candy for cash at orthodontist's office. (Katherine Frey - Katherine Frey for the Washington Post )
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By Jennifer LaRue Huget
Thursday, October 21, 2010

Even if you don't go trick-or-treating, it's hard to avoid Halloween candy this time of year.

For those of us who aim to eat healthfully, there are three basic approaches to candy, Halloween candy in particular:

You can abstain, which is easier said than done. You can carefully select treats that you can justify, choosing candies that are, say, lower in fat or calories than others, or take longer to eat. Or you can decide to enthusiastically indulge in what will truly satisfy your craving for candy, but do so in moderation and know when to quit.

I don't intend to indulge at all. I've worked too hard to lose weight this year to introduce candy into my balanced eating regimen. But if I were going to, I'd probably choose a chocolate-rich candy bar or two, taking time to enjoy every morsel and making sure to accommodate the extra calories by cutting back elsewhere in my diet that day. To me, then, finding the candy that delivers the biggest chocolate punch (those whose ingredients list chocolate first) would be key.

But you might prefer to keep a sweet taste in your mouth for as much of the day as possible. If that's the case, non-chocolate treats, particularly chews and pops that last longer, would work better. Those candies typically list some form of sugar first; they also are usually lower in calories (and saturated fat), so you can allow yourself more of them throughout the day.

As for how many days you decide to indulge, I suggest setting a limit: Either enjoy some candy on Halloween and the day after, or budget 100 calories a day for, say, a week. If you trust yourself enough, you could even set aside some candy to dip into once a week for the next month.

I've scoured a lot of candy packages lately, and I highly recommend you read the nutrition facts and ingredient lists for the candies you choose. One suggestion: Don't fool yourself into thinking those containing nuts or fruit are nutritious or otherwise good for you. Candy is candy and should play a limited role in your diet.

Whatever tack you take, it's best to devise your Halloween game plan ahead of time. Here's a guide to help you sort out your options.

Chocolate candy

When you eat chocolate, you're consuming fat and the extra calories fat imparts. Some bars are more worth that concession than others.

You can eat one two-piece snack size Kit Kat bar for 70 calories, 30 of them from fat. Or you could choose a Reese's peanut-butter cup for 110 calories, 50 of them from fat. I'd take the Reese's cup, because its first ingredient is milk chocolate and its second is peanuts (before sugar, dextrose, salt and preservatives). Kit Kat's ingredient list starts with sugar, then wheat flour. (Allergy alert! People with gluten intolerance or celiac disease should read labels extra carefully. You'd be surprised how many candies contain wheat.) You don't get to the main event, chocolate, until the fifth ingredient.

The first ingredient in a Baby Ruth bar is sugar, then roasted peanuts, then corn syrup. The bars also contain hydrogenated palm kernel and coconut oil; these count as trans fats, which are bad for your cardiovascular system. Ingredient No. 7 is cocoa, right after high-fructose corn syrup. A Snickers bar lists milk chocolate as its first ingredient and peanuts second. Next on the list is corn syrup, followed by sugar. Because ingredients are listed in descending order by weight, if I'm in the mood for chocolate, I'd rather see it listed first than seventh. For me, a Snickers bar is the most satisfying of mainstream candies, so why waste calories on anything less?

Think that coconut in Mounds and Almond Joy makes those bars healthful? Think again. The first ingredient in each is corn syrup, and a single bar has 80 calories, half from fat. Each supplies a gram of dietary fiber, which is not enough to do you any good, and no different from many other bars. Plus, they have high percentages of saturated fat among chocolate bars: 18 percent of the daily value for saturated fat for Mounds, 15 percent for Almond Joy.

A Nestle's Crunch bar is a good bet: Sixty calories, about half from fat, and nothing in it but milk chocolate and crisped rice. Similarly, a plain Hershey's bar has about 66 calories, half of them from fat (including 10 mg of cholesterol). But its only ingredient is milk chocolate. Add almonds and that same 14 grams yields about 73 calories, 43 from fat. Plain M&M's have about 73 calories, 30 from fat, and 5 mg of cholesterol. Add peanuts and, in 18 grams, you get 90 calories, 45 from fat. Like the almonds in Almond Joy, those peanuts don't appear to add much nutritional value.

Some chocolate-coated candies are low in fat. A serving of Raisinets has about 63 calories and about 23 from fat, which the package represents as "30 percent less fat than the leading chocolate brands." But don't be swayed by the package note that calls Raisinets "a natural source of fruit antioxidants." Yes, raisins contain some antioxidant vitamins, but not enough to show up on the Nutrition Facts panel. Vitamin A and Vitamin C values are listed as zero. Junior Mints and York Peppermint Patties score well in the low-fat category. An 18-gram box of Junior Mints has 80 calories, 15 from fat. The first ingredient is sugar, the second semi-sweet chocolate, the third corn syrup. A 14-gram Peppermint Patty has 50 calories, more than 8 from fat, but corn syrup comes ahead of semisweet chocolate, and after sugar, on the ingredient list. It also contains egg whites (allergy alert!).

Not chocolate but still candy

Non-chocolate treats are mostly gobs of sugar. But they're generally lower in fat and calories than chocolate-centric items. A 14-gram serving of strawberry Twizzlers has 43 calories, only about 3 of them from fat. The ingredient list starts with corn syrup, enriched wheat flour (allergy alert!) and sugar. Starburst (15 grams has 60 calories, around 11 from fat) and Skittles (about 15 grams has 60 calories, about 7 from fat) are not only lower in fat, but each is fortified with Vitamin C. Those servings each deliver just over 10 percent of your daily value for that nutrient.

But let's be real: We shouldn't depend on candy for our daily value of anything. It's up to you to decide whether these candies' appeal is strong, vitamins aside. For me, they don't make the cut. You really have to be a sugar fiend to want to waste calories on SweeTarts or Smarties. A serving of either has 50 calories and no fat, but there's nothing particularly satisfying among the mostly sugar ingredients. (Who has ever had a dextrose craving?)

I used to love candy corn so much, I could eat it by the fistful. Now the sight of it hurts my teeth. If you're a fan, buy it in trick-or-treat-ready packages for portion control: A 15-gram pouch has about 50 calories and no fat. Of course, it's nothing but sugar and salt. The honey on the ingredient list may sound healthful, but it's nutritionally no different from any other sugar. If you're eating from the office candy bowl, that trick-or-treat portion equals only about eight pieces. Steer clear unless you can count out your serving and stick to it.

My top choice among the low-fat options? The Tootsie Pop, hands down. A single pop has 60 calories and no fat. Sure, it's the same mix of sugar, corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oil you see elsewhere. But it takes a long time to eat (unless you're one of those people who bites through to the filling), and there's that rewarding Tootsie Roll treat at the end. And Tootsie Pops also contain whey (allergy alert!).

I know that counting calories and fat grams sucks some of the fun out of the holiday. But better to be armed with information so you can choose wisely, right? Otherwise you might just fall face first into that plastic jack-o-lantern and end up feeling crummy about your candy-bloated self when you finally come up for air.


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