Here’s What Registered Dietitians *Really* Think About So-Called ‘Healthy Candy’

Photo: Stocksy / Yaroslav Danylchenko
In a world where people are ever more intrigued with living greener, leaner lives, it’s no wonder that healthier alternatives to traditionally nutrient-deficient (read: unhealthy) foods have become so prominent. First there were milk alternatives and gluten-free pastas, breads, and desserts, and now, healthy candy is on the rise. If you think that sounds like an oxymoron, you’re not alone. That’s why we decided it was high time to delve into the topic with the help of healthy eating experts. Ahead, learn everything there is to know about healthy candy.

What Makes Healthy Candy Healthy?

So-called healthy candy brands, like Skinny Dipped, Hu Kitchen, Justin’s, and Unreal, have become popular among celebrities, influencers, and everyday folks looking to make “smarter” food choices.

Experts In This Article
  • Cory Ruth, MS, RDN, Cory Ruth, MS, RDN, is a registered dietitians who works specifically with women to help them better understand the powerful connection between the female body systems and optimal health.
  • Jennifer Maeng, MS, RD, CDN, CNSC, clinical dietitian and founder of Chelsea Nutrition

“Healthy candy brands, such as SmartSweets, typically have no added sugar, are colored with natural plant extracts, and have additional added fiber,” says women’s health expert and registered dietitian Cory Ruth, MS, RDN. “These qualities make them an ideal pick for those conscious of calories, blood sugar, and artificial ingredients.”

Registered dietitian Jennifer Maeng, MS, RD, CDN, of Chelsea Nutrition, tacks onto this idea, noting that by using added fiber and sugar alternatives, healthy candy brands are renowned for being lower in carbs, thus reducing sugar spikes in the body. “But that doesn’t necessarily make the product healthy,” she says. Some healthy candies (not those mentioned above) should be avoided.

The Downfalls of Some Healthy Candy Brands

Many healthy candy brands don’t taste the same as the original candies they’re imitating. While healthy candy is considered to be tasty by some consumers, not everyone views it as a true alternative to their favorite candy. As such, eating it is often not as satisfying as indulging in a portion-controlled nibble of the real thing. And because of that, some people tend to overeat healthy candy (and other healthy alternatives, like low-cal ice cream) in an attempt to feel satiated.

The problem is, doing so can lead to some pretty unpleasant gastrointestinal issues. “Sugar alcohols—which are prominent in some healthier alternatives–have less impact on your blood sugar than refined sugars and are generally safe, but when consumed frequently or in large amounts, it can lead to gas, bloating, and even cramps,” Maeng says.

What To Look for in Healthy Candy

One way to avoid the symptoms mentioned above is to monitor how much healthy candy you eat—another is to be mindful of the ingredients in your morsels.

“Some may want to avoid sugar alcohols—which can cause gas, bloating, and diarrhea—for the sake of their digestion,” Ruth says. “Artificial coloring and flavoring agents are also not ideal ingredients when they're loaded in something we're ingesting and absorbing.”

Additionally, Maeng recommends looking for healthy candy sweetened with fruits and vegetables, and those that are lower in real sugar.

The Candy 'Cravings' Debate

No matter what kind of candy you’re eating—healthy or otherwise—Ruth says that it’s totally safe to incorporate it into your daily diet. “The key is to keep the portion size moderate and the rest of your day balanced, in terms of carbohydrates and sugar consumption,” she says.

With that in mind, in both Ruth’s and Maeng’s opinion, when it comes to candy, the real thing in small amounts is better than a healthy alternative. “I like to recommend eating what you truly want to eat in moderation,” Maeng says. “You will be much more satisfied eating exactly what you're after than trying to find alternatives that are not as satisfying, because you will end up searching for more food or another food option to satisfy your cravings.”

While it’s perfectly fine to eat candy every day in moderation, if you’re craving it daily, you may be interested in learning why that is. “Rather than looking for healthier candy to have on a daily basis, it is important to think about why you crave sweets daily,” Maeng says. “A review published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine claimed that refined sugar has a similar effect on the brain as illegal drugs such as cocaine. Which means, if you are eating a large quantity of sweets, it should be treated with caution when trying to reduce intake.”

Diet culture and frequent new healthy alternatives might make you feel like you can’t have candy or other delicious foods. You can.

“Sugar-free, ‘healthy,’ or regular—anyone can add in a little candy here and there and not completely derail their health,” says Ruth. “Remember, it's what you do the majority of the time that makes the biggest difference in your health.”

Want more proof? “Restricting access to palatable foods, whether self-imposed or by parental control, may have potentially negative consequences,” according to a 2015 article published in the international review journal of Advances in Nutrition. So, do yourself a favor and eat the candy.

Here's how to make chocolate peanut butter bon bons:

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