With Halloween bearing down on us like the Headless Horseman, temptations are everywhere: on co-workers’ desks at the office, lining grocery store shelves, and pretty soon in your child’s overflowing plastic pumpkin. Eventually, you’re bound to give in—but what should you reach for? There’s more to the decision than simply looking at the calorie counts. We’re here to help you make the best choices, as well suggest healthier substitutions for your favorite Halloween treats. Print this guide out for an easy-to-grab reminder when the candy is near, and you’re sure to pick the better-for-you option every time.
2 of 12Reeses and Snickers
Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups or Snickers?
The better choice: Snickers.
Even though Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups actually have more protein (who knew?), in a fun size–to–fun size matchup, Snickers “contain less fat, less saturated fat, and 10 fewer calories per two pieces,” says Cynthia Sass, RD, coauthor of The Ultimate Diet Log ($15, amazon.com). Tara Gidus, RD, a nutrition consultant in Orlando, Florida, and team dietitian for the Orlando Magic, adds that though she has no scientific data to prove it, she finds Peanut Butter Cups more addicting. “I love Reese’s so much that I would not stop at one,” says Gidus. “A good tip is to stay away from any candy if you know you will have no control once you start.”
A healthier alternative:Figamajigs are “as delicious as a candy bar,” says Sass, but they’re made from figs and covered in antioxidant-rich dark chocolate. Even better, they give you a boost of 5 grams of fiber.
3 of 12M&M’s, Skittles
Peanut M&M’s or Skittles?
The better choice: Peanut M&M’s.
Skittles have only 61 calories per snack-size bag, compared to 90 in Peanut M&M’s, but that doesn’t necessarily make them the better choice, says Gidus. Peanut M&M’s are low on the glycemic index, which means they release their sugar slowly into your bloodstream and will satisfy you longer (and you'll be less likely to go back for seconds). Those sugary little Skittles will spike your blood sugar and leave you craving more.
A healthier alternative: Although they are somewhat higher in calories, coated chocolate SunDrops candies contain no artificial colors or flavors or preservatives.
4 of 12Twix, Kit Kat
Twix or Kit Kat?
The better choice: Kit Kat.
While neither of these chocolaty, wafery/biscuity treats will win any nutritional prizes, “reaching for the Kit Kat will save you 20 calories and rack up less saturated fat and sodium,” says Sass. In fact, Twix packs three times the sodium—90 milligrams—in three fun size pieces than you would get in a comparable serving of Kit Kat.
A healthier alternative:Qbel Double Dark Chocolate Wafer Bars, which are covered in high-antioxidant 70% dark chocolate, will shave off another 40 calories and save you 80 milligrams of sodium (versus Twix). Bonus: You’ll get 10 percent of your daily-recommended iron intake.
5 of 12Jelly Belly, Tootsie Roll
Candy Corn or Tootsie Rolls?
The better choice: It’s a tie between the two.
There’s actually a trick answer for these go-to Halloween treats: At 20 million pounds consumed annually, candy corn wins the popularity contest by a landslide, but in the nutrition competition, this one’s a draw. Though you would need to eat a lot more candy corn—26 pieces, to be exact—to rack up the same number of calories—140—as in 6 Tootsie Rolls, both candies contain artificial color and flavor. Vegetarians should go for Tootsie Rolls, however, since candy corn contains gelatin (an animal by-product), also found in marshmallows.
6 of 12Butterfinger, York
Butterfinger or York Peppermint Pattie?
The better choice: York Peppermint Pattie.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that a candy that has butter in its name (and is endorsed by Bart and Homer Simpson, d’oh!) doesn’t take the prize here: Two fun-size Butterfingers boast 200 calories, 8 grams of fat, and 100 milligrams of sodium. Meanwhile, three mini York patties pack 150 calories, 3 grams of fat, and 15 milligrams of sodium. Plus, says Gidus, “mint is a nice way to finish. When someone has a strong mint flavor they are not likely to go back for more because it would ruin the flavor of another piece of candy.”
7 of 12Hershey's, Starburst
Starburst or Jolly Rancher?
The better choice: Jolly Rancher.
While Starburst candies win the calorie comparison (43 calories in three pieces as opposed to 70 calories for three Jolly Ranchers), “the calorie difference is not significant in my book,” says Gidus. Her pick is the Jolly Rancher, “because it takes longer to suck on and finish it, so you’re not likely to eat three in a row. But it is quite easy to down three Starbursts and still want more.” And then there’s this: Starbursts stick to your teeth more readily, which can raise your risk of developing cavities.
A healthier alternative: Real fruit sweetens and flavors gelatin-free Seitenbacher gummy treats, which even come in a seasonally right “Vampires Lunch” pack.
8 of 12Wonka, Ce De Candy, Inc.
Smarties or SweeTarts?
The better choice: Smarties.
So who’s the smarty? The candy’s name probably should have been a giveaway: Smarties have about half the calories and sugar of an equivalent serving of SweeTarts (25 calories and 5 grams of sugar per one of those little Smarties rolls compared to 50 calories and 13 grams of sugar for eight SweeTarts), says Sass. And, she adds, “Smarties are smaller, so it feels like you get more, and they take longer to eat.”
A healthier alternative: While not as powdery sweet as a mouthful of Smarties, it’s true, Panda licorice (which gets its sweetness from molasses) contains no artificial ingredients, and it comes in individually wrapped, portion-controlled pouches that may help prevent overindulging.
9 of 12Milky Way, Payday
Milky Way or PayDay?
The better choice: Milky Way.
Both of these treats are built around gooey caramel, but “the Milky Way has less than 50 percent of the fat and sodium for two fun-size pieces,” says Sass. And, sure, the peanuts in PayDay offer some heart-healthy benefits, but they also come with 90 milligrams of sodium and 9 grams of fat.
A healthier alternative: Try satisfying your chocolate cravings with Organic Dark Chocolate Bug Bites. While they won’t save you much in the way of calories or grams of fat, they’re made with heart-healthy, antioxidant-packed organic fair-trade chocolate. Candy doesn’t get much more virtuous than that.
10 of 12Almond Joy, Mounds
Almond Joy or Mounds?
The better choice: It’s a tie between the two.
In terms of nutritional stats, these chocolate-and-coconut babies are basically twins, weighing in at 80 calories per fun-size bar with an equivalent amount of fat (4.5 grams), saturated fat (3 grams), and carbohydrates (10 grams) Of course, the Almond Joy sports those healthy nuts, but, you know, sometimes you just don’t feel like one.
A healthier alternative: Go for an old-fashioned coconut macaroon, recommends Laura Garrett, RD, a diabetes educator in northern New Jersey and the owner of Realtime Nutrition Inc. “If you look at the fat and sugar, they are probably equal, but the macaroons are made with egg whites, which offer you a little protein.”
11 of 12Tootsie Pop, Hershey's
Bubble Yum or Tootsie Pop?
The better choice: Bubble Yum.
One piece of chewy, sugared Bubble Yum gum has less than half the calories of a candy-coated (and candy-filled) Tootsie Pop (25 compared to 60 per pop) and half the sugar (5 grams versus 10). Other advantages? “Bubble Yum is nice and sweet and just one piece may satisfy an after-dinner craving,” says Gidus. Plus, the gum tends to last longer than the piece inside the Tootsie Pop (and you don’t have to finish a lollipop to get to it).
A healthier alternative: Sugarless Bubble Yum has only 10 calories and, well, no sugar.
12 of 12Dells Popcorn Shop, Candlefind
Caramel Apple or Candy Apple?
The better choice: Candy apple.
No matter how they’re costumed—in melted caramel or a hard candy coating—these treats are both winners in a way, because they’ve got fiber and vitamins under those sugary disguises. But caramel is made with butter as well as sugar, which boosts its calorie and fat content. In contrast, a typical medium-sized candy apple will run 70 fewer calories than a caramel apple, and it contains no fat, says Sass. It’s worth noting, though, that the red dye that distinctively colors the sugar-based coating may be unhealthy, some studies suggest.
A healthier alternative: If you want to steer clear of red dye, add a little protein and heart-healthy fat, and be kinder to your teeth, says Garrett, try substituting apple slices with a smear of peanut butter. Just don’t attempt to hand them out to trick-or-treaters.