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Candy Coded: What You Need to Know About Your Favorite Sweets

It seems like these days there's always a reason for a sweet treat -- holidays, baby showers, birthdays, and the list goes on. We could tell you not to eat it, but unless you have the willpower of a saint everyone craves sugar once in a while. To help, we got the dish on the best drugstore treats to nibble on and the ones to completely nix.

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Courtesy of Hershey's
Dove Silky Smooth Almond Chocolate Bar
Courtesy of Dove
Courtesy of Nestle
Courtesy of 3 Musketeers
Courtesy of Amazon
Courtesy of Wegmans
Courtesy of Amazon
Courtesy of Hershey's
Courtesy of Hershey's
Courtesy of Mars
Courtesy of Ghirardelli
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Don't Be Afraid of the Dark

"If you're craving chocolate, then the darker, the better," says Katie Cavuto Boyle, RD, owner of Healthy Bites. "Dark chocolate has less sugar, is dairy-free, and is rich in antioxidants that have been shown to reduce blood pressure and decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease."

  • Nibble: Hershey's Miniatures: Special Dark
    Serving Size: 5 pieces
    200 calories; 13g fat; 7g saturated fat; 25mg sodium; 24g carbs; 18g sugar; 3g protein

  • Nix: Reese's Peanut Butter Cups Miniatures
    Serving Size: 5 pieces
    220 calories; 13g fat; 5g saturated fat; 130mg sodium; 26g carbs; 23g sugar; 4g protein

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Go Nuts!

"Chocolate that contains nuts may be even better for you, because the nuts contain a variety of nutrients and healthy fats that may displace some of the total chocolate, sugar, etc.," says Marie Spano, RD, owner of Marie Spano Nutrition Consulting in Atlanta.

  • Nibble: Dove Silky Smooth Almond Milk Chocolate Bar
    Serving Size: 1 bar
    190 calories; 12g fat; 6g saturated fat; 20mg sodium; 18g carbs; 16g sugar; 3g protein

  • Nix: Twix Caramel Cookie Bars
    Serving Size: 2 cookies (1 pack)
    250 calories; 12g fat; 9g saturated fat; 100mg sodium; 33g carbs; 24g sugar; 2g protein

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White? Out!

"White chocolate is your least healthy option," says Boyle. "It doesn't actually contain any cocoa -- only cocoa butter -- and it's packed with sugar and added fat from the extra milk products used."

  • Nibble: Kit Kat Snack Size
    Serving Size: 3 packs
    210 calories; 11g fat; 7g saturated fat; 30mg sodium; 27g carbs; 21g sugar; 3g protein

  • Nix: Hershey's Bliss White Chocolate Meltaway
    Serving Size: 6 pieces
    230 calories; 14g fat; 9g saturated fat; 70mg sodium; 24g carbs; 24g sugar; 3g protein

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Go to Grape Lengths

If you love chocolate-covered anything, opt for raisins over pretzels or marshmallows. "Raisins are rich in antioxidants and provide extra fiber that you won't get from chocolate alone," says Boyle.

  • Nibble: Raisinets, Snack Pack
    Serving Size: 1 box
    150 calories; 6g fat; 3.5g saturated fat; 10mg sodium; 25g carbs; 22g sugar; 1g protein

  • Nix: Milk Duds
    Serving Size: 1 regular-sized box
    230 calories; 8g fat; 5g saturated fat; 135mg sodium; 38g carbs; 27g sugar; 2g protein

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Lighten Up

"Some of the unhealthiest candy choices are loaded with sugar, fat, and artery-clogging saturated fat," says Boyle. "3 Musketeers is a good alternative, as it is significantly lower in calories and fat."

  • Nibble: 3 Musketeers Minis
    Serving Size: 7 pieces
    170 calories; 5g fat; 3.5g saturated fat; 80mg sodium; 32g carbs; 27g sugar; 1g protein

  • Nix: Snickers Bar Miniatures
    Serving Size: 4 pieces
    170 calories; 8g fat; 3g saturated fat; 80mg sodium; 22g carbs; 18g sugar; 3g protein

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Chew on This

"Caramels contain a high percentage of saturated fat, so if you're looking for something chewy, you're better off with a low-calorie candy, like Now and Later, that takes longer to eat," says Boyle.

  • Nibble: Now and Laters
    Serving Size: 9 pieces
    120 calories; 1g fat; 0g saturated fat; 40mg sodium; 28g carbs; 22g sugar; 0g protein

  • Nix: Brach's Milk Maid Caramels
    Serving Size: 4 pieces
    150 calories; 4g fat; 3g saturated fat; 90mg sodium; 25g carbs; 15g sugar; 2g protein


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Step Away from the Big Bar

"Go for the smaller portion sizes instead of big bars, because even if you tell yourself that you're only going to eat half, you will inevitably finish the whole thing," says Spano. But be aware that some small treats can add up fast, too. "Stick to mini-size candy bars that are low in calories and fat, and limit yourself to one," says Boyle.

  • Nibble: Snack Size York Peppermint Pattie
    Serving Size: 1 piece
    60 calories; 1g fat; 0.5g saturated fat; 5mg sodium; 14g carbs; 11g sugar

  • Nix: Fun Size Baby Ruth
    Serving size: 2 bars
    170 calories; 8g fat; 4.5g saturated fat; 85mg sodium; 24g carbs; 20g sugar; 2g protein


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Put a Lid on It

"Instead of keeping your candy out in the open where temptation is greatest, like in a bowl beside your bed, place it in the cupboard. That way you won't be tempted to treat yourself all day long," says Boyle. Buying individually wrapped candy bars rather than bags that you can pour out easily could also help curb cravings.

  • Nibble: Skittles Original Fun Size Mini
    Serving Size: 1 pack
    60 calories; 0.5g fat; 0.5g saturated fat; 14g carbs; 11g sugar; 0g protein

  • Nix: Brach's Candy Corn
    Serving Size: 19 pieces
    140 calories; 0g fat; 70mg sodium; 36g carbs; 32g sugar; 0g protein


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Save Your Kisses

Don't be fooled: A kiss is not just a kiss. There are now seven different types of Hershey's Kisses, plus a seasonal pumpkin-flavored one, and they each have unique nutritional info. If they all taste the same to you, go for the gold wrapper -- they've got less fat.

  • Nibble: Milk Chocolate Kisses filled with Caramel
    Serving Size: 9 pieces
    190 calories; 9g fat; 6g saturated fat; 75mg sodium; 27g carbs; 23g sugar; 3g protein

  • Nix: Meltaway Milk Chocolate Kisses
    Serving Size: 9 pieces
    210 calories; 13g fat; 8g saturated fat; 50mg sodium; 24g carbs; 22g sugar; 3g protein

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Take a Lickin'

"Most hard candies have fewer calories than chocolate, but they're straight sugar, so it's all about portion control. Choose a lollipop or Jolly Rancher that you can suck on for a while, which naturally prevents you from eating as much," says Boyle. Just be sure to brush your teeth afterwards, as these candies can also increase your risk of cavities, she warns.

  • Nibble: Jolly Rancher
    Serving Size: 3 pieces
    70 calories; 0g fat; 10mg sodium; 17g carbs; 11g sugar

  • Nix: Starburst Fruit Chews: Originals
    Serving Size: 8 pieces
    160 calories; 3.5g fat; 3g saturated fat; 0mg sodium; 33g carbs; 23g sugar

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Grab a Better Bag

"If you're debating which bag of M&Ms to open up, I would pick either the dark chocolate or almond ones," says Boyle. "Or, you could put the two together to create your own flavor that's full of antioxidants and protein." Most importantly, don't wolf down the whole bag at once -- eating just a few should curb your candy cravings without tipping the scale, she says.

  • Nibble: Dark Chocolate M&Ms
    Serving Size: 1 bag (1.5 ounces)
    210 calories; 10g fat; 6g saturated fat; 10mg sodium; 29g carbs; 24g sugar; 2g protein

  • Nix: Peanut Butter M&Ms
    Serving Size: 1 bag (1.63 ounces)
    240 calories; 14g fat; 9g saturated fat; 100mg sodium; 26g carbs; 22g sugar; 5g protein

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Pay Attention to the Fine Print

It might be common sense, but don't forget to look at the label! "Candy is candy -- the ingredient list is never going to win nutrition prizes, but when purchasing chocolate, look for chocolate to be the first ingredient and sugar to come later," says Boyle. Dark, non-alkalized (it still contains health-benefiting polyphenols) chocolate is best, adds Spano. "You should also try to avoid partially hydrogenated oils," she says. And as with all foods, the more ingredients you can pronounce the better.

  • Nibble: Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate, 60% Cacao Squares
    Serving Size: 1 square
    55 calories; 4g fat; 2.5g saturated fat; 0mg sodium; 6g carbs; 4g sugar; 0.5g protein

  • Nix: Mounds Snack Size Bar
    Serving Size: 1 bar
    80 calories; 4.5g fat; 3.5g saturated fat; 20mg sodium; 10g carbs; 7g sugar; 1g protein

Originally published on, October 2011.

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