Halloween is now less than a month away, which means costumes are being prepared and parents are having their kids spend a bit more time on their teeth brushing in preparation for the bags full of candy that will be consumed. It's no secret that Halloween candy—or any candy for that matter—is full of added sugars and unwanted ingredients, which can sometimes give parents anxiety leading up to the big night. While the solution is probably not to keep your children away from candy completely, it may be helpful to know the ingredients and nutritional information found in some of the most popular brands.
"The worst candies would be high in sugar and/or saturated fats, while also contributing no nutritional value," says Lisa Young, PhD, RDN, author of Finally Full, Finally Slim and member of our medical expert advisory board.
And Amy Goodson, MS, RD, CSSD, LD author of The Sports Nutrition Playbook and member of our Expert Medical Board, adds that "while some candies may not [list] 'sugar' [in the ingredients list], sugar has lots of names including inverted sugar, dextrose, and high fructose corn syrup."
This isn't to say that you can't enjoy any of your favorite Halloween candies this year, but dietitians consider the 12 options listed below to have some of the lowest-quality ingredients. Read on, for more Halloween tips, check out the 15 Best Halloween Items to Buy at Costco.
Sour Patch Kids
Although popular, Young recommends thinking twice before loading up on too many Sour Patch Kids.
"These candies are rich in sugar and lack essential nutrients, and their ingredients include sugar, corn syrup, corn starch, tartaric acid, citric acid, and artificial flavors," she says. "The high sugar content can contribute to weight gain, while corn syrup has been linked to diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure."
Twizzlers may be fun to pull apart and eat, but these candy ropes contain some pretty strange ingredients and a ton of sugar.
"They contain artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives that can have adverse effects on your health, and Twizzlers are also high in sugar, which can contribute to weight gain if you eat too much," says Young. And even though these candies are marketed as a "low-fat snack," Young argues that the "health hall surrounding them can lead you to overeat."
Young also lists M&M's as some of the Halloween candy with the lowest quality ingredients, and because of their small size, it can be easy to overindulge.
"M&M's are deceptively small, making it easy to consume more than intended, resulting in excess calorie intake," says Young. "They also contain significant amounts of sugar, which can increase the risk of chronic conditions such as heart disease and diabetes."
It's almost impossible to hold a bag of Reese's Pieces without finishing the whole thing, but Young says you may want to practice moderation this Halloween if this is going to be your candy of choice. "Reese's Pieces contain saturated fats and added sugar, and excess consumption of saturated fats can negatively impact cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease," she says. "Its small candy size may lead to mindless consumption, contributing to possible weight gain."
They are colorful and fun to snack on, but according to Trista Best, MPH, RD, LD at Balance One Supplements, jelly beans are considered to be one of the popular candies with the lowest quality ingredients.
"This is due to the fact that they typically contain a high amount of artificial flavors and colors, contributing to their vibrant appearance but lacking in natural, wholesome ingredients, and their primary ingredients include sugar, corn syrup, and gelatin, offering little to no nutritional value and being high in processed sugars," says Best. "Moreover, the potential presence of allergens like gelatin and food dyes can be problematic for individuals with dietary restrictions or allergies, making them a less inclusive option for Halloween treats."
Skittles, like most candies, are loaded with added sugar in the form of both sugar and corn syrup. According to Goodson, you may want to limit your consumption of these. "Consistent intake of added sugars in the diet can increase your risk of diabetes, weight gain, and even heart disease," she says.
She also adds, "The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that children two to 18 years old and women consume less than 25 grams of added sugar a day or six teaspoons. Adult men should consume less than 150 calories from added sugar and nine teaspoons. In most cases, a serving of colorful Halloween candy provides six teaspoons of sugar or more," says Goodson. In fact, in just one 2.17-ounce package of Skittles, you'll get 47 grams of sugar!
Starbursts use artificial coloring, as do most fruity, chewy candies. Although the research is very mixed about these dyes, Goodson says "some studies have shown artificial food colors linked to increased hyperactivity (ADHD) and behavioral issues in children."
Hot Tamales may appeal to cinnamon and spice lovers, but these candies are better off in the box.
"Like most candy, the key ingredients in these Hot Tamales are sugar and corn syrup," says Young. "Plus it contains Red 40 for the dye which the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group, says may contain carcinogens."
Swedish Fish are some of the most popular and nostalgic gummy-type candies, but you may want to choose another fish in the sea.
"Swedish Fish are pure sugar and a dentist's absolute nightmare since they stick to your teeth. Swedish Fish also contain carnauba wax, which is considered safe but is also used to polish cars," says Young.
"I'd skip this chocolate because it's made with corn syrup, sugar, milk fat, and hydrogenated palm kernel oil," says Young. "And, the caramel can also stick to your teeth."
"This is the go-to for most Halloween candy enthusiasts, but they are essentially made of just sugar and honey," says Trista Best, MPH, RD, LD, a registered dietitian at Balance One Supplements. "Honey may be a natural sweetener, but it just adds to the sugar and carbs in this popular treat. Many varieties also opt for other syrup-like ingredients rather than honey to give them their chewy texture and sweet flavor."
Tootsie Roll Pops
"Not only can these candies be dangerous depending on the age of the child they are being given to, but they are also one of the lower quality Halloween candies," says Best. "They contain sugar, corn syrup, and partially hydrogenated oils to give them their flavor and textures. These ingredients are highly inflammatory and can lead to a rapid sugar rise and crash."
A version of this story was originally published in October 2022. It has been updated to include additional entries.