Which candies are best nutritionally?

I occasionally let my kids have a sweet treat, such as a jelly beans or chocolate bars. Which candies are the best nutritionally?

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Sue Gilbert

Sue Gilbert works as a consulting nutritionist. For many years she worked with Earth's Best Organic Baby Food, integrating nutrition and... Read more

I think it is great that you permit treats. Any well-balanced diet has room for sweets now and again. And because they are given infrequently, the nutritional content is of little consequence. By permitting candy on occasion, you keep it from becoming a "forbidden fruit," which gives it more appeal then it deserves!

I suggest that you base your choice on the preferences of your kids, but also on the effects it may have on their dental health. Despite the image of being healthy, some foods are merely candy in disguise, and can, in fact, be worse for kids' teeth than more traditional candy. Granola bars are a good example: they are full of sugar. Because of their grain content, they do not get cleared from the mouth as quickly as a more sugar based candy, such as jelly beans. This is probably because this candy contains soluble sugars that are more quickly washed away by saliva than foods such as crackers or bread (J. of Dent. Res. 70/10).

The ranking of foods from worst to best for retained food particles after five minutes are:

  • Granola bars
  • Peanut butter crackers
  • Dried figs
  • Chocolate caramel bars
  • Jelly beans
  • Raisins
  • Caramels
  • Milk chocolate bars

The longer a food stays in the mouth, the longer the acid producing bacteria are exposed to the teeth. The goal is to minimize this time. More frequent eating has the same effect. Often, kids who snack on a continual basis never allow the acid to be cleared from their mouth, resulting in more tooth decay than less frequent eaters. So surprise your kids: Not only allow them to indulge in a chocolate bar every so often, but encourage them to finish the whole thing at once!

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