The best and worst Halloween candies — ranked by dietitians

Nutritionists share their best and worst list from TODAY's sugary showdown, the Bracketween challenge.
Halloween is a special occasion and it's more than OK to treat yourself to your favorite treat.
Halloween is a special occasion and it's more than OK to treat yourself to your favorite treat. TODAY Illustration / Getty Images / Amazon
/ Source: TODAY

Over the past week, some of the top Halloween candies have been duking it out in TODAY's Bracketween challenge. This sugary showdown has produced a lot of debate among the TODAY co-hosts and readers alike, and after starting with 16 popular candies, Snickers was crowned the winner today!

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As Halloween creeps even closer, we're all ready to enjoy some sweet treats, and TODAY Food was curious to know: How do the candies on our Bracketween list compare in terms of nutritional value? We tapped the nutritional experts to find out.

We presented our original "Sweet Sixteen" to two nutrition experts, Mia Syn, registered dietitian nutritionist, and Brigid Titgemeier, a functional nutrition registered dietitian, and asked them to share their top three picks for the best and the worst candies to eat this Halloween:

  1. York Peppermint Patties
  2. 3 Musketeers
  3. Mounds
  4. Almond Joy
  5. Twix
  6. Reese's
  7. M&M's
  8. Skittles
  9. Milky Way
  10. Snickers
  11. Twizzlers
  12. Starburst
  13. 100 Grand
  14. Baby Ruth
  15. PayDay
  16. Butterfinger

The healthiest Halloween candy options

Looking for a sweet treat that won't totally derail your healthy eating habits? Titgemeier and Syn say these candies have a few redeeming qualities.

Syn's top 3 picks:

  1. PayDay: Salted peanuts, sweet caramel and chocolate in one candy? It's easy to see why PayDay bars are so popular. And they might just leave you feeling a bit more full than other sweet treats. "Although they contain a similar amount of sugar to other candies, they are one of the highest in protein with 7 grams per bar and even contain 2 grams of filling fiber meaning you may be satisfied after eating just one serving instead of going back for seconds," Syn said.
  2. Twizzlers: Whether you pull and peel them apart or bite into the whole piece, Twizzlers are a fruity candy that many of us would be thrilled to find in our trick-or-treat bag. "With zero grams of saturated fat, this candy can be a smarter choice although like all candies, still contains a significant amount of sugar," the dietitian said.
  3. York Peppermint Patties: You either love peppermint in your candy or hate it, and for those who enjoy a York Peppermint Pattie or two, the brand's iconic product has one encouraging nutritional trait. "Although they contain a similar amount of sugar to other candies, they are one of the lowest in saturated fat," Syn said.

Titgemeier's top 3 picks:

  1. York Peppermint Patties: Similar to Syn, Titgemeier cited this minty dessert when asked which candies she'd suggest indulging in if you're trying to make healthier choices. "Most of the ingredients in the York Peppermint Patties are made with real ingredients, except for natural flavors and polyglycerol polyricinoleate (PGPR). The Center for the Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) states that this is a chemical used by the food industry to stabilize low-fat margarines. CSPI includes this ingredient on their list of chemicals to not be concerned about," she said.
  2. 100 Grand: Can't get enough of this caramel, chocolate and crisped rice treat? It's one of the better options on our tantalizing Bracketween list, according to Titgemeier. "These bars still of course contain sugar and corn syrup but they do not have any questionable artificial ingredients," she said.
  3. PayDay: Similar to Syn, Titgemeier generally recommends PayDay candy bars but notes that they do contain one ingredient that could cause digestive issues. "It contains carrageenan, which is a commonly used stabilizer found in candy, dairy and non-dairy products, and infant formulas," she said. "Some animal studies have highlighted concerns with carrageenan's ability to alter the gut microbiome and create gastrointestinal problems."

The least Halloween healthy candy options

Hoping to make a healthier choice this Halloween? Syn and Titgemeier break down the three candies to avoid overindulging in this season.

Syn's bottom 3 picks:

  1. 3 Musketeers: It's hard to resist the fluffy, whipped nougat in this chocolate bar, but according to Syn, it's best when eaten in moderation. "Not only is it one of the highest in saturated fats which we want to limit for heart health, they are also among the highest in sugar with 36 grams per bar," she said.
  2. Mounds: Crazy for coconuts? Mounds bars are filled with shredded, sweetened coconut and dark chocolate, but they're one of the least healthy options on our list. "Mounds have the highest amount of saturated fat with 10 grams per package. The dietary guidelines recommend keeping saturated fat intake to no more than 10% of total daily calories per day, which is about 22 grams on a 2000-calorie diet," Syn said.
  3. Skittles: Love to taste the rainbow? Skittles is always a fave among candy lovers who prefer something more fruity, but the hard sugar shells don't have any real nutritional value. "Even though they are lower in fat per serving than most chocolate-containing options, they are among the highest in sugar with 30 grams per package," she said. "The dietary guidelines recommends keeping added sugar intake to no more than 10% of total daily calories or 50 grams per day on a 2000 calorie diet."

Titgemeier's bottom 3 picks:

  1. M&M's: Whether you're a fan of classic M&M's, love the peanut butter version or prefer one of their newer flavors, these button-shaped chocolates have been a candy aisle staple for ages. Just keep an eye on the ingredients used to create those colorful candy shells — they're loaded with artificial coloring, the dietitian said.
  2. Skittles: Much like Syn, Titgemeier recommends keeping an eye on the added sugar in these rainbow-colored treats. She said in addition to artificial coloring and flavors, Skittles also contain also contain hydrogenated palm kernel oil.
  3. Starburst: Can't stop noshing on this fruit-flavored soft taffy? It sure is addictive! But the multicolored chewy candies are pretty loaded with sugar, so try not to go overboard if you're hoping to avoid a sugar rush. "The first three ingredients in this product are sugar, corn syrup, and hydrogenated palm kernel oil. That means a combination of sugar and less nutritious fats. They also contain artificial flavors and colors including red 40, yellow 5, yellow 6, and blue 1," the dietitian said.

Remember, it's OK to enjoy Halloween candy — just do it mindfully

We all know we shouldn't be binging on candy every night, but Halloween is a pretty special occasion and it's more than OK to treat yourself to your favorite treat, as long as you do so in moderation.

"If you eat one piece of candy, most people will not experience a large spike in blood sugar levels and the artificial ingredients will likely not be harmful. But it's rare for people to eat just one given the addictive nature of these foods," Titgemeier explained.

Syn says it's all about going slow and savoring the sweetness of the season.

"Just because candy is nutrient-poor and high in sugar, doesn't mean it has to be completely off limits during this candy-crazed holiday. Research suggests that having foods labeled as forbidden or off-limits can be damaging to kids long-term eating habits," Syn said. "The best tip is to mindfully enjoy candy this Halloween, slowly and without distraction and savor it knowing there will be more to enjoy another time."