The healthiest candy bars, ranked by nutritionists

Sure, fancy chocolate is great and dark chocolate contains beneficial minerals and antioxidants, but there’s something so wonderfully nostalgic about a drugstore candy bar.

There’s nothing wrong with occasionally enjoying a treat just because it’s sweet. Even registered dietitians agree. Meredith Price, founder of Priceless Nutrition & Wellness, told HuffPost, “I am a self-proclaimed chocoholic and absolutely believe there is room in a healthy diet for chocolate and other sweets. I’d prefer to choose healthier options like dark chocolate. However, if someone enjoys a Snickers bar every now and then, that is 100 percent OK.”

Price added that the important thing is to focus on incorporating beneficial foods into your diet (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, etc.) rather than getting caught up in which foods to limit.

But back to chocolate: Do the peanuts in a Snickers bar somewhat make up for the 25 grams of added sugar (a whopping 50 percent of your recommended daily value)? Do the almonds and coconut in an Almond Joy offer significant nutritional value? Is there a “healthier” candy bar that stands above the rest of America’s favorites?

We asked three nutritionists to rank the nation’s most popular candy bars (according to retail sales data from IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm) from healthiest to least healthy. They each came up with their own drastically different guidelines.

These were the 10 top-selling candy bars in the U.S. last year (in the category of chocolate candy box/bag/bar less than 3.5 ounces):

  1. Snickers
  2. Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar
  3. Kit Kat
  4. Twix
  5. 3 Musketeers
  6. Hershey’s Cookies ‘n’ Creme
  7. Reese’s Sticks
  8. Almond Joy
  9. Milky Way
  10. Hershey’s Gold

Meredith Price’s Ranking 

Price ranked the candy bars based on saturated fat and sugar content, and those with trans fats automatically went to the bottom of her list.

She noted that calories weren’t a consideration as the bars all fell within the same range (210 to 250 calories). But trans fats, or partially hydrogenated oils, were a red flag. Trans fats “should be completely avoided in the diet due to their ability to increase risk of heart disease,” she said.

RELATED: Nutritious swaps to try

20 PHOTOS
Nutritious swaps to try in the kitchen
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Nutritious swaps to try in the kitchen
1) Swap squash or zucchini for noodles

"Do you ever make smart swaps? You know, instead of whole milk you use almond milk or in baking, you sometimes substitute granulated sugar for applesauce? Well, lately I've been on the smart swap kick myself. Lately, I've been making a lot of noodles made from zucchini, or squash!" - Dana, This Silly Girl's Kitchen

"I am sharing a recipe for one of my favorite zucchini noodle dishes, Zucchini Noodle Primavera! I thought since Primavera was already a dish loaded with veggies, why not just take it to the next level! And you know what, it's even better than the original if I do say so myself! I was inspired to start trying out some smart swaps after I saw these SmartMade meals in the freezer section at various grocery stores." - Dana, This Silly Girl's Kitchen

2) Prepare cauliflower rice
"I do best with smart eating when I take small steps like no pasta during the week...I make pasta and rice for the kiddos but I always have zucchini noodles or cauliflower rice in the fridge for myself.That step alone makes a huge difference for me and it’s not hard to do." - Karen, Seasonal Cravings
"I don't always have time to make meals like this during the week since I am often playing chauffeur to my kids.  On those nights, I look to SmartMade to make eating smart easy. SmartMade is a new line of frozen meals that uses smart swaps like this one to create delicious, balanced dinners that can be ready in minutes. I love having meals like this in the freezer that I can cook quickly on busy weeknights. These are meals made like I cook." - Karen, Seasonal Cravings
3) Make a weekly dinner menu with healthy swaps

"There are two ways I know of to combat the surprise need to order take-out mid-week: 1) make a weekly dinner menu and stick with it, or 2) have a few fast, easy, and nutritious meals up your sleeve for those crazy-busy nights that inevitably come up. And it’s a total bonus if those meals simulate your favorite take-out!" - Faith, An Edible Mosaic

"I made a few smart swaps that help make this meal as nutritious as it is delicious. Here I used quinoa instead of rice because even though they have about the same calories per serving, quinoa has more protein and fiber, as well as more vitamins and minerals like B vitamins and iron than rice. I think quinoa tastes just as good as rice, so that was an easy swap for me to make." - Faith, An Edible Mosaic
4) Substitute quinoa in fried rice
"Part of being dietitians means we are always looking for creative swaps for our favorite foods that may not be quite as nutritious.  So when our friends at SmartMade contacted us about creating our own healthy recipe using a "smart swap," we jumped at the chance to turn a traditional fried (white) rice into a yummy vegetable quinoa delight." - Wendy, Food Heaven Made Easy
"You'll be happy to know that this vegetable quinoa fried rice is even more flavorful than its traditional counterpart. Top that off with the fact that this dish actually nutritious -- really nutritious -- and you would be missing out big time if you do not to give this goodie a chance." - Wendy, Food Heaven Made Easy
5) Reach for the spaghetti squash
"Chicken parm is usually served on/with pasta but I've swapped that for some yummy, healthy spaghetti squash. How cool is this vegetable?! So crazy that its fibers are in long strands like spaghetti!...If you're trying to eat a low-carb diet or consume less calories then make this swap in your next spaghetti recipe." - Melanie, Garnish & Glaze
"Maybe your life is super busy and hectic and you need a healthy meal fast. SmartMade is a new line of frozen meals that would be a great choice. It's your favorite dishes but made with better ingredients to offer a balanced and delicious meal. They are meals that are inspired by the same healthy cooking techniques you already use like grilling chicken and roasting vegetables." - Melanie, Garnish & Glaze
6) Create custom bowls with healthy ingredients
"This magical bulgogi is far from authentic, but I love how the ground chicken absorbs the flavor of the soy-based sauce, which is equal parts sweet, savory and tangy. Combined with the coconut cauliflower rice, crunchy fresh veggies, and a dollop of gochujang or sambal oelek for heat, these bowls are a satisfying, nutrient-packed feast that you’ll want to keep in regular rotation." - Serena, Domesticate Me
"I know this bowl seems to have a lot going on, but it’s actually pretty easy to pull off. I’m talking 30 minutes from start to finish if you’re committed. As always, feel free to customize your bowls based on what you have on hand. Ground chicken could just as easily be 93% lean ground turkey, pork, lean beef, or firm tofu. Sub shredded or grated coconut for flaked. Throw in whatever fresh veggies happen to be hanging out in your fridge." - Serena, Domesticate Me
7) Go Greek
"I love the way SmartMade meals swap things out for more nutritious alternatives. So I SWAPPED out the heavy cream for a cup and a half of Greek yogurt in this recipe! While the swap made a change to the overall texture of the dish, I am happy to report it maintained its full flavor." - Jennifer, Tatertots & Jello
"Recently we found SmartMade meals at the store. They're fun frozen meals that feature smart ingredients. For instance, white pasta is swapped out for whole wheat and white bean puree is used instead of heavy cream." - Jennifer, Tatertots & Jello
8) Turn to cashew milk for heaps of flavor
"When we were asked by SmartMade to come up with a Smart Swap (i.e. an idea to replace a common ingredient with a more nutritious one,), we decided to create this Quick Cashew Chickpea Curry recipe, which is DELICIOUS, but also completely vegan. This recipe has no butter or ghee, and uses cashew milk rather than the normal heavy cream or yogurt for its distinctive flavor and creamy texture." - Sarah, The Woks of Life
"This Quick Cashew Chickpea Curry is everything. It’s spicy, filling, and has a hint of coconut. Thick, ever so slightly sweet cashew milk gives the dish that distinctive creaminess that you’re looking for in a great curry, without the dairy. Oh, and the leftovers are awesome, making for great weeknight dinners or daytime lunches." - Sarah, The Woks of Life
9) Forget about meat when you have mushrooms

"You can make this mushroom Bolognese recipe for a casual weeknight meal, or for when you’re watching your wallet or your waistline, without having to compromise any flavor." - Phoebe, Feed Me Phoebe

"This mirepoix technique is great for meat sauces. But it’s even more essential for a flavorful vegetarian Bolognese, which cooks up in a fifth of the time... You can easily use this smart swap for topping gluten-free pasta. But I love it ladled over a creamy bowl of polenta, which is made rich and buttery by using only full fat coconut milk." - Phoebe, Feed Me Phoebe 

10) Mash cauliflower as a hearty potato replacement
"One of my favorite things to do lately has been to swap cauliflower mash for mashed potatoes whenever possible. Don't get me wrong, I love potatoes but cauliflower has significantly less calories than potatoes. So naturally, a cauliflower mash will definitely give you more bang for your buck if you’re looking to cut down on your calorie intake."
- Amanda, The Skinny Fork
"I love that this recipe (like a lot of my others) is made with real ingredients that anyone can pronounce. That's always how I like to eat! Clean and lean. If you're like me and you enjoy smart swap style meals, then you'll love SmartMade too!" - Amanda, The Skinny Fork
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“To choose the healthiest candy bar, you want one with the least amount of sugar and saturated fat and absolutely no trans fats,” Price said. “If you were to choose any candy bar [including those not on this list], the best option is to go for a dark chocolate version as they tend to have less sugar and even some beneficial properties like antioxidants and trace minerals.”

Price’s ranking (with links to the nutrition facts for each bar):

  1. Snickers
  2. Twix
  3. Kit Kat
  4. Hershey’s Gold
  5. Hershey’s Cookies ‘n’ Creme
  6. Almond Joy
  7. Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar
  8. Reese’s Sticks
  9. Milky Way
  10. 3 Musketeers

Snickers, the “healthiest” option, has the lowest amount of saturated fat (23 percent) in the group, according to Price. “It is a bit higher in sugar than most of the others,” she added. “Therefore, if you’re enjoying a Snickers bar, try to have this be your one sweet treat of the day.”

RELATED: Best selling candy on Amazon

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Best-selling candy on Amazon
10. JOLLY RANCHER Hard Candy (Assortment, 5-Pound Bag)
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9. Hershey's All-Time Greats Snack-Size Assortment (105-Count Bag)
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8. MARS Chocolate Singles Size Candy Bars Variety Pack 33.31-Ounce 18-Count Box
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7. HERSHEY'S Halloween Snack Size Assortment (56-Ounce Bag, 140 Pieces)
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6. Hershey's Chocolate Full Size Variety Pack (30-Bar Box)
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5. MARS Chocolate Fall Harvest Minis Size Candy Bars Variety Mix 45.8-Ounce Bag
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3. Haribo Gummi Candy Gold-Bears, 5-Pound Bag
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2. Hershey's Nuggets Chocolates Assortment, 38.5 oz
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1. Nestle Halloween Candy Chocolate Assorted Minis Bag, 40-Ounce
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Twix came in second for its moderate saturated fat (30 percent) and sugar (22 grams) content.

The bottom three bars on Price’s list all have trans fats, which outweighed the fact that Reese’s Sticks have the lowest sugar content (18 grams) of the bunch. The worst of the lot, 3 Musketeers, has both trans fats and the highest amount of sugar (36 grams). “That’s a whopping 9 teaspoons of sugar in one candy bar, which is higher than the American Heart Association’s upper recommendation of daily sugar intake,” Price said.

Natalie Rizzo’s Ranking

Rizzo, a registered dietitian and author of The No-Brainer Nutrition Guide for Every Runner, looked for recognizable ingredients.

While she didn’t consider any of the candy bars to be healthy, she said she favored those with “some sort of healthy ingredients, like nuts or chocolate, as the first ingredients on the list.” Among bars with similar ingredients, the one with less sugar won out, and candy bars containing unrecognizable ingredients went to the bottom of the list.

On the group as a whole, Rizzo said, “They are all an indulgence to have once in a while. I suggest opting for the one that satisfies your sweet tooth, since they all have very similar nutrition facts.”

Rizzo’s ranking:

  1. Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar
  2. Reese’s Sticks
  3. Snickers
  4. Twix
  5. Milky Way
  6. 3 Musketeers
  7. Almond Joy
  8. Kit Kat
  9. Hershey’s Gold
  10. Hershey’s Cookies ‘n’ Creme

Her top pick, Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar, “has the most pure ingredients, made from just milk chocolate without many additives.” Reese’s Sticks, which were at the bottom of Price’s ranking because of trans fats, top Rizzo’s list because milk chocolate and peanuts lead their ingredients. Rizzo also pointed out that Reese’s Sticks have less sugar than the others and 4 grams of protein.

RELATED: Calorie counts of candies 

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Fun size candies and calorie counts
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Fun size candies and calorie counts

Fun sized M&M's: 73 calories

(Photo by Erik Bauwens, Getty Images)

Fun sized peanut M&M's: 90 calories

(Photo via Shuttertock)

Fun sized Skittles: 60 calories

(Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

Fun sized Brach's candy corn: 53 calories

(Photo by Julia Ewan/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Fun sized Swedish Fish: 50 calories

(Photo via Shutterstock)

Fun sized Butterfinger: 85 calories

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Fun sized Baby Ruth: 85 calories

(Photo by Cassandra Hubbart, AOL)

Fun sized Twix: 80 calories

(Photo via Getty Images)

Fun sized Almond Joy: 80 calories

(Photo by Julia Ewan/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Fun sized Milky Way: 80 calories

(Photo by Cassandra Hubbart, AOL)

Fun sized Kit Kat: 70 calories

(Photo via Shutterstock)

Fun sized 3 Musketeers: 63 calories

(Photo by Julia Ewan/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Fun sized Milk Duds: 53 calories

(Photo via Shutterstock)

Fun sized Peppermint Patty: 50 calories

(Photo via Shutterstock)

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The other Hershey’s bars didn’t fare as well in her ranking, with the Gold and Cookies ‘n’ Creme bars coming in at the bottom of the list. Rizzo described Hershey’s Gold as a “sugar-forward bar made with other additives like vegetable oil” and its “only redeeming quality” being the peanuts. Sugar is also the first ingredient in Hershey’s Cookies ‘n’ Creme, and Rizzo noted that she didn’t recognize most of the other ingredients.

Jonathan Valdez’s Ranking

Valdez, owner of Genki Nutrition and media spokesperson for the New York State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, took note of serving size, saturated fat, trans fat, sodium and calories.

“If there is more than 20 percent of your daily value of these nutrients per serving, that raises a flag in terms of health impacts,” Valdez said. “It is also important to look at the fiber, protein and mineral content.”

Valdez’s ranking:

  1. Reese’s Sticks
  2. Kit Kat
  3. Hershey’s Cookies ‘n’ Creme
  4. Hershey’s Gold
  5. Almond Joy
  6. Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar
  7. 3 Musketeers
  8. Milky Way
  9. Snickers
  10. Twix

He put Reese’s Sticks at the top of his list in part because, “compared to the other bars, this has the lowest amount of saturated fat,” Valdez said. Kit Kat, in second place, has “higher traces of vitamin D, iron, calcium and potassium” compared to Reese’s Sticks and a relatively lower fat content compared to the others.

Snickers just avoided the last slot because it has less saturated fat than Twix, which Valdez deemed “the worst candy of the choices.”

RELATED: Check out these dessert recipes 

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Dessert recipes to indulge in
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Funfetti chocolate birthday cake

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Triple chocolate molten lava cake

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Baked pumpkin donut holes

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No-bake cookie cake pops

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Ice cream ice cubes

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Margarita cupcakes

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Colorful chocolate covered strawberries

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Edible eggless chocolate chip cookie dough

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Beautiful French macarons

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Piñata cake

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S'mores dip

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Copycat Levain Bakery cookies

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Thin Mint cake

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Burger cupcakes

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Mini pink ombre cakes

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Caramel snickers tart

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Nutella fudge mug cake

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Candy sushi

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Mini matcha cheesecake

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Snickerdoodle apple pie bites

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DIY mocha latte

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Butter pecan cupcakes

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Deconstructed Apple Pie in a Cup

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Pumpkin pie cupcakes

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The lack of consensus among the three experts, who valiantly scraped to find redeeming nutritional qualities, indicates that there isn’t a truly healthy option here. But then you already knew that about candy bars.

“Everything in moderation,” Valdez said. “Ultimately, if it doesn’t exceed your caloric needs, it will not lead to weight gain. [But] eat too much of these treats, and they can replace other nutritional foods such as fruits, dairy and lean proteins.”

In short, if you choose to indulge, you could just pick the one you like best.

  • This article originally appeared on HuffPost.
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