The most popular Christmas candy, ranked by a nutritionist

How does your favorite holiday candy stack up?
Chocolate Santas
Chocolate Santas contain a little bit of fat, which lessens the body's insulin response compared to eating the same calories as pure simple sugar.beyond foto / Getty Images/beyond fotomedia RF
Get the Better newsletter.
SUBSCRIBE
By Nicole Spector

U.S Consumers are set to spend between as much as $720.89 billion this holiday season, according to the NRF, and while candy may not make up the biggest piece of the spending pie, it will certainly factor in.

Candystore.com notes that shoppers will spend $2 billion on candy this holiday. The site also did an in-depth review of sweet tooth preferences by state, ranking the most beloved Christmas candies from Alaska to Wyoming.

The sugary favorites vary in popularity from place to place, but you’ll notice some taking top place, namely reindeer corn (aka candy corn with a Christmas makeover), candy canes, Reese’s Cup Minis, M&Ms, peppermint bark, chocolate Santas and Starburst.

We consulted registered dietitian nutritionist Suzanne Dixon to learn how these candies compare to one another in terms of nutritional value (or lack thereof). Find your favorite on our list. You may be pleasantly surprised to find that according to a nutritionist, it’s “not so naughty.”

HOLIDAY FAVORITES RANKED FROM BETTER TO WORST (IN THAT ORDER)

Hershey's Kisses

When it comes to choosing a sweet treat, fat is your friend. And Dixon gives this holiday favorite a thumbs up, mainly, she notes, because they aren't pure sugar.

“They contain a little bit of fat, which means the body's insulin response after eating them isn't as strong as it would be if you ate the same calories as pure simple sugar,” Dixon says. “Fat slows the absorption of glucose from the GI tract and blunts the insulin response to some degree. They also have a few grams of protein, which again, will help blunt the insulin response, especially if they are eaten on an empty stomach.”

A serving of Hershey's kisses is seven pieces, which contains 160 calories, 16 grams added sugars, 9 grams of fat and 2 grams protein. “If you stick to one serving, you won’t exceed the AHA recommended sugar guidelines (by which men should consume no more than 150 calories per day/37.5 grams or 9 teaspoons — and women should consume no more than 100 calories per day/25 grams or 6 teaspoons)," says Dixon.

That said, even if you stick to the guidelines, you’re getting an awful of lot of saturated fat with these candies. “The 6 grams saturated fat is nearly one-third of the recommended daily intake for this type of fat,” says Dixon. “On a good note, some of this saturated fat comes from the chocolate itself, which [some research shows] isn't as bad for your heart as saturated fat that comes from animal foods such as steak and high-fat dairy.”

So may want to stick with 2-3 pieces when that sweet tooth comes calling. The good news is the act of individually unwrapping each Kiss will force you to slow down, eat more mindfully and help prevent overeating.

Chocolate Santas

Chocolate Santas are basically big Hershey’s Kisses, which means they also top the list. Dixon notes that milk chocolate Santas (there are dark chocolate and white chocolate varieties, but these are by far the most common kind) are nearly identical to Hershey's Kisses in terms of nutritional value per volume/weight of candy. But brownie points if you choose the dark chocolate variety!

“The downside of these is [the potential to] eat the entire Santa in one sitting,” says Dixon. “If you split Santa among at least one or two friends, you'll do fine with this option — unless, of course, it's a super-sized chocolate Santa.”

Reese's Cup Minis

Get the better newsletter.

The other top scorer in Dixon’s book are Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Minis because, like Hershey’s Kisses, they don’t contain solely sugar.

“A serving of Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Minis is 3 pieces, which is 130 calories, 13 grams of added sugars, 7 grams of fat and 3 grams of protein (thank you peanut butter),” says Dixon. “If you stick to one serving, you won't exceed added sugar guidelines.”

But, Dixon caveats that the delicious flavor profile can make it hard to stop at just one serving. “One downside of this candy, in my mind, is the ‘addictiveness’ of the chocolate-peanut butter combo. I have noticed, both personally and in people to whom I've provided nutrition counseling, that when you add a little bit of savory or salty flavor to chocolate, people eat a lot more of it,” she says. “If you can stick to a serving, or even two servings, you will just barely exceed added sugar intake guidelines. But if you sit by the candy bowl and eat ten of these (easy to do for many people), you're really consuming quite a bit of added sugar, total calories and saturated fat in the form of Reese's, which isn't good for anyone's health.”

Instead of keeping an entire bowl or bag around, take out one serving and then put the candy somewhere out of sight to avoid overdoing it.

M&Ms and peppermint bark

M&Ms and peppermint bark stack up similarly: not the best choice in the candy jar, but certainly not the worst.

“Both M&Ms and peppermint bark contain more sugar and less fat and protein compared with plain milk chocolate (Hershey’s Kisses and milk chocolate Santas), [as well as those with peanut butter such as] Reese's Peanut Butter Cups,” says Dixon. “However, they don't provide the intense sugar load of reindeer corn, which people tend to overeat.”

Starburst

Dixon says that Starburst also fall somewhere in the middle. They lack the protein and fat that some other holiday candies contain, which means you are essentially eating pure sugar.

What they do have going for them? Individual wrappers and a chewy texture. “While they are pure sugar, they tend to take longer to eat and people don't usually eat multiple servings in a sitting,” says Dixon, who surely has never seen me encounter a tub of Starburst (I will eat them all). “Starburst candies are quite chewy and unless you're really focused on chewing them, you're not as likely to go through them as quite quickly as reindeer corn.”

Candy canes

At just 45 calories per cane (and the fact that it takes you a substantial amount of time to eat, so you’re less likely to overindulge), this isn’t the worst choice. But again, candy canes are pure sugar.

An even better choice would be to opt for a mini candy cane, which will still give you a dose of minty sweetness but for just 17.5 calories and 3.5 grams of sugar.

Reindeer corn

Just like candy corn, reindeer corn (the Yuletide version of Halloween's staple), is a polarizing sweet. I, for one, find it disgusting and I’m surprised they’re not only edible, but enjoyed by many. If you’re like me and think these are absolutely foul, then you’re better off. “I put these toward the ‘terrible’ end of the scale for two main reasons,” says Dixon. “One, they are pure sugar. Two, they are very easy to overeat.”

But candy corn fans will be happy to hear that, as with the rest on this list, if you stick to a single serving size you’re not going to be doing too much damage.

“They are pure sugar, but a serving size is modest,” notes Dixon. A 30-piece serving clocks in at only 130 calories, but also delivers 28 grams of sugar.

If you overdo it on the candy, don’t beat yourself up — just reset

We get it, the candy bowl at the office can be tempting (especially when those afternoon munchies creep up). If you go a bit crazy with the candy, it’s okay.

“We've all had those days when we feel as if 50 percent of our calories came out of the candy bowl. If this happens, don't sweat it,” Dixon says. “This happens, and there's no good reason to beat yourself up for ‘failing’ when faced with tempting candy treats. In fact, research shows, the harder you are on yourself in terms of your body loathing, the less likely you are to stick to your healthy living plan.”

Instead, focus your energy on making healthy choices moving forward, being sure to drink plenty of water and avoiding added sugars.

“Try a reset for the following few days after candy overload,” says Dixon. “Avoid added sugars completely, skip the candy bowl, and give your liver, pancreas, brain and body a break from the candy.”

WHAT A NUTRITIONIST WANTS YOU TO KNOW

Want more tips like these? NBC News BETTER is obsessed with finding easier, healthier and smarter ways to live. Sign up for our newsletter and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.