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Candies that won't blow your diet

Nutritionist Joy Bauer shares chocolates, hard candies and chewy treats that satisfy a hankering for something sugary without delivering the same blow to your waistline as a king-sized candy bar.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

Of course I’d never classify candy as health food (ahem!), but I also know the power of a sweet tooth. To help chocolate and sugar lovers everywhere, I teamed up with candy expert Dylan Lauren, CEO of Dylan’s Candy Bar, to put together a list of diet-friendly sweets. These treats satisfy a hankering for somethin’ sugary without delivering the same blow to your waistline as a king-sized candy bar.

Chocolate, our favorite guilty pleasure, is no longer as guilty! Research shows that even small amounts of dark chocolate rich in cocoa flavonoids can help lower blood pressure, improve blood flow, and even lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. The trick is to choose varieties made with at least 70 percent cocoa or cacao and moderate your portions to about 150 calories or one ounce per day. Unfortunately, milk chocolate doesn’t offer the same health benefits, so I highly encourage you to make the switch to dark if you haven’t already.

Lindt Excellence 70 percent Cocoa Bar: Though Lindt also offers their “70 percent Cocoa” bar in a 3.5-ounce size, I prefer the small 1.2-ounce package. That way, you can guiltlessly enjoy the whole 170-calorie bar in one sitting... and don’t need to rely on your willpower to break off only a few squares of the larger bar.

Scharffen Berger 70 percent Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Bars: Like Lindt, Scharffen Berger offers a personal-sized (1 ounce) bar so you can get your chocolate fix without overindulging.  If you’re looking for an even smaller bite, try their 70 percent dark chocolate “Tasting Squares”, which are slightly larger than a postage stamp and have less than 25 calories per piece.

Newman’s Own Organics Super Dark 70 percent Cocoa Chocolate Bar: Another delicious pure dark chocolate bar! Look for the 2.25-ounce size and enjoy half the bar (3 squares) for a modest 165 calories.

Trader Joe’s “70 percent Belgian Cacao” Dark Chocolate Wedges: This 3.5-ounce wheel of chocolate is cut into 16 small wedges, perfectly portioned at just 35 calories per piece.  The chocolates are packaged in a cute round metal tin, so you can pop out a wedge and conveniently store the rest for later.

If you’re not in the mood for plain dark chocolate, here are some fun twists on the standard bar.

Q.bel: Q.bel’s Double Dark Wafer Bars (made with 70 percent dark Belgian chocolate) are a delicious cross between a cookie and a candy bar and a package of two bars has 180 calories.  Their wafer rolls are another fun treat for chocoholics of all ages. For just 120 calories, you get two crispy wafer cookies completely enrobed in 52 percent dark chocolate. These wafer rolls don’t quite meet my “70 percent cocoa” standard, but they’re a delightful splurge every once and awhile.

Jean-luc Mege Photographe

Sweetriot: Sweetriot chocolate-covered cacao nibs have quickly become a favorite of celebs… along with the rest of us! Their nibs — or “peaces”, as Sweetriot calls them — deliver dark, rich cocoa flavor and a double dose of antioxidants: one from the cacao nib (a tiny piece of roasted cacao bean at the center of each “peace”) and another from the dark chocolate that coats the outside. Sweetriot’s nibs come in three flavors: 50 percent, 65 percent, and 70 percent chocolate — and set you back only 140 calories for an entire tin.  If you’re not ready for the intense flavor of straight nibs, try their 70 percent dark chocolate yumBar for 180 calories.  This vegan chocolate bar is speckled with plump raisins and crunchy cacao nibs and loaded with antioxidants.

Endangered Species Chocolates: Endangered Species makes a wide variety of 100% ethically traded, exotic-flavored chocolate bars, but I particularly love their bite-sized selections because they do the portion controlling for you.  Their “Dark Chocolate with Cranberries & Almonds” individually-wrapped chocolate squares have 50 calories and are made with delicious 72 percent dark chocolate.  Kids will love their 70 percent dark chocolate “Bug Bites” (also 50 calories), which come packaged with fun insect trading cards.

Nestle Dark Chocolate Raisinets and Cherry Raisinets: Though the package doesn’t state the percent cocoa and I’m guessing they don’t meet my 70 percent cutoff, these two new Raisinet varieties are a darker, healthier spin on the milk chocolate originals. Plus, their fruity raisin and cherry centers give you a little dose of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which certainly can’t hurt.  You can enjoy 1/4 cup of Raisinets for 200 calories or less.

Dark Chocolate Covered Nuts: Though the standard dark chocolate nuts you’ll find at stores probably aren’t coated with 70 percent dark chocolate, they still have their own nutritional perks to offer. Whether you choose almonds, cashews, peanuts, or pecans, you’re getting a blast of protein, fiber, and healthy fats from the nuts, along with that delicious hit of chocolately goodness.  Because a single portion (10 to 15 pieces) is typically over 200 calories, you’ll definitely want to limit yourself to a small handful and savor them slowly.

York Peppermint Patties: Who doesn’t love the classic combo of chocolate and mint?  Even though the coating probably isn’t 70 percent dark chocolate, York Peppermint Patties are still a safe way to satisfy a sweet tooth without going whole hog.  For 150 calories or less, you can enjoy one regular-size pattie or three of the miniatures.

Dylan’s Candy Bar Chocolate Covered Sunflower Seeds: These rainbow-colored candies are coated with milk chocolate, not dark, but they still have an edge on most candies because you get a shot of nutrition from the sunflower kernels buried underneath.  Sunflower seeds add some protein, fiber, and minerals like magnesium to this treat — not bad, considering it’s candy! A 2-tablespoon portion clocks in at 130 calories.

Hard candies
Hard candies are a smart choice because they automatically pace you. They take a while to finish (as long as you suck or lick, not chomp!), so you get to savor the sweetness for a bit and stretch your sugar calories. As long as you limit yourself to a few pieces, you can’t do that much damage.  Here are a few of my favorites in the hard candy category:

See’s Gourmet Lollypops: From the legendary California-based candy company See’s Candies, these pops are 80 to 90 calories apiece and come in four sophisticated, desserty flavors: vanilla, chocolate, butterscotch, and café latte.  I love them all — but I’m biased to vanilla!

Atomic FireBalls: Unlike some addictive sugary candies that you can swallow by the handful, Atomic Fireballs are a great “one and done” candy option.  They’re hard as a rock, so you can’t bite through them (don’t try, you’ll break a tooth!) … and after you finish one flaming sucker, you’ll be ready to give your mouth a rest.  One large, individual wrapped fireball has only 35 calories.

Lifesavers and Jolly Ranchers: If you gravitate towards fruity flavors, suck on a Lifesaver (15 calories) or a hard Jolly Rancher (23 calories). My advice is to stash just a few in your purse or desk drawer rather than a full bag, so you don’t get carried away. Both candies are readily available in a wide variety of fun flavors.

Chewy candies
Most chewy candies are pure sugar, so there isn’t really a nutritional advantage to choosing one variety over the next.  But if you’re looking for a diet-friendly treat that won’t throw you off track, I suggest choosing portion-controlled candy packs or candies that come in bite-sized pieces, so you can have a fair number of nibbles without flooding your system with sugar and calories.

Jelly Belly Jellybeans: Jelly Belly jellybeans come in dozens of fun flavors and they’re tiny, so each little bean has just 4 calories (25 beans for 100 calories).  I love their new “Cocktail Classics” collection, which features three brand new flavors — mojito, pomegranate cosmo, and peach bellini — along with three old favorites — margarita, pina colada, and strawberry daiquiri. How else can you enjoy a pomegranate cosmo for less than 5 calories?!

Smarties: These retro candies have just 25 calories for an entire roll — now that’s a calorie bargain!

Panda Licorice Bars: Panda licorice has a simple, clean ingredients list, a soft, chewy texture, and, unlike a lot of licorice-flavoredproducts, actually contains real licorice extract. Panda makes pre-portioned 100-calorie bars in three flavors: original black licorice, raspberry, and cherry. Some studies show that natural licorice can help relieve pain from stomach ulcers and relieve indigestion, but it can also raise blood pressure, so you’ll want to avoid eating large amounts of this candy if you have hypertension.

Crystallized Ginger: Crystallized or candied ginger is made by cooking slices of fresh ginger root in sugar syrup and then drying the slices to create a chewy texture. These candies have a pungent bite, which may encourage you to nibble slowly and keep you from going overboard.  Added bonus: ginger is a potent anti-inflammatory and a natural remedy for nausea.

Florida’s Natural Au’some Treats: Though I still consider them a sweet treat, Florida’s Natural Au’some Nuggets and Sour Strings are made with over 60 percent real fruit and fruit juices. Plus, they come in pre-portioned, 50-calorie pouches to help you keep a lid on snacking.  These fruit chews are a terrific step up from sugary gummy bears and traditional fruit snacks.

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