Healthiest sweets: The best and worst sweets for a diet revealed

Sometimes we all crave a sugary kick but but dipping into a bag of sweets can quickly see the pounds pile on and our trips to the dentist become more frequent. When nothing else will do, we help you make the best choice by rounding up the best and worst sweets to chew on when you need a sugar fix.

a selection of healthy and non healthy sweets

Curious where your sugary treat ranks in the healthiest sweets scales? We've ranked all your favourites with some surprising results. 

Sometimes we all crave a sugary kick. And just like the healthiest biscuits (opens in new tab), we're aware that sweets aren't necessarily 'healthy', yet it's good to know which are a smarter choice when wanting a good pick and mix munch.

As Nutritionist Mina Khan, founder of Formulate Health (opens in new tab) understands: "It’s true that most sweets on the shelves in our supermarkets do contain high amounts of sugar (opens in new tab) and calories, providing very little nutritional value. However, there are healthier alternatives out there and even the unhealthiest of sweets can be enjoyed in moderation every now and again."

With this in mind we sought out some of the most popular sweets on the market and ranked them from best to worst based on their low-calorie content...

What are the healthiest sweets?

Midget Gems are the lowest calorie sweets in our round-up with one gem equating to 6.5 calories. Though the healthiest sweet overall, Werther's Originals Sugar-free sweets unsurprisingly take the crown for the sweet with the best sugar content (<0.5g). So be sure to swap your regular packet for these when next at the checkout.

an assortment of sweets on a pink background

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  • Healthiest sweets overall: Midget Gems
  • Best sweets for sugar content: Werther's Originals Sugar-Free

Whilst the least healthy sweets overall are Maynard's Jelly Babies. These pocket-sized candy people contain double the NHS’s daily allowance on free sugar (opens in new tab). Plus the whopping 348 calories per 12 sweets is a real turn-off, being the equivalent of a whole meal in some cases.

  • Unhealthiest sweets overall: Jelly Babies
  • Worst sweets for sugar content: Jelly Babies

Healthy sweets ranked from best to worst:

1. Healthiest sweets overall: Midget Gems

midget gems

Credit: Tesco

Per 12 sweets – Cals: 78 Sugar: 13g Fat: <0.1g Price: £1 for a 160g bag

Verdict: They may be small, yet these Midget Gems are mighty, taking home the title of healthiest sweet overall. These little fruit gems are the lowest in calories and compared to other sweets in our round-up have a reasonable sugar content too. Just be wary of their tougher texture (compared to wine gums), that are more likely to get caught between your teeth.

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2. Jealous Sweets' Tangy Worms

A packet of Jealous Sweets Tangy Worms

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Per bag (24g serving) – Cals: 81 Sugar: approx 17g Fat: og Price: £12.99 for 16 shot bags

Verdict: These low calorie sweets are a great-on-the-go pick-me-up when cravings rear their head. As Mina explains: "They do contain sugar and syrup, but the small bag size makes you far less likely to overindulge in them. They’re fat free and are suitable for vegans, vegetarians and those with dairy or gluten intolerances." Despite their pros, these 'shot' bags don't contain many tangy worms in their 24g serving. "I’d recommend eating them as a treat after you’ve had a healthy snack such as a banana or a smoothie that’s more likely to fill you up," adds Mina.

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3. Polos

A close-up of a packet of polo sweets

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Per packet (34g serving) – Cals: 139 Sugar: 32.9g Fat: trace Price: 60p for a single pack

Verdict: Coming in at number 3 is our favourite mint, the Polo. You'll only need a couple of mints to satisfy your craving, so you won't need to eat the whole 32.9g of sugar in one sitting. And 3 mints work out as 18 calories in total - which is great for a speedy sugar hit. Even if you do eat the whole packet worth 139 calories it won't affect your waistline too much. But we'd stick to a smaller serving size when dieting.

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4. Werther's Originals Sugar Free

a bag of Werther's Originals

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Per bag (80g serving) - Cals: 290 Sugar: <0.5g Fat: 8.8g Price: 97p

Verdict: Nutritionist Mina Khan ranked these sugar free Werther's as one of the healthiest sweets, as unsurprising these sugar-free sweets rank best for sugar content. "Instead of being made using large quantities of real butter, fresh cream and lots of sugar (like the original version), these Werther's are made with smaller quantities of butter and cream, and are sweetened using Isomalt and Acesulfame-K instead of sugar," she tells us. "These artificial sweeteners have caused some controversy over the years, however are safe and a much healthier alternative to sugary sweets when consumed in moderation."

These are a great option for those who love the taste of fudge, caramel or butterscotch. Especially as one of these sweets works out as 13 calories each, with a total of 18 in every 80g bag. But as with all treats, be sure to munch in moderation, as this number can add up. 

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5. Fruit Pastilles

fruit pastilles rank 4th in our healthiest sweets round-up

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Per packet (50g serving)  – Cals: 177 Sugar: 30.7g Fat: trace Price: 60p

Verdict: Fruit Pastilles have been around since 1881 and we think we know why - these sugar coated sweets contain 25% fruit juice, no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives and are impossible not to chew. However, Mina warns that that whilst pastilles do contain some fruit juice this is "somewhat outweighed by the large amounts of sugar" they contain. "Though the chewy texture can make them a really good option for those who are looking to lose weight (opens in new tab), as they take a long time to eat, meaning you’re less likely to eat quite as many of them,” she adds. A 7-sweet portion works out at just under 100 calories which makes these a good choice when seeking low calorie sweets too. 

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6. Lemon bon bons

some lemon bon bons on a white background

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Per 4 bon bons – Cals: 96 Sugar: 17g Fat: trace Price: £2.29 for a 200g tin

Verdict: Bon bons (the French word for 'good' repeated) are great for a small, sweet treat with only 17g of sugar and under 100 calories. "Bonbons of any flavour take a long time to chew when compared with other types of sweets," says Mina. "These chewy styles of sweets are often a dentist’s nightmare, but from a nutritional standpoint, they can be great for helping you to feel fuller for longer, as the added chewing can trick your brain into thinking you’ve eaten more than you have."

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7. Blackjacks

Blackjack sweets

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Per 10 blackjacks – Cals: 130 Sugar: approx 20g Fat: approx 1g Price: 30p for a 36g pack

Verdict: These liquorice sweets are small delights of childhood. Yet most are surprised to learn that Blackjacks contain no aniseed in their ingredients whatsoever. Mina says these sweets aren't the best option for those watching their weight. And that those who are dieting should instead seek out a healthier aniseed alternative that should similarly satisfy. "If you’re craving the taste of a blackjack, make yourself a nice cup of aniseed tea instead," she advises. "This will definitely hit the spot when it comes to getting that aromatic liquorice flavour, without breaking your diet!"

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8. Strawbs

Haribo giant strawbs

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Per 40g serving – Cals: 139 Sugar: 23g Fat: approx 0.20g Price: 30p for a 36g pack

Verdict: Chewy, sweet strawberries sound great. But just because it looks like a fruit unfortunately, this variety doesn't count towards your five-a-day. These Haribo Strawbs contain a huge amaount of sugar according to Mina, who suggests swapping for some real strawberries and a drizzle of cream instead. 

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9. Cola cubes

cola cube sweets

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Per 10 sweets – Cals: 140 Sugar: 30g Fat: 0.7g Price: £3.99 for 400g tub

Verdict: Cola cubes are a crunchy sweet with a fairly low calorie content. However hard boiled sweets are pretty much pure sugar (sugar water boiled down) which, combined with the crunch, puts your teeth at a higher risk. "If you love the taste of cola and are really craving a cola flavoured sweet, why not make up some ice cubes using diet coke?" suggests Mina. "These can be amazing to crunch on during a hot day and contain virtually no sugar or calories!"

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10. Percy Pigs

Percy pigs sweets

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Per 50g serving – Cals: 171 Sugar: 29.4g Fat: 0.1g Price: £1

Verdict: Don't be fooled by the packaging is Mina's words of wisdom with these M&S favourites which have a seriously high sugar count.  “I actually find the packaging on these sweets to be quite misleading. They state that they’re made with real fruit juice and contain no artificial sugars or sweeteners, making you think they’re a fairly healthy option. However the 3 main ingredients in Percy Pigs are glucose syrup, sugar and glucose-fructose syrup. For every Percy Pig you eat, you get 25 calories - so eat 10 and you've had over half your recommended sugar intake for the whole day. As Mina sums up: “Percy Pigs are super high in sugar and calories, which - when consumed regularly - is not a good combo for anyone trying to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight."

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11. Cola bottles

cola bottles in a glass jar

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Per serving (50g bag) – Cals: 176 Sugar: 28g Fat: <1g Price: 25p

Verdict: The cola bottle is a classic, retro, penny sweet and a staple for any pick 'n' mix stand. While these sweets are middle of the range when it comes to calories, they also contain additives which are bad for your health if eaten too often. So if you are going to indulge, make sure it's more of a small handful.

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12. Starburst

a packet of starburst sweets

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Per serving (45g bag) – Cals: 182 Sugar: 37.4g Fat: 3.3g Price: 60p

Verdict: You might know Starburst by a more familiar name; Opal Fruits. These fruity chews may contain apple juice from concentrate, yet their sugar content is a cause for concern. The NHS recommends (opens in new tab) that adults consume no more than 30g of free sugars a day. And a whole pack of these is enough to take you over that daily sugar limit. As that famous saying goes - less is definitely more on this occasion.

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13. Skittles

skittle sweets

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Per serving (45g bag) – Cals: 182 Sugar: 40.5g Fat: 1.9g Price: 60p

Verdict: The taste of the rainbow is certainly a sugary one, with a huge 40.5g in a 45g portion bag. If you are going to finish the bag, then try not to scoff them soo fast. "I know from experience how easy it is to mindlessly eat 4 or 5 of these at a time, but when we do this we’re savouring them at all and it makes it very unlikely that they’ll leave us feeling full. Instead, I recommend eating them one at a time and really focusing on how they taste. If you’re doing to indulge - you might as well savour the moment!”

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14. Marshmallows

marshmallows

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Per 10 sweets – Cals: 225 Sugar: 40g Fat: trace Price: 95p for a 200g bag

Verdict: According to Mina, marshmallows are definitely not the worst option when it comes to sweets. "They contain very little fat but are high in sugar - although reaching for a couple every now and again to satisfy your sweet tooth is unlikely to do too much damage." There's some surprising good health pros too. “Interestingly, one portion of marshmallows also contains a small amount of potassium and selenium (opens in new tab) which have some really powerful health benefits," she adds.

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15. Liquorice Allsorts

liquorice all-sorts

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Per 10 sweets – Cals: 230 Sugar: 40g Price: £1.50 for a 200g bag

Verdict: In its purest herbal form, liquorice is said to have medicinal properties - like improving your immune system. But, as a processed sweet, that's not so true. These Liquorice Allsorts are mostly sugar with a massive 40g of sugar in just 10 sweets. That's again over the NHS recommended daily sugar allowance. So all-sorts are sadly one to skip when dieting.

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16. Wine Gums