If the total calories you consume don't exceed the calories you burn, you won't gain weight -- even if some of the calories came from candy. But in truth, most candy is enjoyed in addition to meals rather than considered as part of normal daily calories, and even a small serving of candy can be high in calories. The extra calories plus added sugar -- plus the fact that candy isn't very filling -- make it more likely that eating candy will lead to weight gain than if you chose a healthier snack.
Calories Determine Weight Gain
You have to consume 3,500 calories more than your body uses to gain 1 pound. One ounce of plain milk chocolate has 150 calories. A regular-sized milk chocolate bar is 1 1/2 ounces, so the calories go up to 235 if you eat a whole bar. Caramels and hard candies are lower in calories -- 107 and 112 calories per ounce, respectively -- because they don't have the fat from chocolate. An ounce equals about 3 caramels and four to nine pieces of hard candy, depending on the size of the candy. Most candies fall in the range of 107 to 150 calories per ounce even if they contain nougat, caramel, nuts, coconut or other ingredients.
It takes 23 1-ounce servings or 15 regular-sized bars of milk chocolate to reach 3,500 calories. In the bigger picture, when calories from candy exceed energy needs, you would end up gaining 16 pounds over one year if you ate an ounce of milk chocolate every day of the year. If you don't eat much candy -- if it's only an occasional treat and you eat a small amount -- chances are candy alone won't make you gain weight from indulging your sweet tooth from time to time.
Research on Candy and Weight Gain
Not surprisingly, how much candy you eat affects your risk of weight gain, according to a study published in Obesity in 2015. Researchers at the Women's Health Initiative followed more than 100,000 post-menopausal women for three years. The women completed questionnaires about their eating habits, with some of the questions designed to assess consumption of chocolate candy. The candy was not associated with weight gain in women who ate less than an ounce of chocolate per month. But women were more likely to gain weight over three years if they ate 1 ounce or more each month. This study doesn't prove that candy was the direct cause, but it did show that as chocolate consumption increased over three years, women were more likely to gain weight.
Another group of researchers collected information from surveys completed by more than 12,000 people participating in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities study, with the results published in PLoS One in 2014. The data showed that habitual and frequent consumption of chocolate was significantly associated with weight gain. People who ate chocolate one to four times a month gained 2 more pounds than those reporting they ate chocolate less than once monthly. That doesn't sound like a lot of extra weight, but the important point of this study was that the researchers found a direct connection between candy and weight gain, with the number of pounds increasing in proportion to the amount of candy consumed.
Impact of Added Sugar in Candy
If you don't choose dietetic candies made from artificial sweeteners, the candy you enjoy contains added sugar. Added sugar doesn't contribute any nutrients other than simple carbs, so it doesn't offer significant nutritional value -- it's just "junk." One ounce of milk chocolate, caramels and hard candies have 14 to 18 grams of sugar, which translates to 3.5 to 4.5 teaspoons of sugar per ounce. Women should limit added sugar to 6 teaspoons or less daily, while men shouldn't exceed 9 teaspoons, recommends the American Heart Association.
Added sugar further increases the risk of weight gain because it spikes levels of blood sugar. The extra sugar in the blood can be used for energy, so insulin is released because it must be present for sugar to get inside cells. But insulin has other influences on metabolism. When it has to clear extra sugar out of the bloodstream, insulin sends sugar to the liver, where it's converted into fat and stored in adipose tissue. Insulin also stops fat cells from breaking down, meaning the fat already in storage isn't burned for energy. As a result, added sugar leads to fat storage and increases the chance that you'll gain weight.
Dark Chocolate Candies Have Benefits
If you need to indulge your sweet tooth, do it with dark chocolate. Dark chocolate contains several plant-based flavonoids, which contribute to cardiovascular health and show promise for improving cognitive abilities in older adults. The same phytochemicals may even help you lose weight. In laboratory studies, cocoa flavonoids inhibited the secretion of enzymes needed to digest carbs and fats, which may reduce the number of calories absorbed, reported the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry in 2011.
The key to getting the biggest benefits from chocolate is to choose dark chocolate with the highest percentage of cacao solids because they contain all the flavonoids. Dark chocolate candies contain 45 to 85 percent cacao solids, and the percentage will be reported on the label if it's true dark chocolate. Many of these candies are bitter because they don't add sugar, but you'll still get calories from cocoa butter. Dark chocolate with 45 to 59 percent cacao solids has 155 calories in 1 ounce. The same portion of dark chocolate with 60 to 69 percent solids has 164 calories, and you'll get 170 calories from an ounce with 70 to 85 percent solids.
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Candies, Milk Chocolate
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Candies, Hard
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Candies, Caramels
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Sugars, Granulated
- Colorado State University: Physiologic Effects of Insulin
- Obesity: Chocolate-Candy Consumption and 3-Year Weight Gain Among Postmenopausal U.S. Women
- PLoS One: Habitual Chocolate Consumption May Increase Body Weight in a Dose-Response Manner
- University of Michigan Integrative Medicine: Dark Chocolate
- Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry: Inhibition of Key Digestive Enzymes by Cocoa Extracts 1 and Procyanidins
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Chocolate, Dark, 45 -- 59 Percent Cacao Solids