There always seems to be a holiday or event coming around the corner that inspires rows and rows of special candy displays. They seem to pop up in the grocery stores, convenience stores, even hardware stores. And while I do highly encourage a whole food and plant-based diet, I’m not inhuman! It’s very realistic that we enjoy some treats from time to time. But is there such a thing as kidney-friendly candy?
Let’s talk about the treats you can enjoy. I’ll also cover the candy to limit or avoid entirely so you can keep your kidneys healthy!
Is candy okay for kidneys?
Long story short, yes, candy is okay for kidneys. It’s not going to give any improvements to your kidney health, similar to fast food. That being said, a few pieces of candy will not entirely derail your kidney health goals.
Candy can provide more enjoyment in your life. The feeling of “I can’t eat anything here” can be so frustrating and upsetting when it comes to following a kidney-friendly diet. By allowing some permission in these areas where it’s not going to make a huge difference can be very beneficial.
How much candy is okay?
The American Heart Association recommends a limit of 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day for women and 9 teaspoons for men. This equals 100 calories for women and 150 calories for men.
When looking at how much is okay, check with the added sugar, and total calories are for a serving of your preferred candy. The nutrition label will list the added sugar under the carbohydrate section in grams. For reference, there are 4 grams of sugar per teaspoon.
Let’s say you find a candy that has 8 grams of added sugar per serving. Divide that 8 grams of sugar by 4 grams per teaspoon and you get 2 teaspoons of sugar.
Try sticking to these limits to make it a healthier choice.
What kidney-friendly candy can I have?
There are a ton of candies that are acceptable when it comes to kidney health! Here are some types of candies that I generally recommend:
- Fruity candies
- Hard candies
- Jelly beans
- Cinnamon/spicy candies
- Sour candies (another benefit with these is that they can help with a fluid restriction!)
- Marshmallow candies
These candies are considered more kidney-friendly candy because they are lower potassium and phosphorus options. I always recommend you read the nutrition label to check for any added phos or potassium ingredients as added preservatives are highly absorbed.
What candy should I stay away from?
While there isn’t a lot that I would recommend staying entirely away from, there are a few.
- Peanut brittle (In a 100-gram serving, it has 445 milligrams of sodium!)
- Chocolate-covered candies
- Candy bars
- Peanut butter candies
- Reese’s ®
These are higher in sodium, phosphorus, and potassium.
Another type of candy to avoid is black licorice. Black licorice has been well-researched and connected to health complications for those with or without kidney disease. A component in black licorice, glycyrrhizin, can cause severe and extreme drops in potassium. This can lead to irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, and congestive heart failure.
(For the record, there is only one other food that you must avoid if you have CKD.)
What about sugar-free candies?
While sugar-free may be a good option for some of the kidney-friendly candies mentioned earlier, it doesn’t mean there should be a “free-for-all” with sugar-free versions of your favorite sweets.
Sugar-free candy can be lower in calories and (obviously) sugar, but the replacement of the sugar comes from sugar alcohols. And excessive sugar alcohols can lead to side effects including bloating, gas, and abdominal discomfort.
The other warning is that sugar-free candy can still increase the risk of type 2 diabetes. This can be related to excessive calorie intake and weight gain from eating more candy that is thought to be harmless.
Choosing sugar-free candy over regular candy every now and then can help in lowering your calorie and sugar intake, so this is an option for people with or without diabetes. As with all candies, though, sugar-free candy should still be consumed in moderation.
Is dark chocolate okay for kidney disease?
This is an interesting situation for me, as there can be some potential benefits when it comes to dark chocolate and CKD.
First off, dark chocolate needs to contain at least 50% cocoa solids. (Milk chocolate, on the other hand, contains only 10-50% cocoa solids.) To qualify for the benefits of chocolate, the percent of chocolate should be at least 70%.
In 2015, a study was published that researched the benefits of cocoa with kidney health. In using the flavanols of cocoa, they found that it protected the endothelium of kidneys and cardiovascular health. The study also used a beverage with the flavanol extract; they did not give the participants chocolate.
Keep in mind that flavanols are also found in fruits and vegetables. And I always recommend everyone fruits and veggies every day – if not every meal!
If dark chocolate is something you would like to add to your diet, I highly recommend talking to your dietitian. It’s best to make sure you do not already have problems with controlling your potassium or phosphorus levels. Even though chocolate is higher in potassium and phosphorus, you may be able to include in your kidney-friendly diet.
Most candies will generally not have this much cocoa unless specially labeled, like “75% chocolate.” If you don’t see this highlighted, it likely doesn’t qualify for any benefits of cocoa.
While candy won’t outright benefit your kidneys, I do feel there can be a place for it to fit! By giving ourselves permission to enjoy candy from time to time, it loses power over us and we remain in control of our health, kidneys, and all!