Better-for-You Candies Are Having a Moment

And we tested them for your snacking pleasure.

behave sour gummy bears
Photo courtesy of Behave
Photo courtesy of Behave

I saw a TikTok the other day that claimed there were two types of people: those who view candy like a once-in-a-while treat, and those who eat it like a regular snack. Luckily, it’s getting easier and easier to fall into the second camp. And that’s because the modern candy market is awash with better-for-you brands that boast low-sugar, natural ingredients, and even some health benefits.

You’ve probably had a chance to try a bag of Unreal candy-coated peanuts, Justin’s peanut butter cups, or YumEarth lollipops, which were some of the first products to really broaden ideas about what a healthier alternative could look like. But a new crop of sweet treats—from vitamin-infused chocolates to chews made from upcycled vegetables—are taking that innovation one step further.

Behave, a brand founded by Mayssa Chehata, not only offers better-for-you versions of existing candies, but also introduces flavors that haven’t yet made it to the candy aisle. The brand’s gummy bears, for example, come in flavors like lychee and passionfruit, while its sour stars are made of pink pineapple.

Chehata, who developed her business savvy at health food startup Daily Harvest, has always had a sweet tooth. “I think that can be fine for some time, but it eventually catches up with you,” she says. “I was looking to create a product that had low sugar, low net carbs, and was really strong from a macro nutritional perspective, but also didn't use any artificial ingredients.”

She quickly collaborated with celebrity chef Elizabeth Falkner, who specializes in pastry-making. “I think there are health food categories where you can sort of get away with a product tasting a bit like grass,” Chehata explains. “But I knew if we wanted to disrupt candy, it had to taste just as good as what people are used to, because at the end of the day, it’s still an indulgence.” Falkner, immediately energized by the idea, invited Chehata to the kitchen of her Brooklyn apartment. Before they knew it, the gummy bear was born.

The neon packaging features simple, bold typography—sure to catch anyone’s eye at a checkout counter. Chehata wanted to make sure that the packaging spoke to an adult consumer. “When walking the candy aisles, what really stood out to me was how many brands were speaking to children. The mascots as cartoon characters, the color schemes, the messaging, the language that’s used—everything felt very geared towards kids,” Chehata explains. “But the truth is that all the purchasing decisions are being made by adults, and actually, a lot of the consumption of candy is being done by adults as well.”

Better-for-you candy brands like Behave come at a steeper price point. Six bags of Pink Pineapple Sour Stars, for example, costs $30. But Chehata explains that such pricing is necessary when upholding high values for a product. “We’re sweetening our products with really high-quality, natural sweeteners like plant-based fibers, allulose, and monk fruit. Our gelatin is the cleanest-sourced gelatin that you can find on the market—completely kosher and grass fed.” Chehata hopes that, once the business continues to grow, she can make the product more affordable.

The messaging behind Behave balances a fine line between espousing good-for-you ingredients and stepping into diet culture territory. “We’ve really taken care to create a brand that’s focused on abundance and joy and more, rather than less and restriction and cutting certain things out,” Chehata says. “Why not have two bags or three bags, because you don't have to restrict yourself.”

It’s healthy eating—not restriction—that resonates with Gen Z and a younger millennial audience. “Gen Z is probably the first generation coming up in a world where they don't have to necessarily learn sustainability, the benefits of holistic eating, cleaner-label foods, and products that are less processed” Chehata explains. “As a brand, you almost don't even have to get over that educational hurdle. I think it’s just very entrenched in the way that they eat and consume in general.”

As a member of Gen Z (who barely reaches the cutoff), I tested out a number of better-for-you candy brands to help you (safely) satisfy your next sugar craving. These are the ones that tasted just as good—if not better—than the real deal.

gigantic candy bar
Photo courtesy of Gigantic

Grabbing a Gigantic bar feels like hitting the jackpot on Halloween—they’re full-size bars with delightfully nostalgic packaging. They’re also plant-based, gluten-free, contain only seven grams of sugar, and are made with fair trade chocolate. Simple, good-for-you ingredients like Madagascar vanilla, almond butter, and coconut milk take the place of artificial additives. Flavors include Salted Peanut, Hazelnut Cafe, Almond Horchata, Banana Pecan, and the limited edition Double Dark Mint. My personal favorite was the Almond Horchata—a perfectly cinnamony flavor you don’t often see represented in candy bars. These bars have such a great bite, with gooey caramel and toasted nuts. I even like to toss them into the icebox when I'm craving a frozen treat. 

A truly genius idea. After a trip to the Global Seed Vault in Norway, founders Amy Keller, Kevin Wall, and Susan Smalley developed a product that eliminates food waste, upcycling imperfect produce into nutrient-dense candy. Each pack of chews (which come in strawberry, cherry, orange, and lemon varieties) offers four servings of fruits and vegetables. I tasted Faves rather blindly, under the impression that it was just a healthier version of Starburst, and had no idea it contained vegetables until I read the back of the bag. They have a very strong, naturally fruity taste, contain a perfectly chewy texture, and are—most importantly—good for the planet.

Sourse vitamins
Photo courtesy of Sourse

These are vitamin-infused M&M’s. Sourse claims that chocolate, a prebiotic, is an even better delivery system than gummies or pills, because the nutrients are able to bypass your digestive system entirely, resulting in 90% absorption. You have Glow Bites for plant-based collagen, Hype Bites for vitamin B12, Mood Bites for saffron and Vitamin D, and Beauty Bites for biotin. I have no idea if these chocolates had any affect on my skin, energy, mood, or hair, but I thoroughly enjoyed the ritual of taking a few of these after meals to satisfy my craving for something sweet. They are so much better than your average M&M, because one, they’re bigger, and two, they are made of fair-trade dark chocolate. My only complaint is that you have to limit yourself to two of each kind a day, because after all, they are supplements.

The brand’s signature Mexican-inspired, sweet-yet-spicy candy pillows were created at Sugarox Candy Store, a tiny candy shop in Mexico City owned by husbands Jack Bessudo and Declan Simmons. While many traditional Mexican candies are covered in chili, the team at Tamalitoz puts the chili on the inside, so you get the sweet, fruity, flavor of the candy first, eventually making way for the hints of tangy and sour heat from the center. The Chewlows line of candies has less than one gram of sugar per chew, are made with organic ingredients, contain no artificial sweeteners, are vegan, gluten-free, and non-GMO. We’re fans of the Divine Watermelon, a watermelon chew with hints of chili, lime, and sea salt.

behave box of candies
Photo courtesy of Behave

True to Chehata’s idea of abundance, each bag of Behave feels like a hefty quantity of snackage. The gummies might be small, but there’s a lot of them, which gives you an opportunity to really take your time indulging. The texture of the bears and stars is comparable to your standard Haribo, but the flavors are truly unique. These candies have a natural, kind of subtle, fruit taste—not sickeningly sweet or sour. Chehata plans to release even more, never-been-seen-before flavors this year, and I cannot wait.

Lily’s Sweets have been around for quite some time now, but founder Cynthia Tice continues to innovate with new offerings. My personal favorite are the Dark Chocolate Baking Chips, which I snack on straight out of the bag. I like that they’re miniature, and because they’re designed for baking, they have the perfect crunch. I'm also a fan of the Creamy Caramel Filled Dark Chocolate Bars, which, like all Lily's chocolates, are fair-trade certified, non-GMO, gluten-free, and have no added sugar. Last year, Lily’s released Gummy Bears and Sour Gummy Worms, which have less than one gram of sugar per bag and come in flavors like Apple-Peach and Lemon-Raspberry.

kindroot adaptogems

Okay, so these are lozenges—not candy. But I have always snacked on Ricolas and will continue that habit with these adaptogenic drops, perfect for the incoming flu season. Kindroot’s Adaptogems are created from natural ingredients like schisandra berries and reishi mushrooms, and they can be used to target symptoms beyond a sore throat. The Snooze Adaptogems, for example, contain ashwagandha root extract and naturally occurring melatonin for a better sleep.

When Tara Bosch founded SmartSweets as a start-up in 2016, she brought a lower-sugar version of gummy bears, Swedish fish, and peach rings to the market. The now-multi-million dollar candy empire continues to dish out new products, like SmartSweets Jolly Gems TM, a new take on Jolly Ranchers, and most recently, Caramels, the brand's first non-fruity product that has 94% less sugar than traditional soft caramels and contains one gram of sugar per bag. They're the perfect kind of melt-in-your mouth treat that can also be plopped into your morning cup of coffee.

Want more Thrillist? Follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, TikTok, and Snapchat.

Jessica Sulima is a staff writer on the Food & Drink team at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram