Is Sugar-Free Candy Good or Bad for You?
Sugar-free candy might not be as bad for you as regular candy, but it's not exactly good for you either. The truth is that candy, whether sugar-free or regular, is still candy.
If you're trying to lose weight, you can eat sugar-free candy on a diet, but overindulging may also sabotage your efforts.
For people with diabetes, the carbohydrate impact of many sugar-free candies may come as a surprise. And some sugar substitutes can have unpleasant digestive side effects, as well.
Sugar-free candies use artificial sweeteners or sugar substitutes to create a sweet taste while foregoing real sugar. Most of these sweeteners have fewer calories and carbohydrates, but not all of them are calorie-free or carb-free.
Some sugar substitutes you'll see on labels are:
Sugar alcohols such as erythritol, xylitol, maltitol, lactitol, and sorbitol
Saccharin, aspartame, stevia, and sucralose are all considered calorie-free and carb-free, but sugar alcohols do contain some carbohydrates. You're especially likely to encounter sugar alcohols in sugar-free candies, so be sure to check labels.
Also keep in mind that other ingredients may be unhealthy, as well. You need to consider the entire product, not just how it's sweetened.
Pros of Sugar-Free Candy
The benefits of sugar-free candy are pretty obvious. The issue is thinking the benefits are greater than they actually are.
- Satisfying cravings: Sugar-free candies can satisfy your sweet tooth with less of an impact on your health than their full-sugar counterparts.
- Cutting sugar: Avoiding sugar is always a good idea, especially if you want to lose or maintain your weight. Federal dietary guidelines suggest keeping added sugars to less than 10% of your daily calories.1 Other health groups recommend an even lower limit. For example, the American Heart Association recommends 6% or less.2
- Less blood sugar impact: If you have diabetes, sugar-free candies are a better choice for keeping blood sugar stable. But don't assume they're carb-free, especially if they contain sugar alcohols.
- Better for your teeth: Sugar-free candies and gums pose less of a risk to your teeth than their sugary counterparts.
Cons of Sugar-Free Candy
Sugar-free candies do have their drawbacks. It pays to keep these things in mind when deciding how to satisfy your sweet cravings:
- Digestive side effects: In some people, sugar alcohols can cause unpleasant gastrointestinal side effects such as bloating and diarrhea, especially in people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).4 Avoid large amounts, especially if you discover you're sensitive to them.5
- Iffy taste: Sugar-free chocolates and baked goods are hit-or-miss. If the taste isn't satisfying, you may be happier eating a smaller amount of the full-sugar item.
- Sugar-free doesn't mean fat-free, carb-free, or calorie-free: Even if the sweetener adds few or none of these things, other ingredients might. Sugar-free chocolates, especially, may be high in saturated fat due to ingredients like cocoa butter. Always check the label.
- Appetite stimulants: Zero-calorie sweeteners may stimulate your appetite, making you want to eat more, which can be counterproductive to your dietary goals.
Control Portion Size
Just because something is sugar-free doesn't mean you can eat more than you normally would. Sugar-free treats are not truly "free" foods, because they may still contain calories, fat, and carbohydrates. Enjoying lower-calorie options in the same portions as you would their sweeter counterparts will help ensure you don't go overboard.
"No Sugar Added"
In the ice cream aisle, you may come across packaging that says "no sugar added." What that means is that the manufacturer didn't add sugar to the ice cream itself, but other ingredients (such as chocolate chunks) may in fact contain sugar.
Be sure to look specifically at the calorie and carb counts on the label to see just how much sugar is really in there.