Is Sugar-Free Candy Good or Bad for You?

You need to be aware of some drawbacks

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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. It may contain one or more things that are detrimental to your health (calories, fat, or carbohydrates), and, at best, it's mostly empty calories.

If you're trying to lose weight, you can eat sugar-free candy on a diet, but over-indulging 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 vegan candies on a platter
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Sugar-Free Candy Ingredients

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 of the sugar substitutes you'll see on labels are:

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 the label.

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.

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Pros of Sugar-Free Candy

The benefits of sugar-free candy are pretty obvious. The danger is in 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: Less sugar is always a good idea, especially if you want to lose or maintain your weight. Federal dietary guidelines suggest keeping sugary foods to less than 10% of your daily diet. Other health groups recommend that limit to be lower - including the American Heart Association, which recommends 6% or less for daily intake.
  • 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.

Counting Carbs From Sugar Alcohols

Sugar alcohols are digested differently than regular sugar and have less of an impact on your blood sugar levels. When counting your carbs, subtract half the grams of sugar alcohol from the total carbohydrates on the label. So if total carbs are 25 and sugar alcohols are 15, you'd count the food as 10 carbs per serving.

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. Avoid large amounts, especially if you discover you're sensitive to them.
  • What about the 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 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.

Best Options

Which types of sugar-free candies are best? That depends on your personal taste and what you're going for.

  • Because of their fatty ingredients, sugar-free chocolates may not be a good choice if you have heart problems or are limiting your fat intake for any reason.
  • Sugar alcohols can have a greater impact on blood sugar levels, which may make candies containing them less than ideal if you have diabetes. Their digestive side effects can make them less appealing, as well.
  • Some people may have negative physiological reactions to one type of artificial sweetener but not others.
  • You may also just prefer the taste of some over others.

If healthiness is your ultimate goal, you're better off skipping the candy and choosing a snack that blends something sweet with other healthy ingredients, such as fiber or protein. For example, pair strawberries with a piece of dark chocolate or dip apple slices in peanut butter.

You can also find sugar-free recipes online to make your own sweet treats at home. Look for recipes that include whole grains, nuts, or dried fruit—or add them to the recipe—to help keep your blood sugar steady and increase the beneficial nutrients you're ingesting along with the carbs, calories, and fat.

Popular Sugar-Free Candies

  • Sugar-Free Reese's Peanut Butter Cups Miniatures
  • Russell Stover Sugar-Free Chocolates
  • York Sugar-Free Peppermint Patty
  • Jolly Rancher Zero Sugar Hard Candy
  • Werther’s Original Sugar-Free Hard Caramel Candy
  • Brach's Sugar-Free Lemon Drops, Cinnamon, and Star Brites (peppermint) hard candies
  • Sugar-free Peach Gummy Rings and Gummy Worms

A Word From Verywell

As with any less-than-healthy food options, your best bet with sugar-free candies is to enjoy them sparingly and don't think of them as "safe" foods that you can eat large quantities of. Know what you're putting into your body and how it might impact your health and your goals, and make healthier choices most of the time.

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Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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