Pros and Cons of Sugar Free Candy

Many people choose to purchase sugar-free candies as opposed to regularly sweetened candies with the impression that they are healthier than the original version. The truth is that candy, whether sugar-free or regular, is still candy—and most candies are high in calories, fat, and carbohydrates.

Sugar-free vegan candies on a platter
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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, but most aren't exactly calorie-free. Many are now available, from older types such as saccharine (found in Sweet 'N Low) and aspartame (found in Equal) to the newer stevia (Truvia) and sucralose (Splenda). Sugar alcohols such as erythritol are another type of sweetener gaining in popularity among food manufacturers.

Cutting sugars is always a good idea: 2015 federal dietary guidelines suggest keeping added sugar intake to less than 10 percent of your daily diet. (That's 200 calories on a 2,000 a day diet or about three packs of fun-size M&Ms). For those with diabetes, sugar-free candies are certainly a better choice if you're looking to keep blood sugar stable, though you'll still need to check carb and calorie content to be sure of their overall effects. Of course, if you're using a piece of candy to quickly boost your blood sugar, be sure to stick with candies that do contain sugar.

Ultimately, we're all far better off cutting out candy and sweets. Sometimes, though, cravings hit and you just need a small treat to satisfy your sweet tooth. If you're wondering whether sugar-free candy is an option for you, here are a few points to consider.


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Is Sugar-Free Candy Really Healthier?

  • Sugar-free candy typically will provide fewer carbs and calories than regular candy, although sometimes just slightly fewer. The key here is that sugar-free does not mean carbohydrate-free or fat-free, so if you're watching carbs or calories, you still need to be mindful not to overdo it. Read the nutrition label in order to keep track of how many total carbs and calories you take in.
  • Sugar alcohols (maltitol, erythritol, lactitol, mannitol, sorbitol, etc.) are often used in sugar-free candy and sweets. Sugar alcohols typically have less effect on blood sugar than regular sugar and fewer calories, which can theoretically have a positive effect on carbohydrate and calorie intake. That being said, the American Diabetes Association notes there is little research on the potential benefits of sugar alcohols for people with diabetes. Sugar alcohols are not as sweet, which can mean it takes more of them to be as sweet as sugars, bringing the calorie content to a level similar to that of sugars. Sugar alcohols may also cause uncomfortable gastrointestinal side effects, so people with this sensitivity will want to limit them.
  • Sugar-free doesn't mean fat-free either. Sugar-free chocolate candies, in particular, may be high in saturated fat, which is found in cocoa butter. In addition, many baked goods that use sugar alcohols as a sweetener have more saturated or trans fats than regular versions. Therefore, it's important to be mindful when eating sugar-free chocolates, especially if you have heart disease, are overweight, have diabetes, or have any other reason to be careful about fat intake. Diabetics should also know that the fat content in most chocolate—sugar-free or not—will slow down the digestion of sugar, so never use chocolate when you need a blood sugar boost.
  • 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 still contain calories, fat, and carbohydrates.
  • What about the taste? When considering taste, you might find that sugar-free chocolates or baked goods are hit-or-miss. If you don't like the taste, skip it. It doesn't make sense to eat it just because it's sugar-free. Instead, it may make more sense to simply have a small serving of the real thing, such as an ounce of dark chocolate or a half-cup of ice cream. 
  • Need ideas? Here are a few options: Russell Stover Sugar-Free Candies; Jolly Rancher sugar-free hard candy; York Sugar-Free Peppermint Patty; and Werther’s Original Sugar-Free Hard Caramel Candy. (Again, be sure to read nutritional labels so you know what you're getting.) Better yet, though, find sugar-free recipes online to make your own sweet treats at home—then include whole grains, nuts, or dried fruit to help keep your blood sugar steady and increase the beneficial nutrients you're ingesting.
  • Try naturally sweet instead. Better yet, skip the candy and choose a snack that blends something sweet with other healthy ingredients, such as fiber and protein. For example, pair some strawberries with a piece of dark chocolate or dip apple slices in peanut butter. You can find snacks to satisfy your sweet tooth that are delicious, satisfying, and healthy.
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  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. December 2015.

  2. Evert AB, Dennison M, et al. Nutrition therapy for adults with diabetes or prediabetes: A consensus report. Diabetes Care. 2019 May;42(5):731-754. doi:10.2337/dci19-0014