You know that sugar-packed chocolate bars = not-so-great for you. So…sugar-free candies must be better, right? Yeah, about that…
“Sugar-free candy is still candy,” says Alyssa Lavy, RD. While it may not pack the same sugar count as the conventionally sweetened alternative, it’s still lacking in the nutrition department…not to mention loaded with plenty of other things that aren’t necessarily better for you.
But! Both regular and sugar-free candy can fit into a balanced diet, she says. You’ve just gotta know your facts:
What’s the difference between the way sugar-free candy and regular candy are sweetened?
“Sugar-free candy can be sweetened with a variety of sugar alternatives,” Lavy explains. She’s talking artificial sweeteners, such as saccharin, aspartame, and sucralose; sugar alcohols, such as erythritol, mannitol, xylitol, and sorbitol; or food additives, such as maltodextrin.
So far, these substitutes haven’t been proven to be any healthier than traditional sugar. In fact, some of them, including artificial sweeteners, have been associated with potentially altering the gut microbiome—or the collection of organisms in your digestive tract that protect the body against viruses and disease, says Lavy.
Other sugar stand-ins, sugar alcohols in particular, can cause gas, bloating, diarrhea in some people, says Lavy.
So…you still have to read the nutrition facts—even if a candy’s sugar-free.
You want to look specifically at what sugar-free candy is packing in order to compensate for the lack of sugar, what the recommended portion size is, and the amount of calories, saturated fats, and carbs.
“’Sugar-free’ does not necessarily mean ‘carbohydrate-free,’” says Lavy. That’s because some alternatives to the sweet stuff, like sugar alcohols and maltodextrin, are still carbs—and even if they’re not completely absorbed by your body, you’ll still take in some of them (especially key to note if you’re diabetic and you need to monitor your blood-sugar levels).
And of course, calories and fat are still calories and fat. A lot of sugar-free candies have similar numbers to regular candies in those departments. Plus, Lavy says a lot of people give themselves permission to down the whole bag of sugar-free candies in one sitting because they think they’re better for you. Which…sorry, but no. Moderation is still important.
That said…if you’re going to help yourself to a few pieces of sugar-free candy (and def feel free!), just know that you’ll want to factor those carbs, grams of fat, and calories into your recommended daily intake.
The bottom line: While there’s not one rule-of-thumb for how much sugar-free candy it’s safe to consume, Alyssa Lavy, RD, says you should treat it like regular candy (because it’s not really better for you than regular candy) and eat it as a treat.
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