What’s the deal with sugar-free candy? Is it really a thing? Yes — and it can be delicious and healthy, too!
You may find sugar-free candy on your shopping list if you are catering to specific dietary needs. And we’ll let you in on a little secret… no-sugar candy can be even tastier than conventional candy!
We’ve talked about the differences between added sugar and sugar-free before. Now, let’s talk candy! The term “sugar-free candy” may seem like an oxymoron, but we’ve got the 411 on everything you need to know about these sweet alternatives.
What Is Sugar?
Sugar is a naturally-occurring substance in foods that contain carbohydrates. Even whole plant foods contain sugar!
The sugar found in whole foods can give us the energy we need to get through the day because it’s digested slowly. This means it enters our bloodstream slower than foods with added or refined sugars.
When you think of the word “sugar,” what comes to mind? Maybe you’re thinking of added sugar products like granulated sugar, fructose, or corn syrup. However, it’s important to remember that not all sugars and sweeteners are created equal.
What Is Added Sugar?
Added sugars are any type of granulated sugar like white or brown sugar, cane sugars, glucose, dextrose, fructose, high fructose corn syrup, honey, maple syrup and molasses (to name quite a few). These sugars are all used to add extra sweetness to foods.
Sometimes sugars are used in recipes to create chemical reactions, like adding sugar to feed yeast and get bread to leaven. Other uses for added sugar include:
- To preserve food like jellies or jams
- Fermentation in alcohol
- To alter the flavors of meals and snacks
Fun Fact: Honey was the first added sweetener that humans used outside of fruits or plants! We sure are grateful for bees, but we’ve got some vegan options up our sleeves.
What Role Does Sugar Play in Our Diets?
Our bodies run on carbohydrates, which are found in abundance within sugar. Carbohydrates break down into glucose, which is commonly known as blood sugar.
Our bodies use glucose to perform tasks ranging from temperature regulation to running! Since your body loves the energy it gets from carbs, sugar provides us with a quick energy source. Unfortunately, it doesn’t offer much in the way of vitamins and nutrients.
The CDC advises that children younger than two not be fed any added sugars, whether in food or drink. For people two years and older, they recommend keeping sugar intake to 10% or less of your daily intake of calories.
Unsure of what that looks like? Well, it is generally recommended that men intake at least 2,500 calories a day, with women consuming at least 2,000. The recommended intake of added sugar (that’s sugar not found naturally in whole foods) is no more than 24 grams per day for an adult woman and no more than 36 grams per day for an adult man.
Just because we need to moderate our added sugar consumption doesn’t mean sweet treats need to be a once-in-a-while type of snack. Sugar-free and low-sugar options make it possible to feed your sweet tooth on the daily without guilt.
Who Should Avoid Sugar?
We have endless access to added sugar in everything from jelly beans and toffee to classic milk chocolate candies like Hershey’s “Special Dark” Chocolates, Reese’s, and York Peppermint Patties. However, consuming too much added sugar can have some not-so-fun consequences for all of us, including:
- Inflammation in the body
- Weight gain
- Fatty liver disease
- Increased risk of heart attack or stroke
You may find that keeping added sugars out of your diet is a tricky task! A quick look at the labels on pre-packaged foods will tell you quite a bit.
The first thing you may notice is the nutritional breakdown.
Take a can of soda, for example. Serving size is key here! You’d assume that with the way the label is written, your sweet drink has 25 grams of sugar. Let’s look closer… The serving size is actually two servings! If you drank the whole can, you’d be consuming 50 grams of sugar. Yikes!
Sugar and Diabetes
Diabetics are the most susceptible to the effects of sugar because of their insulin resistance. This causes a spike in blood sugar (hyperglycemia), which can lead to dehydration and diabetic coma.
People with diabetes can also experience low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), which is a result of not enough sugar in the blood. Someone experiencing hypoglycemia may have shakiness, fatigue, hunger, trouble focusing, dizziness, or irregular heartbeat.
Diabetics have to monitor their blood sugar regularly and make adjustments to their daily intake of certain foods. So, it is extra important that they know what they’re eating and how it may affect them.
Eliminating all sugar from our diets is very diffucult (especially because natural sugars have been shown to lower insulin response, so we want to keep fruit in our diet for sure).
That said, with some healthier swaps, we can at least be proactive when looking after our health — without having to compromise on taste.
What Are Common Sugar Substitutes?
Sugar substitutes like artificial sugars have been around for quite a while! Saccharin was the first to be commercialized after its discovery in 1879. However, as you’ll find out from reading below, some sugar substitutes are way healthier than others.
Let’s look at some popular sugar substitutes and their most common uses — and separate the ones worth trying from the ones you need to avoid.
Aspartame: Why You Should Skip It
Aspartame is one artificial sweetener that we highly recommend avoiding at all costs. It’s linked to numerous health problems, making it more than just something to steer clear of based on preference. It also has a distinctly artificial aftertaste that is impossible to miss.
- Commercial packaged foods
- Sugar-free mintchewing gum
- Sugar-free chocolate
Candy brands like Brach’s, Werther’s, Jelly Belly, Mentos, Lifesavers, and more have used aspartame to sweeten their treats at different times, including sugar-free butterscotchhard candies, mints, and other familiar items that you’d see on the shelves at a candy store.
Saccharin: Skip This One, Too
Saccharin is another artificial sweetener associated with several health risks. It’s worth avoiding for the sake of your health, as well as due to its fake-tasting flavor.
- Sugar-free caramel candy and other treats
- Baked Goods
Like aspartame, saccharin is free of calories. It doesn’t have any carbs, either, but that doesn’t mean you should include it in your diet. As you’ll discover, many calorie-free and low-carb foods are full of unnatural additives and chemicals. That’s why we opt for natural alternatives like stevia, erythritol, and chicory root fiber.
Stevia: A Plant-Based Favorite
- Table Sugar Substitute
- Baked Goods
- Keto-friendly snacks
Stevia is derived from the leaves of a plant known as Stevia rebaudiana. We love that plant power!
Stevia has been used by people in South America for hundreds of years. Currently, you’ll find stevia as a self-named sweetener or under the name of TruVia.
Stevia is also zero-calorie, pH stable, and can withstand plenty of heat. If you’re looking to bake sugar-free treats, stevia may be your sugar alternative of choice! It’s certainly one of our favorites, and we use it to sweeten several of our vegan goodies.
Erythritol: Another Plant-Based Winner
- Baked Goods
Erythritol is a naturally occurring sugar alcohol, sometimes made of corn. Unlike the other sweeteners so far, erythritol is about 70% as sweet as table sugar. It’s also low calorie, not calorie-free.
Erythritol was first discovered in blackstrap molasses that had been fermented by yeast, and now you can find it in your favorite MiiRO goodies!
Chicory Root Fiber: Pick This Instead of Aspartame or Saccharin
- Baked Goods
Chicory root is a sweetener derived from plants (just like our friend, Stevia). Chicory root is also known as inulin.
Chicory root is the least sweet option on this list, with about 10% of table sugar’s sweetness and 25% of the calories. It is touted for its ability to help with calcium absorption and the growth of intestinal bacteria. Probiotics are important, friends!
If you’re following a low FODMAP diet, be aware that chicory root is considered a FODMAP. Luckily, this sugar sub creates only a small increase in blood sugar levels.
What Are the Pros of Sugar-Free Candy?
Now that you know all about artificial sweeteners, let’s dive into the benefits of eating sugar-free candy instead of its high-sugar cousins.
Sugar-free candies can curb your dessert cravings on the same level as their sugary friends! Are you someone who wants to cut down on your sugar intake?
Most of us could use a little less sugar in our lives, but that doesn’t have to mean depriving yourself of the treats you love most. Sugar-free candies are a great alternative when you’re looking to lessen your sugar intake.
Want to keep your pearly whites cavity-free? Candies sans sugar could give you less reason to worry about tooth decay since sugar has been shown to cause cavities. Don’t hand over all of your Halloween candies to the dentist – keep the sugar-free ones to snack on.
If you’re a diabetic, you can still enjoy the taste of chocolate by eating sugar-free candy. Sugar substitutes like stevia, inulin, or erythritol don’t usually raise insulin levels, but be sure to check with your doctor on how much sugar-free candy you can eat.
Many sugar-free candy varieties have fewer calories than their sugar-laden counterparts. This makes sugar-free candy a wonderful alternative for people looking to lose weight, eat fewer calories, or prevent additional weight gain.
Dark chocolate and cacao have nutritional benefits in spades! Offering antioxidants and minerals like magnesium, iron, and zinc, dark chocolate can be a yummy addition to your diet.
With sugar-free candy, you don’t have to miss out on reaping the benefits provided by dark chocolate — but you will miss out on the harmful effects of refined sugar. It’s a win-win!
Cons of Sugar-Free Candy
Even awesome snacks have their downsides. Let’s look at a few sugar-free candy cons, shall we?
Some sugar-free candy may not taste exactly the same as your old favorites. Of course, it’s important to manage expectations and know that sugar-free counterparts aren’t going to be a complete dupe for your favorite candy bar! (At MiiRO, we’re proud to create sugar-free chocolate and candies that have no aftertaste. You’re so welcome!).
After trying the alternatives, you’ll adapt your taste bud expectations and begin to familiarize yourself with a new (and dare we say, better?) type of sweetness.
The Best Sugar-Free Candy Options
Here at MiiRO, we appreciate sugar-free alternatives of all shapes and sizes, but products with ingredients we can pronounce are dear to our hearts. Being able to recognize what is in your food is an amazing way to begin taking back your nutrition.
When looking for sugar-free candy, you may feel like you’re in a daze from the dozens of ingredients listed on the side of your candy bar. It’s usually best to opt for sugar-free candy that uses sugar substitutes and ingredients you feel familiar with!
Lifesavers flavors include yummy options like watermelon, grape, and apple. Other common sugar-free candy options you might find in stores include:
- Black licoricechewy candy
- Sugar-free gummy bears (or you can make your own sugar-free gummies at home)
- Saltwater taffy
- Sugar-free gum
Many companies create sugar-free candies, but not every company creates sugar-free options with pronounceable ingredients, like MiiRO’s sugar-free Peanut Butter Cups (for chocolate peanut butter fans) or our White Chocolate Bar With Crispy Almond Pieces.
Of course, it also depends on how the sugar alternative is metabolized in your body. Like we said earlier, not all sugar substitutes are created equal! We love using chicory root fiber because (you guessed it) it’s high in fiber. This means that it is naturally low-glycemic, and you won’t experience that not-so-fun glucose spike.
Sugar-free candy can be a tasty and fun alternative for anyone looking to trim added sugar from their diets. When searching for sugar-free candies, don’t forget to reach the labels! With the knowledge of different sweeteners and what sugar-free means, you’ll be able to select a sugar-free candy option that resonates with you.
Whether you’re looking for a Peanut Butter Cup or Chocolate Bar to munch on or even Dark Chocolate Chips to sprinkle in your cookie recipe, these sugar-free candies taste even better than the “real” thing.