Is Sugar-Free Candy Good or Bad for You?

Is Sugar-Free Candy Good or Bad for You?

If you have diabetes, you may wonder if eating sugar-free candy is the best choice when you have a craving for something sweet.

Sugar-free candy has some pros and cons when it comes to your health, but the amount of carbohydrates in sugar-free candies may come as a surprise. Some sugar substitutes can have unpleasant side effects, as well.

This article explains the different types of sweeteners used in sugar-free candies, their pros, cons, and possible side effects, and the best alternatives to these candies when you want a sweet treat.

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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 than sugar, but not all of them are calorie-free or carb-free.

Some sugar substitutes you’ll see on labels are:

Stevia is a non-alcohol, non-artificial sugar substitute made from the leaf of a sweet plant.

Saccharin, aspartame, stevia, and sucralose are calorie-free and carb-free.

Sugar alcohols 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 in candy 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

Sugar-free candies have some advantages over candies sweetened with sugar—but there are limits to the advantages.

  • Satisfying cravings: Sugar-free candies can satisfy your sweet tooth with less of an impact on your blood sugar than their full-sugar counterparts.
  • Cutting sugar: Federal dietary guidelines suggest keeping added sugars to less than 10% of your daily calories. Other health groups recommend an even lower limit. For example, the American Heart Association recommends 6% or less.
  • 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.

For example, if total carbs are 25 and sugar alcohols are 20, you’d count the food as 15 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: For some people, especially with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), sugar alcohols can cause unpleasant gastrointestinal side effects such as bloating and diarrhea. Avoid large amounts, especially if you’re sensitive to them.
  • 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 keep you from going 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.

People with diabetes can eat regular candy that contains sugar in moderation. Whether you eat sugar-free or sugared sweets. it’s important to keep on top of how many carbohydrates each contains. The truth is that candy, whether sugar-free or regular, is still candy.

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. Hard candies may be a better option in this case.
  • Sugar alcohols can have an impact on blood sugar levels, which may make candies that contain them less than ideal if you have diabetes. Their digestive side effects can make them less appealing as well.
  • You may experience discomfort with some types of artificial sweeteners, but not others. Get to know your body’s response so you know which ones to choose.
  • You may also just prefer the taste of some over others. To help guide future choices, take note of what your preferred candy is sweetened with.

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 those 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 getting along with the carbs, calories, and fat.


Sugar-free candies can seem like an appealing option for people with diabetes—and they can be, as long as you are aware that even sugar-free options contain carbohydrates. Certain non-sugar sweeteners may also have unpleasant side effects.

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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  2. American Heart Association. Press Release. Federal dietary guidelines emphasize healthy eating but fall short on added sugars.

  3. University of California, San Francisco, Diabetes Teaching Center: Diabetes Education Online. Counting sugar alcohols.

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  5. Evert AB, Dennison M, Gardner CD, 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

  6. Fiander M, MacKay DS, McGavock J, Wicklow B, Zarychanski R. Nonnutritive sweeteners and cardiometabolic health: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials and prospective cohort studies. CMAJ. 2017 Jul 17;189(28):E929-E939. doi:10.1503/cmaj.161390

By Stacey Hugues

Stacey Hugues, RD is a registered dietitian and nutrition coach who works as a neonatal dietitian at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.