Since its inception, sugar-free candy has given those with a sweet tooth a false sense of security. But don’t be fooled, sugar-free candy may be just as unhealthy for your body as regular candy, and your teeth too.

The truth is that candy, whether it be sugar-free or regular, is still candy and will contain high levels of fat, calories, and carbohydrates. Sugar-free candies typically have fewer carbs and calories than regular candy, but often times just slightly fewer. The key here is that sugar-free does not mean carbohydrate free, so if you are watching carb or calorie intake, still be mindful not to overdo it.

Many people buy sugar-free candies under the impression that they are healthier than the original version. Learn more about the pros and cons of sugar-free candy to best decide whether sugar substitutes are a good alternative for your diet and oral health.

Is sugar-free candy bad for your teeth?

Sugar-free candy may not harm your teeth the same way traditional candy does, but it can still cause tooth decay. Most sugar-free candies contain high levels of acid, a common contributor to both cavities and tooth decay. Acid wears away the enamel on our teeth which leads to permanent erosion and decay.

When this happens, a tooth’s dentin, or pulp, becomes exposed and any loss of tooth structure cannot be reversed. Many of our favorite treats, even the sugar-free ones, are loaded with citric acid. While a product label’s pH level can help you pick less-acidic foods, the answer is sometimes in the fine print. This makes it tough to determine how harmful a sugar-free snack might be on your teeth without understanding how to read a nutrition label.

What can I do to prevent erosion?
The ingredients listed on a nutrition facts label are based on serving size. By learning how to read these labels properly you can avoid food and drinks that are acidic or high in sugar. When you do decide to indulge in an acidic snack, be sure to wait 30 minutes before brushing your teeth. Acid softens the tooth enamel, so brushing immediately after eating or drinking a high-acid food or beverage can actually cause damage.

The best way to stop acid erosion is to avoid acidic foods altogether. But in some cases, this isn’t possible. There are some acidic foods, both natural and processed, that may be too difficult to eliminate completely. Try practicing moderation and always rinse your mouth with water or milk afterward.

Is sugar-free candy bad for your overall health?

For your teeth, sugar-free candy might be a healthy alternative to sugar-filled candy. Now, what about for overall health? The right answer for you will depend on how often you eat candy and whether or not you are trying to lose weight.

Sugar-free candies are sweetened with sugar substitutes including artificial sweeteners. These sugar substitutes are found in a plethora of sweets including frozen desserts, diet drinks, baked goods, and chewing gum. According to the Mayo Clinic, some artificial sweeteners may not be completely safe, though the risk is small.

Sugar alcohols are another common sugar substitute used in sugar-free candies. Sugar alcohols are found naturally in some fruits and vegetables but they are also commercially produced and used as ingredients for various foods and beverages. Similar to artificial sweeteners, these sugar substitutes are found in candies, cakes, diet drinks, gum, and more.

8 common types of sugar alcohols:
1. Maltitol
2. Erythritol
3. Lactitol
4. Mannitol
5. Sorbitol
6. Xylitol
7. Isomalt
8. Hydrogenated starch hydrolysates

Maltitol and other sugar alcohols such as erythritol are commonly used in low-carb or sugar-free products. These sweeteners are similar to sugar in terms of taste, texture, and interaction with other ingredients. Because sugar alcohols are not actually sugar, items that include sugar alcohols will commonly advertise “sugar-free” or “no sugar added”.

In some cases, this advertising isn’t a bad thing. Sugar alcohols are low-calorie sweeteners that affect blood sugar less than other carbohydrates, which can make them useful as a weight loss aid. The Mayo Clinic suggests that sugar alcohols are proven to be a safe way to decrease sugar intake when portioned properly but, just like any other sweet treat, too much added sugar and artificial sweetener will lead to tooth decay, weight gain, and other health problems.

When high levels of unabsorbed sugar alcohols move through the intestines it can cause discomfort or more serious health problems. The Center for Science in the Public Interest points out that an FDA warning is required on products that could cause consumers to ingest 50 grams of sorbitol or 20 grams of mannitol — two types of sugar alcohols. That’s why portioning is everything when it comes to sugar-free treats.

What is Stevia?

Stevia is another sugar substitute that doesn’t fall into the category of sugar alcohols or artificial sweeteners. Stevia is a highly purified substance derived from the leaves of the plant species Stevia rebaudiana, native to Brazil and Paraguay. The active compounds are steviol glycosides, which have 30 to 150 times the sweetness of sugar.

People have been using stevia leaves to sweeten food and drinks or as herbal supplements for centuries. Today, it is frequently used as a sugar substitute in common products like tea, candies, soy sauce, and soft drinks.

Common trade names for stevia sweeteners include:
• Enliten
• PureVia
• Rebiana
• Stevia Extract In The Raw
• Stevia
• Steviacane
• SweetLeaf

The FDA recognizes stevia as safe, as long as it’s consumed in recommended amounts. Too much of this sugar substitute can cause gastrointestinal symptoms and kidney damage. The Center for Science in the Public Interest has claimed that stevia may not be safe but a lack of research on the sweetener makes it challenging to be sure either way.

As an alternative to table sugar, however, stevia sweeteners carry the potential for serious health benefits. These sweeteners are sugar and calorie free, which can help with weight control, and contain many sterols and antioxidant compounds that have proven to reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer.

Stevia can be a healthy sugar alternative for teeth too. When regular sugar come into contact with oral bacteria it ferments. As sugar ferments, it splits into different components. One of those components is lactic acid, which eats tooth enamel. Over time that lactic acid can cause erosion and cavities. Intense sweeteners such as stevia leaf extract, on the other hand, are not able to ferment when in contact with oral bacteria.

Portion. Portion. Portion.

Portioning is a common trend in every sugar-free candy safety precaution. That’s why sugar-free candy is better for some than it is for others. When overindulged, sugar-free candies can also impact your blood sugar, here’s how:

1. Carbohydrates are broken down by enzymes to provide the body with glucose or sugar for energy.

2. Most carbohydrates found in sugar-free candies come from sugar alcohols, such as maltitol. Our bodies do not absorb all the calories from maltitol but they do absorb some.

3. This means that your blood sugars can still go up when eating sugar-free products — especially if you are overeating them.

Follow serving sizes closely when it comes to sugar alcohols, artificial sweeteners, and other sugar substitutes. Especially if you have a health condition that requires you to monitor your blood pressure.

Sugar-Free Doesn’t Mean Fat-Free

Some sugar-free products compensate by using more fat or other ingredients that can affect your blood sugar. As a result, sugar-free candy may not help you save on calorie or carbohydrate intake. Make sure to check nutritional labels and compare the total number of carbohydrates per serving to ensure that you are staying within your desired meal plan limits.

Sugar-free chocolate candies are typically 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 fat than the regular version. Therefore, it’s important to be mindful when eating sugar-free chocolates especially if you have heart disease, diabetes, are overweight, or have any other reason to monitor your fat intake.

Is sugar-free candy right for me?

Being concerned about how much sugar you consume is a great starting point to instill healthier eating habits. High sugar intake over time can lead to a multitude of health problems, including major tooth decay. If you take the mindset that because something is sugar-free you can eat more of it than you normally would, then perhaps sugar-free isn’t the right option for you.

Sugar-free candy best suits someone who doesn’t indulge in sweets too often. When limited, these sugar substitutes can be helpful for someone who is trying to lose weight and to mitigate dental problems caused by eating too much sugar.

Always remember that overindulging in candy and other treats, whether sugar-free or not, can lead to cavities and other dental problems. If you feel discomfort or have noticed tooth sensitivity, make an appointment with your dentist right away to have it checked out.

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