With Halloween on the horizon, we’re about to be hit hard with candy cravings. Unfortunately, many of our favorite Halloween treats are notoriously filled with hydrogenated fats, artificial ingredients, and excess added sugar.
But snacking on sweets is a Halloween tradition, and you may be hard-pressed to nix it altogether. So should you satisfy your sweet tooth with sugar-free, low-carb, or stevia-sweetened candy instead? Here’s what you need to know.
How Healthy Is Sugar-Free Candy, Really?
In short: Low-carb candy is slightly healthier than regular candy, in moderation.
Balance is the key to sustainable weight loss — and that includes room for the occasional sweet snack, says Claire Martin, RD, co-founder of Being Healthfull. “Most of your diet should consist of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, [lean] meat, and fish,” Martin says. “If you eat this type of diet most of the time, then it’s fine to have some flexibility in your diet for sweet treats in moderation, like candy.”
And compared to traditional candy, Martin says, sugar-free or low-carb candy can be a healthier option — especially if you’re trying to cut out sugar.
Still, low-carb candy isn’t a nutrient-rich snack, and its “health halo” doesn’t mean you can eat as much as you want. “The fact that it’s sugar-free gives the illusion that you can consume more of it,” says Dr. Nikola Djordjevic, MD, co-founder of MedAlertHelp.org — but you still need to keep a close eye on serving sizes.
Is sugar-free candy carb-free?
Not necessarily. “Always check the label of a sugar-free candy to make sure it is also carb-free,” Martin says. Some sugar-free candy is made with sugar alcohols, which are carbohydrates. (But because they don’t have as dramatic an effect on blood sugar levels as regular sugar, they’re typically permitted on the keto diet.) But again, it’s still important to limit how much you consume.
Can you eat stevia candy when you’re cutting out sugar?
Stevia leaf extract is a calorie-free natural sweetener that’s about 100 to 300 times sweeter than table sugar. Candy made with stevia is technically “keto-friendly” and allowed on some sugar-free diets — but it’s still a processed food that should be consumed in moderation.
Is Sugar-Free or Stevia-Sweetened Candy Safe to Eat?
But — you guessed it — that doesn’t mean you can eat sugar-free or stevia-sweetened candy in unlimited quantities. “‘Sugar-free’ does not mean ‘healthy,’” Martin says. When consuming sugar-free or low-carb candy, watch for these possible side effects:
- Tummy troubles. If you’ve ever polished off a bag of sugar-free candy, you’re probably all too familiar with this. “Eating too much sugar-free candy can result in digestive issues such as bloating, diarrhea, and gas,” Djordjevic says.
- Taste issues. Sugar substitutes can also change the way you taste food, since artificial sweeteners tend to be much more potent than table sugars. This can inhibit you from being able to taste the natural sweetness in foods and may cause you to crave more intensely sweet products.
3 Popular Stevia Candy Brands
If you decide to indulge in some sugar-free or low-carb candy this Halloween, here are a few options to look into.
Djordjevic recommends this brand of hard candies — available in cherry, strawberry, grape, and orange flavors — made with organic stevia.