Is Sugar-Free Candy Okay for People With Diabetes?

If you have diabetes, you know that while sugar doesn’t directly cause the disease, foods with too much of the ingredient can make it more difficult for you to control your blood glucose levels. But does sugar-free candy have the same effect on blood sugar? If you know how and to what extent, you may have an easier time enduring holidays like Halloween, Hanukkah, and Christmas — times when sugar cravings commonly strike.

Unfortunately, the answer to this common diabetes question isn’t so straightforward. “Generally speaking, sugar-free candy will have less of an effect on blood glucose than its sugar-containing counterpart,” says Jo-Anne M. Rizzotto, RD, a certified diabetes educator at the Joslin Clinic in Boston. “‘Sugar-free’ does not mean calorie-free or carbohydrate-free,” Rizzotto adds.

What Exactly Is in Sugar-Free Candy?

“The major difference between regular and sugar-free candy is the kind of sweetener used,” says Anna Taylor, RD, CDE, at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. She notes that typically there’s no significant difference in either the fat or protein content of sugar-free candy.

Sugar-free sweeteners include Splenda, saccharin, aspartame, stevia, and sugar alcohols.

What Studies Say About Sugar-Free Candy and Blood Sugar

While sugar-free candy itself hasn’t been studied extensively, the artificial sweeteners it contains have. A review of 37 studies published in July 2017 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that artificial sweeteners were linked with a modest increase in the risk for type 2 diabetes, among other ailments. Another review, published in the May–June 2016 issue of the Indian Journal of Pharmacology, cites research that suggests consuming artificial sweeteners regularly may be dangerous for people with diabetes because they are associated with an increased risk for obesity, which can further worsen glucose intolerance.

That doesn’t mean you have to completely swear off this brand of treats if you have diabetes or are at risk for the disease. Other research on humans suggests regular sugar may be comparatively more damaging for these individuals. A study published in July 2015 in the BMJ found that sugar-sweetened beverages, as opposed to fruit juice or artificially sweetened beverages, were most strongly associated with the incidence of type 2 diabetes. A study published in June 2017 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition also directly compared the different effects of these sweeteners, and researchers found that while regular consumption (which they defined as two or more servings per day) of artificially sweetened beverages was associated with a 21 percent increased risk of diabetes, that increased risk for diabetes rose to 43 percent when the frequently consumed drinks were sweetened with regular sugar.

Why Sugar-Free Candy May Be a Good Choice for Diabetes

When managing diabetes, experts agree that, at least based on current evidence, sugar-free candy is a better choice than candy made with regular sugar. “Having the option of sugar-free candy to satisfy a sweet tooth without causing a spike in blood glucose can be very helpful,” Rizzotto says.

Another possible benefit? Sugar-free candy often, though not always, contains fewer total carbohydrates, less sugar, and fewer calories than regular candy, Taylor says.

That said, it’s still crucial to practice portion control, as you do with all foods in your diabetes diet. This type of candy still has the potential to affect blood sugar levels if the candy contains (as it often does) sugar alcohols, which contain carbohydrates, but to a lesser degree than sugar, Taylor notes. Some examples of these sugar alcohols are sorbitol, xylitol, and mannitol. If you ingest too many sugar alcohols, you may experience uncomfortable gastrointestinal symptoms like bloating, gas, and diarrhea, Taylor warns.

“It’s also easy to consume more candy with the justification that it is sugar-free, potentially causing you to eat more calories and more carbohydrates than if you were just eating the regular candy made with sugar,” Rizzotto adds. “Always read the nutrition facts label to see how many calories, carbohydrates, and sugar alcohols, if any, the candy contains.”

Tips for Eating Sugar-Free Candy When Managing Diabetes

Before popping that sugar-free candy in your mouth, follow this handy guide to ensure the sweet stuff doesn’t mess with your blood sugar levels:

Try to keep added sugar intake to no more than 25 grams (g) per day if you’re a woman and to no more than 36 g per day if you’re a man, the American Heart Association recommends. You don’t necessarily have to swap out all candy for sugar-free versions — but do be sure to check the label of each piece of regular candy to make sure you aren’t going over this recommended amount. Remember that if you have diabetes, the fewer added sugars, the better.

Focus on portion control and decreased frequency, regardless of whether you choose sugar-free candy or regular candy, Taylor says. That way, you’ll be able to budget for treats without exceeding the recommended sugar or carb intake, she says.

Limit your sugar alcohol consumption. If you’re budgeting for a sugar-free candy in your diet, watch out for ingredients like sorbitol, xylitol, and mannitol, all of which contain carbohydrates and can impact your blood sugar levels, Taylor says. Other sugar alcohols include lactilol, isomalt, and erythritol. To figure out how many carbs your body is absorbing from these sugar alcohols, divide the number of grams of sugar alcohols on the nutrition label (also called “polyols”) in two, as Asquel Getaneh, MD, describes here.

When choosing candies, consider the saturated fat content as well. “You want to look for the lowest saturated fat content and ensure the carbohydrate content fits into your carb budget,” Taylor says. For instance, she notes that sugar-free chocolate still contains cocoa butter, which is high in saturated fat. Saturated fat can raise cholesterol levels, and should be limited to no more than about 6 percent of your total daily calories, Taylor says.

Choose quality over quantity. Ultimately, choose a treat you know will be satisfying, so you aren’t tempted to overindulge. “Treat yourself to a piece of regular candy you like, and plan for it,” Rizzotto says. “Savor it slowly, not letting guilt flaw the experience of enjoying the candy.”

If you have diabetes you may feel like sugar is your enemy. But when you have a hankering for something sweet, is sugar-free candy a healthy option?

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In this Q and A, registered dietitian Anna Taylor, MS, RD, LD, CDE,answers our questions and discusses what you need to know about sugary treats and other foods that use sugar substitutes.

Q: Should people with diabetes eat candy with or without sugar?

A: About 90 percent of your diet should focus on healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, poultry and fish. There is wiggle room in a healthful diet for treats like sweets whether you have diabetes or not. That is where candy would fit.

You should enjoy your food — and food also has social, emotional and physical health benefits. Built into the recommended dietary guidelines is room for getting up to 10 percent of your calories from sugar every day.

Treats affect your blood sugar. So if you have diabetes, it’s important to focus on portion control and moderation when you select these foods.

In other words, you can eat treats even if you have diabetes. But you need to account for the carbohydrate and calorie content they provide in your diet whether they are sugar-free or not.

Q: How much sugar should you allow in your daily diet?

A: Everyone with diabetes is different, but here’s what the American Heart Association recommends:

  • No more than 25 grams of added sugar (about six teaspoons or 100 calories) daily for women
  • No more than 36 grams (about nine teaspoons or 150 calories) of added sugar per day for men

Q: How does sugar-free candy affect your body?

A: Some sugar substitutes contain carbohydrates, while others do not. All carbohydrates turn into sugar in the body, leading to elevated blood sugar levels. You have to read the nutrition facts label to know whether a product contains carbohydrates.

It’s true that sugar alcohols such as sorbitol, xylitol, and mannitol, don’t affect blood sugars as dramatically as other carbohydrates do. So sugar-free candy with most of the total carbs coming from these alcohols will typically have less impact on your blood sugar.

Many of those who have type 2 diabetes do well with an intake of 30 grams to 45 grams of carbs per meal (for women) and 45 to 60 grams per meal (for men), and snacks with no more than 20 grams of carbs. See a registered dietitian for individualized recommendations.

Q: What are some misunderstandings that surround sugar-free candy?

A: There are several, including:

  • Sugar-free means unlimited. Sugar-free candies and other treats may still contain carbohydrates. In addition, some sugar-free candy contains significant calories and is high in saturated or trans fats. Pay attention to serving sizes, strictly avoid trans fats and limit saturated fat to 6 percent (fewer than 13 grams) of total calories per day. For a 2,000 calorie per day diet, this would be about 13 grams.
  • Sugar-free means healthy. Fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains are examples of healthy foods. Candy doesn’t count as healthy, even if it is sugar-free. If you eat a lot of candy and aren’t ready to cut back, however, switching to sugar-free candy may help you better control your carbohydrate intake. The long-term goal, though, is to cut down on all candy.
  • It is only for people with diabetes. Those who have diabetes can eat sugar as part of their overall carbohydrate budget. Both kinds of candy can increase blood sugars, especially if portion and carbohydrate content are not considered. In addition, people with or without diabetes may choose sugar-free candy if they are trying to lower calories or decrease sugar intake.

Q: Are there benefits to choosing sugar-free candy?

A: There are several possible benefits, including:

  • When eaten in moderation, sugar alcohols don’t dramatically increase blood sugars.
  • It may contain fewer total carbohydrates than regular candy.
  • It obviously has less added sugar than regular candy.
  • It may have fewer calories than regular candy.

Q: Are there any problems with sugar-free candy?

A: Sugar alcohols can cause adverse gastrointestinal symptoms such as bloating, abdominal pain, gas and diarrhea. So it’s a good idea to stick to the serving size recommendations.

Some studies suggest that certain zero-calorie sweeteners may also stimulate appetite, which can be counterproductive for someone who is trying to watch their weight.

The bottom line: Most people can enjoy treats — with or without sugar — as part of a healthy diet. If you have questions about sugar or carbohydrate intake, consult your doctor or a dietitian.

Sugar-free candies clean out your digestive system better than a giant pipe-cleaner. Not to put too fine a point on it, they make you poop. How do these ultra-laxatives work, and why are they still on the market?

Lycasin, Maltitol, and Gummy Bears

Reviewers on Amazon made Haribo Sugar Free Gummy Bears famous when they gave reviews testifying that the bears went into their body and out the other end at a break-neck run, taking everything else in their digestive system with them. The unhappy commenters mentioned stomach rumbles, ear-splittingly loud flatulence, and diarrhea. This is not confined to gummy bears. Any food loaded up with a low-calorie sugar called Lycasin will do the same.


Lycasin is a trade name, not a scientific name. The calorie free sweetener in the fake sugar is maltitol. Maltitol is a sugar alcohol, like most other fake sugars. Derived from plants, sugar alcohols have their carbohydrates altered in a lab. They become difficult to digest. The oral bacteria in the mouth are completely unable to digest them, which means they do not contribute in any way to tooth decay. In the stomach, they can be partially digested, but they are digested over a long period of time. An extended digestion period keeps them from dramatically and suddenly elevating blood sugar, making them safer for diabetics. They even might help keep people’s insides healthy. On the Cargill foods index, they are listed as one of the foods that can promote the health of the digestive system by nourishing gut bacteria.


Sugar alcohols are very popular because they are nearly as sweet as sugar, and react like sugar in nearly every way. They come in a white powder. They melt in water. They can be cooked. The only thing they don’t do is brown the way sugar does, so you’ll rarely see them in fried sugary items like cobblers or turnovers.

The Downside of Skinny

Not all of the sugars are digested. The ones that remain on the outside of the inside of the body (not transported across the stomach or intestinal lining), promote a little thing called osmosis. Osmosis is the tendency of molecules to move across a membrane. Generally solvents – in this case water – move across a membrane to an area with a high concentration of solutes – in this case undigested sugars. In other words, having these sugars in your gut will cause a massive amount of water to dump itself into your stomach and intestines.


When the body needs to clean out the digestive system in a hurry, it pours water into the digestive system. The watery material makes a run for the colon, and from there out of the body. And that, boys and girls, is how diarrhea is made. Having too much undigested sugar will cause diarrhea via osmosis. The flatulence is often the result of the stool making its way through your system and pushing everything in its path ahead of it.


Diarrhea isn’t life-threatening, provided it’s not prolonged and the person experiencing it has plenty of water to re-hydrate themselves. That being said, it’s not healthy and it’s really unpleasant. How did this product get on the market if it’s causing people to explode, anus-first, like sea cucumbers?

The main problem seems to be that, when they pick up a product that’s sugar free, most people think, “Oh great, I can eat more,” when what they need to be thinking is, “I have to eat less.” About 25 grams of maltitol is a laxative for children. Forty grams is a laxative for adults. So think of fifteen gummy bears as a decent dose. Few people restrict themselves to fifteen gummy bears, especially if they get a five pound bag. It’s just a matter of a few bites, and then they get their insides relocated.


Image: Tobik via


Gut bacteria play a role in why dark chocolate is so good for you

While a study proclaiming the benefits of dark chocolate is hardly necessary to convince us to eat it, new research presented at a meeting of the American Chemical Society may make us feel better about eating that truffle after lunch. It seems bacteria in the stomach eat the chocolate and produce anti-inflammatory compounds that are beneficial for the heart.

Flavanols – naturally occurring antioxidants – are plentiful in cocoa products, but until now, scientists have not been clear on what happens to them in the lower gastrointestinal tract.

There have been many health benefits linked to chocolate, but the exact reason for these have eluded the medical community for some time.

In order to study the effects of dark chocolate on stomach bacteria, researchers from Louisiana State University tested three cocoa powders using a series of modified test tubes, which modeled a human digestive tract. They say their setup simulated normal digestion.

Maria Moore, one of the researchers, reminds us that for the gut, there are “good” guys and “bad” guys – that is, good and bad bacteria.

“The good microbes, such as Bifidobacterium and lactic acid bacteria, feast on chocolate,” she says. “When you eat dark chocolate, they grow and ferment it, producing compounds that are anti-inflammatory.”

Meanwhile, the “bad” bacteria, such as Clostridia and E. coli, are linked to inflammation and can cause gas, bloating, diarrhea and constipation.

How eating dark chocolate reduces stroke risks

John Finley, PhD, who led the study, explains that cocoa powder contains flavanol compounds of catechin and epicatechin, as well as a small amount of dietary fiber.

Share on PinterestTempted by dark chocolate? Maybe giving in is better for your health; researchers found that gut bacteria eat chocolate and produce small polymers that exhibit anti-inflammatory activity.

Though both of these are poorly digested and absorbed, the good microbes go to work on them when they enter the colon.

After subjecting the non-digestible materials to anaerobic fermentation – using human fecal bacteria in the modified test tubes – Finley says they observed certain changes:

“In our study we found that the fiber is fermented and the large polyphenolic polymers are metabolized to smaller molecules, which are more easily absorbed. These smaller polymers exhibit anti-inflammatory activity.”

He says that when these compounds decrease inflammation of cardiovascular tissue, this reduces the risk of stroke.

Additionally, eating prebiotics – foods not digested that are beneficial for good gut bacteria – along with the fiber in cocoa could improve overall health by converting polyphenolics in the stomach into compounds that act as anti-inflammatories, the researchers say.

Prebiotics are found naturally in foods, such as raw garlic or cooked whole wheat flour, and they are also available as dietary supplements.

Finley adds:

“When you ingest prebiotics, the beneficial gut microbial population increases and outcompetes any undesirable microbes in the gut, like those that cause stomach problems.”

He also suggests combining dark chocolate with solid fruits such as pomegranates and acai for further health benefits, a medical recommendation many will be happy to follow.

Speaking with Medical News Today, Finley said he and his team plan to conduct clinical trials to confirm these benefits and identify specific microbes that are increased by prebiotic effects.

We recently reported on another study that suggested dark chocolate has heart benefits. Researchers from that paper suggested the dark treat reduces risk of atherosclerosis by restoring flexibility to the arteries and preventing white blood cells from sticking to blood vessel walls.

We all have our own unique eating styles and food preferences, but most of us have a strong dislike for bloat. Agree with me? I thought so! As a nutritionist, I hear this complaint frequently from my clients. If you feel bloated more often than you’d like, here is a simple guide I created to help you keep that belly bloat at bay.

First, a little bloat 411: Bloat is a buildup of gas in the abdomen, usually caused by digestion or swallowed air. Feeling bloated can result from an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine. This bacteria ferments food, creating gas that causes bloating. In other words, you feel like you’ve been blown up like a balloon.

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Similar to bloating is water retention. This lovely (not!) feeling is usually caused by consuming too much salt (beware of processed foods). High levels of sodium cause your body to hold on to extra unwanted fluid. Not only can bloating and water retention be uncomfortable and less than attractive, it can be downright painful. Here is a guideline to beat the bloat.

Foods to avoid:

1. Non-nutritive sweeteners: When it comes to bloating, sugar alcohols are often a culprit. While they are derived from sugar, sugar alcohols have a different chemical structure that alters the way the body metabolizes them. Sugar alcohols are considered low-digestible carbohydrates because they’re either partially absorbed in the small intestine or not absorbed at all, and this means they can cause some unpleasant symptoms. These are most commonly found in sugar-free products, low-calorie foods or baked goods.

2. Carbonated beverages: The bubbles found in carbonated beverages may be oh so satisfying, but they can also build up in your stomach, causing uncomfortable bloating and gas. If a flat belly is what you’re after, it’s best to avoid the bubbles.

3. Cruciferous veggies: While I absolutely recommend these veggies as part of a healthy diet (broccoli is a fave!), steer clear on the days you’re trying to really cut the bloat. Because of their complex sugars and high fiber content, it’s harder for your body to digest them, often causing unwanted gas. Brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage and cauliflower are the most common offenders and often cause some discomfort when it comes to digestion.

4. Dairy: As we age, we lose the enzyme needed to break down and process milk sugars, and the side effect is often bloating. Try ditching milk, yogurt and cheese. If you notice a positive difference, try adding dairy foods back one at a time starting with yogurt, to see which dairy product is the offender.

5. Starchy foods: Starches, especially the processed ones like cereals, pastas, breads and crackers, hold on to water, which means your body will too. You can go without the toast and pasta, or choose whole-grain and less processed options like brown rice instead of white, root vegetables and oats.

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Foods to enjoy

1. Asparagus: This veggie is a great source of folate and vitamins like A, C and K, and contains a compound called asparagine, which allows it to act as a natural diuretic. This means asparagus can help with digestion and bloating.

Samantha Okazaki / TODAY

Grilled asparagus

Al Roker

2. Dandelion tea: In the past, dandelion roots and leaves have been used to treat everything from liver problems, kidney disease, swelling, skin problems, heartburn and upset stomach. Because of their natural diuretic effect, dandelion leaves are now often used in tea as a de-bloating elixir. The tea will help flush out any excess water weight.

3. Fennel: This veggie acts as a diuretic, helping you to flush out the excess water you may be retaining. It has a slight licorice flavor that also adds a crunchy freshness to a variety of dishes. Toss fennel in your salad, roast instead of broccoli or make it the star of your next crudité platter.

4. Non-cruciferous veggies: Veggies like cucumber, spinach and celery are full of water and digest fairly easily, making them the veggies you want to fill up on.

5. Papaya: This tropical fruit contains a special enzyme called papain that helps aid digestion and the breakdown of protein. Thinly slice this fruit and couple it with a piece of grilled chicken for a snack or sweeten a smoothie with a few cubes to have the same effect.

More advice to beat the bloat:

1. Eat fermented food once a day: Foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles, kefir and kombucha are naturally high in probiotics. Like the probiotic supplement, fermented foods introduce good microorganisms that can contribute to maintaining a balanced, healthy gut.

2. Drink up: When you’re dehydrated, your electrolyte levels can become unbalanced. This means you could be holding on to unwanted water weight without even realizing it. Drinking more water does not mean more water is retained. Drinking more water means your body can flush out any excess (along with toxins) more easily.

3. Move more: You can be eating the right foods, but if you’re spending all day sitting, the stagnation can cause unwanted gas buildup. Make a point to get up and move every hour.

A sample anti-bloating day:

Breakfast: 1 cup green tea with an egg scramble with leftover grilled salmon and asparagus (add 1 teaspoon dried basil)

Snack: Gut health smoothie: 1/2 cup plain kefir, 1/3 cup papaya and 1/4 avocado

Lunch: Spinach (cooked or raw), 2 teaspoons olive oil and top with 1 tablespoon of chopped pecans and 4-6 ounces lemon herb chicken

Dinner: Large romaine lettuce salad with carrots, tomatoes and red bell peppers; top with simple lemon dressing; roasted fennel, sweet potato fries and 4-6 ounces parchment baked salmon

Drink flat water with lemon throughout the day!

For more advice from Keri Glassman, follow her on Instagram.

This story was originally published on Feb. 2, 2018.

When I tried cutting sugar out of my diet and all I could think about non-stop was getting my hands on some lusciously sweet, sugar-coated sugar, I realized it wasn’t just what I lovingly referred to as a “sugar tooth.” It felt more like a gripping addiction, which made it that much more important to get control of. It took me about three weeks to ditch sugar, and afterward, I honestly didn’t crave it as much.

Once I felt like I had a handle on my sugar obsession, I began re-introducing a little back into my diet. Nothing crazy like soda or frosted doughnuts. Vanilla soy milk in my overnight oats, a little piece of dark chocolate after lunch, and a slice of home-baked chocolate chip banana bread after dinner didn’t seem like much, but then I started having terrible, labor-like gas pains and bloating like I’d never experienced.

I went to the doctor, convinced I had some rare form of food poisoning or a 12-foot-long worm living inside my intestines. I went through a slew of blood tests, stool tests, and other tests I’d rather not talk about. They couldn’t figure out what was wrong. I thought it was weird that they never once asked me about my diet, so I took matters into my own hands. Since I was vegan and eating pretty healthy, I thought about possible culprits. “Maybe it’s gluten? Or maybe it’s soy?” So I eliminated those, but that didn’t do a thing. I even tried taking probiotics (two different brands!), but after two months, nothing changed.


It wasn’t until I talked with registered dietitian Leslie Langevin, MS, RD, CD, of Whole Health Nutrition, that she said, “What about sugar?” She explained that, “in your GI tract, there are trillions of bacteria that usually help with health, but these bacteria consume the sugars in your foods and can increase gas production and bloat.”

Although there isn’t huge evidence that ties sugar to bloat, she said that many people find relief when they “cut down on added sugars and refined grains.” It only took a week, but I felt 100 percent better after cutting back on added sugars. I used unsweetened soy milk and added mashed banana and a touch of maple syrup to my overnight oats, cut out the chocolate and ate a handful of raisins and peanuts instead, and baked with coconut sugar instead of white sugar (and used less of it). Honestly, I was so happy to be feeling better, I really didn’t miss the sugar.

Could sugar be causing your belly bloat? Try cutting out added sugar and refined grains from your diet, or at least adhere to the World Health Organization recommendation for added sugars, which is 25 grams. For reference, Leslie says, “if you had a sweetened yogurt and a scoop of sugar in your coffee you are already over your sugar limit.” That is nuts! Leslie says to definitely eliminate white and brown sugar, artificial sweeteners, high-fructose corn syrup, processed white carbs like bread and pasta, and sugar alcohols like xylitol and sorbitol. The natural sugars in fruit are OK, but some contain high levels of fructose and polyols (natural sugar compounds) so if you’re suffering from belly bloat, try limiting apples, pears, dried fruits, and mangoes.

Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Sisilia Piring

What You Need to Know About Sugar Alcohols

Sugar alcohols are the sugars in alcohol, right? Wrong actually, the term “sugar alcohol” can be quite misleading as they are neither a sugar nor an alcohol. Confused yet? Allow me to explain then. Sugar alcohols are in most “sugar free” and “diet” products and once you know what to look for you will be amazed at just how many products contain some form of them. They are sweet to the tongue and are poorly digested by the body, making them what manufacturers believe to be the perfect type of sweetener. Unfortunately for some unlucky people these sugar alcohols can cause all sorts of bodily upsets.

What Are Sugar Alcohols

A sugar alcohol is also know as a polyol and can be classified as a carbohydrate. Sugar alcohols naturally occur in many fruits and vegetables, but are most widely consumed in sugar-free and reduced-sugar foods. The sweetness of sugar alcohols varies from 25% to 100% as sweet as table sugar (sucrose). The chemical structure of sugar alcohols is a hybrid between a sugar molecule and an alcohol molecule, hence the name, but they are neither one nor the other. Although included in most sugar free products, sugar alcohols do have a caloric value. This value is generally half that of sugar and is very low on the glycemic index, which is great for controlling blood sugar levels. Sugar alcohols also don’t ferment in the mouth when coming into contact with oral bacteria, which is another plus for dealing with oral health.

There are several types of sugar alcohols. When you look at a food label the below are all sugar alcohols you may see:

  • Sorbitol
  • Xylitol
  • Erythritol
  • Isomalt
  • Lactitol
  • Hydrogenated starch hydrolysates
  • Maltitol
  • Mannitol

I bet you now realize you have seen some of these in your food products. Sugar alcohols are found in a vast array of items like candy, gum, ice cream, baked good, and fruit spreads. They can also be found in oral hygiene products like toothpaste, mouthwashes and breath mints; medicines like cough syrups and lozenges; and most importantly they can be found in lots of sports nutrition products like protein powders, pre-workout supplements, and low-carb products.

Why Use Sugar Alcohols

The reason sugar alcohols are used is that they are slowly and incompletely absorbed in the body. Once they are absorbed they use very little to no insulin to convert to energy. Not all of the sugar alcohol passes into the bloodstream. The rest passes through the small intestine and into the large intestine.

One major use of sugar alcohols is in the management of diabetes, primarily to maintain close to normal blood sugar levels. The reason for this is because the sugar alcohols are incompletely absorbed, meaning they don’t initiate the same insulin response as they would if someone had consumed regular sugar. This allows for quite a few products to be marketed to diabetics, but as with anything your doctor should always be consulted if you are to add sugar alcohols into your daily diet.

Tooth decay is a major problem in regards to excessive sugar consumption, but with sugar alcohols this is not a problem, as the bacteria in the mouth don’t act upon them. Xylitol has even been found to inhibit oral bacteria. Due to this, manufacturers of chewing gums and sugarless mints include xylitol in their products as a sweetener.

Sugar alcohols are also used in reduced calorie or low carbohydrate diet foods. This is because they are used to replace the more energy dense carbohydrate sugars in the diet, thus lowering the total energy/calories of a food product. This is useful in the management of weight control and can help people trying to lose weight. Sugar alcohols can also be used to control the glycemic index of a food by lowering the carbohydrate rate. It should be noted that overconsumption of anything, even a product containing a sugar alcohol can possibly lead to weight gain.


3.0 calories per gram Hydrogenated starch hydrolysates

2.6 calories per gram Sorbitol

2.4 calories per gram Xylitol

2.1 calories per gram Maltitol

2.0 calories per gram Isomalt

2.0 calories per gram Lactitol

1.6 calories per gram Mannitol

0.2 calories per gram Erythritol

Side Effects of Sugar Alcohols

In some people sugar alcohols can cause bloating, flatulence, and diarrhea. This is because the sugar alcohol is not completely absorbed in the digestive system and this causes fermentation to occur in the intestines. Due to this fermentation, gas is produced and can cause gastrointestinal distress. This is the reason why products that could be over consumed, like gum and mints, must have a health statement on the label that says, “Excess consumption may have a laxative effect.” It must be noted that even if you are not sensitive, over consumption can cause abdominal discomfort ranging from cramps to diarrhea and dehydration.

Fluctuating blood sugar can also be of concern. Even though these sugar alcohols have very low glycemic impact and low carbohydrate energy density, consumed in large enough quantities they can cause fluctuations in blood sugar levels. This needs to be monitored if these products are to be consumed.

As with anything side effects will vary from person to person, some will have an instant reaction while others may never notice anything at all. The status of someone’s overall health will ideally relate to that persons degree of sensitivity. This is especially true to any one that has any type of gastrointestinal condition like irritable bowel syndrome, in these instances sugar alcohols should be consumed sparingly if at all to reduce the chances of causing gastrointestinal discomfort.

I think with the ever-increasing amount of products available on the market today that these food items do have a place on the shelves. But if we look at our diets realistically, consuming sugar free or low carbohydrate items shouldn’t be necessary or at the very least should only make up a very small portion of the foods we consume. Ideally we should be looking to consume natural, whole foods to fuel our bodies. That way, regardless of the pros or cons of sugar alcohols, the majority of us wouldn’t have to concern ourselves with that ever foreboding laxative effect.

Photos courtesy of .

4 Foods That Make You Bloated

Tara Moore/Getty Images

You already know to avoid bubbly drinks if you don’t want to be burping all day, but are you aware of what foods make you bloated? Below, we’re dishing on the top culprits that make your stomach say, “oh no,” and what quantities really do damage.

Here are a few foods that make you bloated so you can avoid them when you’re feeling overextended. (On the flip side, check out 10 foods that actually help combat bloating.)

  1. Carbonated drinks. Although they won’t cause abdominal bloating like other foods on this list, the air infused in the drinks during the carbonation process may cause gas buildup in your stomach. This leads to discomfort, bloating and most likely belching, but it’s a very transient effect that should only last a few hours.
  2. Sugar-free gum, candies, and desserts. What foods make you bloated? Ones that contain sugar alcohols, that’s for sure. They are poorly digested (if at all), which leaves them to be feasted on by the gut bacteria, leading to increased gas production and bloating. Xylitol, a sugar alcohol has some added beneficial effects on your oral health, is generally better tolerated, while sorbitol and mannitol are not. Try to limit sugar-free desserts to a maximum of one per day. A few sticks of sugar-free gum a day shouldn’t be a problem—just don’t consume more than one pack a day. (Related: Which is Really Healthier, Sugar or Artificial Sweeteners?)
  3. Broccoli and cabbage. The class of vegetables that includes broccoli and cabbage is notorious for causing bloating. The bloating has less to do with their high fiber content (a common scapegoat) but more to do with the nondigestible carbohydrates they contain. Reducing the amount of these foods that you eat in one setting could be enough to eliminate the occurrence of any bloating. If you love these foods and don’t want to reduce or give them up, try a supplement like Bean-O, which will provide your body with enzymes needed for the digestion of these carbs. The indigestible carbohydrates will then be broken down and digested, leaving nothing for bacteria to feast on.
  4. Dairy foods. Dairy can cause bloating at a variety of levels, due to the malabsorption of lactose, the sugar found in dairy. When considering what foods make you bloated in terms of yogurt, milk, and cheese, it varies widely based on a person’s ability to digest lactose. The amount of lactose in different dairy foods is also variable. Because of this, it may take some time to determine your level of lactose (in)tolerance and how that translates into what kinds and how much of dairy foods you can eat. (Related: The Pros and Cons of Consuming Dairy)

The Bottom Line On What Foods Make You Bloated

Side effects from drinking carbonated beverages like bloating and gas are more of a nuisance than a health issue, but excessive bloating from sugar alcohols and other poorly digested carbohydrates, if left unchecked, may be indicative of bigger digestive problems such as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. If anything seems off, keep a food journal, then talk to your physician about your response to eating these foods. This could be the first step to stop bloating and get your digestive tract back on track.

  • By Mike Roussell, Ph.D.

Intestinal Gas from Complex Carbohydrates or Lactose Intolerance

Could your intestinal gas and bloating be a result of Complex Carbohydrate Intolerance or Lactose Intolerance? As more and more people are realizing the importance of healthy eating, many of us have discovered that some of the same foods that are so good for us can often cause gas, bloating, and considerable discomfort.

Complex Carbohydrates

When bloating and discomfort happens because of eating vegetables, legumes, grains, cereals, nuts, and seeds – which contain complex carbohydrates – we call this condition Complex Carbohydrate Intolerance (CCI).

CCI occurs because we lack the enzyme necessary to digest complex carbohydrates. There is little gas production in the small intestine because the bacterial concentration is low. When the undigested carbohydrates reach the colon, the bacteria that normally live in the colon ferment them. This fermentation often results in the production of gas – similar to the production of bubbles in the fermenting of grapes into champagne. The buildup of gas in the colon results in discomfort, bloating, and sometimes pain.

Many people do not know what Complex Carbohydrate Intolerance is and therefore do not know how to treat it effectively. Fortunately, there is a product that can help prevent the symptoms of CCI by providing the missing enzyme needed to fully digest foods containing complex carbohydrates. The missing enzyme is contained in a natural-sourced product called Beano™.

Beano™ contains an enzyme that works with your body’s digestion. It breaks down complex carbohydrates into simple sugars that your body can easily digest. This helps ward off discomfort.

It is important that you take Beano™ with your first mouthful of gas producing food. Follow the instructions on the label, but keep in mind that the more gas producing foods you eat, the more Beano™ you will need. Beano™ is available in both tablets and drops.

Beano™ is a safe, natural-sourced product that contains the enzyme called alpha-galactosidase. This enzyme is made from a food-grade mold. (Don’t worry – molds are often used in many prepared foods such as jams and jellies). However, if you use Beano and experience an allergic-type symptom, you should discontinue its use.

You should consult your physician before using Beano if you suffer from galactosemia (a rare carbohydrate metabolism disorder detected at birth).

The use of Beano will produce an additional 2 to 6 grams of carbohydrate for every 100 grams of treated food. For diabetics, this means that each serving of Beano itself contributes an extremely small number of calories (less that 5) to your diet and would be expected to have an insignificant effect on your blood glucose. However, if you still have any concerns, you should speak to your physician.

There is no scientific information to suggest that if you are allergic to penicillin, that you would have an allergy to Beano. The major cause of penicillin allergy appears to be penicillin itself and not any penicillin mold-derived allergens. Therefore, it is safe to take Beano if you are allergic to penicillin.

In addition, certain medical conditions make it difficult to digest complex carbohydrates. These include celiac disease, pancreatitis, and short-bowel syndrome. These diseases can cause more undigested carbohydrates to move into the large intestine. Again, fermentation occurs and results in gas.


The fermentation of dairy products in our intestines can also lead to gas symptoms. Lactose intolerance is an inability to digest lactose – the sugar found in dairy foods. This is caused by a deficiency of the natural enzyme called lactase (say LACK-tays), which breaks down the milk sugar to make it digestible. Left undigested, the milk sugar lactose (say LACK-toes) can lead to the production of gas, bloating, diarrhea, and stomach discomfort. The product Lactaid® can relieve this gas if taken with the first mouthful or sip of dairy products. Lactaid Milk® is a ready-to-use milk that offers all the health benefits of fat-free, 1% or 2% milk, but reduces the lactose content so that it can be enjoyed by people who are lactose intolerant.

About 20% of Caucasians have a lactase deficiency, and it is more common in blacks, Asians, and those of Mediterranean origin.

More About Gas

Whether we burp or “pass wind” (flatulence), everybody gets gas. Some people think that their digestive tract is malfunctioning because they experience what they believe to be excessive amounts of gas. To some, gas is often seen as funny and the subject of many jokes. You may be one of the many people who find that gas causes pain, discomfort, bloating, and embarrassing moments. Although some fear a serious ailment is present, fortunately, this is rarely the case. It is important to know that gas in itself is not dangerous. However, its consequences may have social implications due to our inability to control its passage.

Intestinal gas can be extremely painful. The abdomen often becomes distended, especially right after eating. Sometimes bloating can be so severe that clothing becomes tight, and may no longer fit. Because of its severity, sufferers can be overly concerned regarding its seriousness. The good news is that in most cases, gas is easily treated.

If neither complex carbohydrates nor dairy products are the source of your gas, it could be from swallowed air. When we swallow air, it passes through our digestive system. Usually, we release this air naturally in small amounts throughout the day. Some of us, however, may be prone to swallowing excessive amounts of air, which builds up in our intestines, causing gas. We seem to take in more air when we are under stress or when we swallow frequently, for example from wearing ill-fitting dentures, drinking through a straw, or from smoking cigars. Each swallow brings a small amount of air into our stomach and the volume gradually increases – causing burping, bloating, and discomfort.

For some of us, swallowed air becomes a problem because our intestines may move food through slower than normal. This can cause the air to build up and move backward into the stomach. As the air builds up, it can cause burping, bloating, discomfort and even pain. In women, an increase in the hormone progesterone can slow the intestines and cause gas. This hormone increase can occur during pregnancy, before menstruation, or during menopause if you are using progesterone to treat the symptoms.

Is Your Gas Meter Running A Little Too High?

To select the appropriate treatment, it is important to know the cause




Mechanism Of Action

Pain in the lower abdomen
Gas from eating complex carbohydrates (vegetables, legumes, grains, etc.) Beano™
(alpha-galactosidase enzyme)
taken with gas producing food
Prevents gas by breaking down complex carbohydrates in vegetables, legumes, grains, etc. into absorbable sugars. Indigestible sugars are kept out of the colon preventing their fermentation by bacteria.
Bloating & Distention
Pain in the stomach & lower abdomen
Gas from swallowed air and motility disorders Phazyme™
taken after meals
Relieves gas symptoms by breaking down gas bubbles in the stomach and intestine so that they can be expelled naturally from the body.
Pain in the lower abdomen
Gas from eating dairy foods Lactaid™
Lactose enzyme taken with dairy foods
Prevents gas by breaking down indigestible lactose into absorbable sugars. Indigestible sugars are kept out of the colon preventing their fermentation by bacteria.

How can I know the source of my gas?

Simply put, if your stomach feels bloated or overfull, or if you are burping or feel a need to burp, this gas is likely caused by swallowed air. If you feel the need to flatulate (pass wind), along with hearing rumbling in your abdomen, feeling bloated, and experiencing discomfort in your lower abdomen, you probably have the type of gas usually caused by the fermentation of the kinds of foods mentioned above.

All people have gas in the intestinal tract, although proportions vary from person to person. Studies on young adults have shown that the average person generates 1 to 3 pints of gas a day. This gas comes from two sources: exogenous or ingested (swallowed) air, and endogenous gas, produced by colonic bacteria. Studies have shown that intestinal gas is composed of various amounts of oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, hydrogen, and methane. Oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide come from swallowed air while hydrogen and methane are produced in the colon by bacteria acting on food residue. Careful analysis of intestinal gas has shown that about ninety percent is ingested air and only ten percent is actually formed in the intestine.

Although less than one percent of gas is odorous, intestinal bacteria produce several sulphur-containing compounds that are the primary odour culprits. The human nose can detect hydrogen sulphide in concentrations as low as one-half part per billion!

What do I do if I want to treat gas that Beano and Lactaid don’t prevent?

If you have not been able to prevent gas either entering, or forming, in your intestines, you can treat your gas symptoms when they happen by using a product like simethicone (Phazyme™). Simethicone is an effective medication for treating gas symptoms when they occur. It breaks down the gas trapped in your stomach and allows it to be released. It is a product with no known side effects.

Can I treat my gas with antacids?

Antacids contain ingredients such as magnesium, aluminum, or sodium bicarbonate compounds. These ingredients are only effective in neutralizing acid in your stomach. They are of no use in preventing or treating gas.

What should I do if I continue to have bloating, distention, and gas pains?

Gas in itself is not a serious problem. However, if you are concerned, or your symptoms persist, talk to your doctor. Only your doctor will be able to make a correct diagnosis.

First published in the Inside Tract® newsletter issue 123 – January/February 2001
For more information about Complex Carbohydrate Intolerance, call the makers of Beano™ toll-free in Canada at 1-800-250-8866 and a nurse will be happy to answer your questions.

How to prevent bloating after a meal

The following tips can help reduce or prevent bloating after eating:

1. Do not eat too much fiber

Fiber is a carbohydrate found in plant-based foods that the body cannot digest. It has some important functions within the body, such as helping to regulate blood sugar levels and sugar consumption.

However, high-fiber foods can cause some people to produce excessive amounts of gas. One study found that a reduced-fiber diet helped relieve bloating in people with idiopathic constipation.

Examples of high-fiber foods include:

  • beans
  • lentils
  • fruits, such as apples and oranges
  • whole grain oats
  • split peas
  • broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts

2. Be aware of food intolerance and allergies

Bloating is a typical symptom of a food intolerance or allergy. Intolerances and allergies can cause excessive gas production or gas to become trapped in the gastrointestinal tract. The foods most likely to cause this are wheat or gluten.

No reliable tests exist to identify a specific food intolerance or allergy, so the best way to identify them is through trial and error. It can help to keep a food diary to track which foods are causing symptoms, such as bloating.

3. Avoid high-fat foods

Fat is an essential part of any healthful diet and is an important source of energy. The body digests fats slowly because they take longer than most other foods to pass through the digestive tract, and can delay emptying of the stomach. In some people, this can cause bloating to occur.

For people who experience this, avoiding foods that are high in fat might help to reduce bloating. For example, a study in people with stomach-emptying problems found that high-fat solid meals caused an increase in symptoms, including bloating.

4. Drinking and eating slowly

Share on PinterestThe carbon dioxide contained in carbonated drinks can cause bloating.

Drinking or eating too quickly increases the amount of air a person swallows, which can lead to more gas building up in the gastrointestinal tract.

For people who eat or drink quickly, this may be a cause of bloating; slowing down the rate at which they eat might help to reduce the problem.

5. Avoid carbonated drinks

Carbonated drinks contain carbon dioxide, a gas that can build up in the gastrointestinal tract and cause bloating. This can also occur with diet versions of fizzy drinks.

Still water is the best alternative to carbonated drinks for lowering the risk of bloating.

6. Ginger

Ginger is a traditional remedy for digestive issues. It contains carminative, which is helpful for reducing excessive gas in the gastrointestinal tract.

A 2013 review suggested that ginger has some health benefits, including alleviating gastrointestinal issues, such as bloating.

7. Avoid chewing gum

Chewing gum causes a person to swallow more air. This air can build up in the gastrointestinal tract and cause bloating in some people.

8. Light exercise after eating

Light exercise after eating, such as going for a walk, may help reduce bloating for some people.

One study found that light physical exercise helps remove gas from the gastrointestinal tract and relieves bloating.

9. Avoid talking while eating

Talking while eating increases the opportunity of swallowing air. This can cause a build-up of air in the gastrointestinal tract, leading to bloating.

10. Treating heartburn

Heartburn occurs when acid from the stomach travels back up the throat, which can cause an uncomfortable burning sensation. It is also a common cause of bloating.

Treating heartburn can be an effective way of reducing bloating for some people. A person can treat heartburn using over-the-counter medications such as antacids.

We’ve all felt miserable from overeating after a big meal, especially if it involves too many carbohydrates (think: heavy pasta dinner). But have you ever wondered why you sometimes feel bloated even when you didn’t stuff yourself? Certain foods — or foods and drinks with certain ingredients — cause more bloating than others.

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Registered dietitian Anna Taylor explains which foods and ingredients cause problems and why:

1. Excess salt (that you may not even taste)

When you eat foods that are high in sodium, your body holds onto fluids and that can make you feel bloated. But putting down the salt shaker may not solve your problem.

Ms. Taylor says the most sodium, by far, in the typical American diet comes from processed foods, restaurant foods and convenience foods. You may try to cut down on these to minimize bloating. Often, these foods don’t even taste salty, yet they are full of sodium. This is often true when it comes to soups, bread rolls and bagels.

2. Too much fat

Foods that are high in fat can sometimes cause bloating because they’re slow to leave your stomach. So instead of eating that fatty, greasy meal (e.g., fried chicken, coleslaw and onion rings), try a low-fat option like grilled chicken, salad and baked potato, Ms. Taylor suggests.

3. Soda and carbonated drinks

Drinking carbonated beverages can often cause you to swallow excess air, which leads to bloating. “That air has to go somewhere, and once it passes from the stomach to the intestines, burping won’t help,” says Ms. Taylor.

4. High fructose corn syrup

High fructose corn syrup, a type of sweetener used in soda and some fruit drinks, is also a surprising ingredient in other foods that don’t even taste sweet, such as some breads. (This is why it’s important to read food labels). In large quantities, it can cause gas, bloating and abdominal pain. This is because your body can’t absorb it quickly enough.

RELATED: 3 Reasons You Should Kick Your Diet Soda Habit

5. Dairy products (for some people)

Maybe you know you’re lactose intolerant, or you just suspect that you are. But, if you are lactose intolerant, you can feel bloated after eating high-lactose foods such as ice cream or milk. Depending on the severity of your intolerance, your body won’t be able to break down the lactose easily, so you’ll likely experience gas, abdominal pain and bloating.

RELATED: Your Practical Guide to Lactose Intolerance

Why do carbs cause bloating?

So let’s get back to the pasta dinner example. You know too much causes you to feel bloated, but do you know why?

It’s not just about the portion, although eating an overly large amount of any food can cause you to feel bloated, according to Ms. Taylor.

When it comes to carbohydrates, if you eat more of them than what you need for fuel, your body stores some in your muscles as glycogen. Your body then processes the rest through your liver and stores it as fat.

Glycogen attracts water, so large portions of carb-heavy foods cause you to retain fluid, and that is what gives you that bloated feeling.

Keep in mind that your stomach is only about the size of your fist. Although it’s able to stretch to accommodate more food, eating excessively can also make you feel bloated, Ms. Taylor says.

RELATED: Should I Cut Out Carbs? (Diet Myth 3)

9 Sugar-Free Foods That Have Almost Killed People

Trying to eliminate sugar is a great way to stay healthy. It’s almost ridiculous to learn how much sugar we consume on a daily basis. But, sometimes, going sugar-free will lead to a lot of unwanted health issues. To be clear, you might want to reschedule your plans if you just ate a bag of sugar-free snacks.

According to Gizmodo, it’s all because of an ingredient called Lycasin. It’s a low-calorie sugar that contains maltitol, which is a sugar that our bodies often have a tough time digesting. That means that these can be good snacks for diabetics who need to watch their sugar intake, as they’re processed so slowly in the human body that they don’t cause dangerous sugar spikes. They’re not unhealthy per se, but they’re something you’ll want to eat with caution. Simply put, eating too much of it is a great way to bring on diarrhea and stomach cramps. It’s a painful visual, but it’s true.

Sugar-free products often work just as well as laxatives, and even though most people who’ve made this unsettling discovery have a sense of humor about it, it’s important for people to know. Extensive diarrhea can cause dehydration, so it’s really important to make sure you know what to expect if you indulge.

Here are some of the products that you’ll want to keep an eye out for.

1. Sugar-Free Gummy Bears

These have been known to be the ultimate in stomach distress. How dare a gummy bear can deceive us so. Word got out thanks to Amazon. A collection of reviews, which are hilarious, all mark how the bears served as an unexpected laxative. Most brands have the effect. But the product reviews for the Albanese bears seem almost sinister.


Let’s just say, perhaps you’ll want to avoid the gummy bears if you’re hanging out with a “friend.”


There’s been so much mystery behind the sugar-free gummy bears that people have tested it out for themselves, just to make sure it wasn’t Amazon folklore. It definitely isn’t.

Haribo Sugar Free Gummy Bears Review from r/funny

As for Haribo’s variety, which is currently unavailable on Amazon (perhaps for the best) the top critical review is titled “One of the worst days of my life.” All thanks to sugar alcohols.

So, eat these things if you dare. If you’re looking to cut down sugar just for the heck of it, just skip these and cut gummy bears out of your diet completely.

2. Sugar-Free Peppermint Patties

Chocolates aren’t safe, either. In order to make them taste like the originals, they contain the same sugar alcohols you’d find in gummy candies. Unfortunately, people are a little more unaware of the laxative effect for these. Hey, you’ve been warned.

3. Sugar-Free Jelly Beans

Looking for a good snack? You might want to avoid sugar-free jelly beans, especially if you have a busy day ahead of you. A few shouldn’t cause too much harm, but jelly beans are hard not to keep popping if the bag is close by.

4. Sugar-Free Gum

If you’re a gum addict, you might realize that chewing on sugar-free gum can sometimes lead to an upset stomach. Gum has its good points (such as, minty fresh breath) but too much might lead to a little bit of…distress if you know what I’m talking about.

5. Sugar-Free Cough Drops

Have a cold? Well, be careful with your cough drops. There are plenty of sugar-free varieties out there that have given people additional symptoms that made them feel like death was near.

6. Sugar-Free Cookies

If you think you’re safe by avoiding the candy aisle, think again. Sugar alcohols are also present in snack foods like cookies, and if you eat more than you should (which is very easy to do) you may feel the laxative effects. So, make sure you read the label before putting them in your grocery cart.

7. Sugar-Free Marshmallows

If you think you’re doing yourself a favor by popping these in your hot chocolate, you may be disappointed for a few reasons. For one, they reportedly don’t taste much like the real thing. And two, you’ll be spending the rest of the night in the bathroom if you eat too many of them.

8. Sugar-Free Chocolate

Sigh. Even standard sugar-free chocolate isn’t safe. Since chocolate is another snack that’s tough to have a handle on sometimes, you may think you’re making a healthy choice. But, it’ll cost you.

9. Sugar-Free Pudding

The good news is that pudding is often separated in set cups when you buy it, so the chances of overindulging and getting very sick are a little lower than the other foods on the list. But the bad news is: it can still happen. Especially if you’ve enjoyed that sugar-free pudding cup after some sugar-free gum and sugar-free cough drops. For many, it brings an issue that’s not as bad but still embarrassing: gas.

In short, if it says sugar-free, make sure you know it’s something your body can handle.

Does sugar free candy give you gas

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