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Sugar-Free Candy Could Have an Unpleasant Laxative Side Effect — Here’s Why

Overindulging in these sweet candies can quickly turn sour.

Satisfying your sugar cravings makes life much sweeter. Candy, in particular, is a hard-to-beat sweet treat. But while most commercial candies contain sugar, many people with diabetes or who are looking to limit their calorie intake may opt for sugar-free varieties instead. There’s little difference in taste or appearance between these two candy types — but there’s a big difference in how you digest them, since sugar-free candy can cause notable digestive issues like diarrhea and gas. Keep reading to learn more about the laxative effects of sugar-free candy and how to avoid them.

Sugar-Free Candy’s Laxative Effects

Sugar-free candy’s sneaky laxative side effect is triggered by sugar alcohols, which are carbohydrates derived from plants. Sugar alcohols sweeten foods including candy, soft drinks, and chewing gum with fewer calories than regular sugar. Therefore, they’re unlikely to contribute to tooth decay or sudden and massive blood sugar spikes.

Common sugar alcohols you’ll see listed on nutritional labels include the following:

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

Of these eight sugar alcohols, xylitol, erythritol, and maltitol are commonly used in sugar-free candy since their flavor resembles real sugar. Once consumed, these carbohydrates are fermented in the intestines instead of being fully absorbed. As a result, the incomplete digestive process of sugar alcohols causes diarrhea, gas, and bloating. The FDA says that this effect is why food products containing sorbitol or mannitol must state “excess consumption may have a laxative effect” on their packaging.

How To Reduce the Laxative Effects

Sugar alcohols are a key ingredient in sugar-free candy, but you can reduce its negative effects on your digestive system. Here are two simple ways to eat sugar-free candy without experiencing tummy troubles:

  1. Don’t go overboard. Sugar-free candy is so delicious that it’s tempting to eat piece after piece. However, consuming large quantities of sugar alcohols exacerbates stomach upset due your body’s inability to properly absorb it. For example, sorbitol likely causes stomach pain and diarrhea with a 20-gram intake rather than a 10-gram amount. The bottom line: Snack on sugar-free candy in moderation for minimal side effects.
  2. Avoid eating other digestive issue-causing foods with the candy. Be mindful of the foods and drinks you consume alongside sugar-free candy. Dairy products and caffeinated drinks are associated with triggering diarrhea. So, these foods coupled with a substantial amount of the candy could lead to some unpleasant trips to the bathroom. Instead, stick to water if you need something to enjoy alongside your candy.

Candy Conundrum: Solved

Despite the laxative effects of sugar-free candy, savoring gummy bears, chocolate, and licorice without guilt is reassuring. Just practice some self-control when eating these treats to avoid overindulging, and you won’t have to deal with digestive woes. Ultimately, you can have your candy and eat it too!

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.

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