Sugar-Free Holiday Chocolates

Sweet treat can still be menace to blood sugar.

Melissa Conrad StopplerBy Melissa Conrad Stoppler, M.D.


Editor's Note: While this columnist is no longer writing for and we have ceased to update the information contained herein, there is much to be read here that is still applicable to the lives of people with diabetes. If you wish to act on anything you learn here, be sure to consult your doctor first. Please enjoy the column!


November 2006 —Diabetes is big business. Not surprising, given that over 20 million Americans, or about 7% of the population, are living with the condition. In an attempt to market products to people with diabetes, "sugar-free" versions of every imaginable treat have turned up on grocery shelves, especially with the approaching holidays.

I must admit, I've long (even in my pre-diabetes life) been a fan of sugar-free soft drinks. I like the taste better than the syrup-y variant, and it doesn't make sense to me to consume all those calories in liquid form. But lately I've been offered sugar-free cookies, candy, ice cream, and all kinds of holiday delicacies.

Sugar-free versions of popular sweets are made with the so-called sugar alcohols as sweeteners. These sugar-replacers include mannitol, sorbitol, maltitol, xylitol, and isomalt, and their benefit for people with diabetes is that they are only partially absorbed from the digestive tract, and this absorption occurs very slowly, preventing the rapid rise in blood glucose levels associated with a sugary snack.

Should you feast on sugar-free chocolates this holiday season? If all you're concerned about is blood sugar levels, and you find a sugar-free brand that you like (personal tastes vary widely regarding the flavor of sugar-free products), it's likely a better choice than downing an entire box of the real thing. But consider the rest of the ingredient list when shopping for sugar-free products. While "real" sugar is omitted in the preparation of these foods, they may contain other sources of carbohydrates, so be sure to watch for these if you're

Chocolates taste great not only because of the sweetness, but also because of the high saturated fat content of cocoa butter. Even eliminating the sugar, you're still consuming a whopping amount of calories and fat in those sugar-free chocolates. If you're following a weight control plan, be sure to remember that "sugar-free" doesn't mean "low calorie" or "diet". While there are modest caloric reductions with sugar-free chocolates, they aren't going to be significant if you use the sugar-free label as an excuse to eat more than you would of the real thing.

I have to mention one further consideration with sugar-free products. If you find one you like, you still may not want to overdo it. Because sugar alcohols aren't fully absorbed from the digestive tract, the residual, non-absorbed portions of the sweeteners can cause gas, bloating, and diarrhea. The severity of these effects varies among individuals and is also related to the total amount of artificial sweeteners consumed.

I'm not trying to rain on anyone's holiday parade and certainly do plan to indulge a bit myself during the holiday celebrations. But as with all foods, moderation is key. Looking at the total nutritional content of foods, including fat, calories, and carbohydrates along with the sugar content, is the best way to plan for the occasional splurge.

Read more of Melissa's columns here.


dLife's Viewpoints columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences, most often at a set point in time. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team before acting on anything you read here to find out what will work best for you.

Last Modified Date: May 24, 2013

All content on is created and reviewed in compliance with our editorial policy.

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