Sugar free candy is attractive to many people because it can satisfy a sweet tooth with fewer calories than sugar-sweetened candy. Common artificial sweeteners include aspartame, saccharin and sucralose. Such sweeteners are chemically processed and can have side effects, however. Another natural sweetener is stevia, which carries risks of its own. Also, removing sugar from candies such as chocolates does not necessarily create a low-calorie and low-fat treat, warns the Mayo Clinic, meaning you still may consume empty calories.
Stevia appears generally safe to use, but should be used with caution by people who take blood pressure or diabetes drugs, according to the Mayo Clinic. There is a risk that stevia will cause hypoglycemia, which is low blood sugar, or hypotension, which is low blood pressure, when consumed along with such medicines. Stevia is an herb. Stevia extract is hundreds of times sweeter than regular sugar, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Aspartame can trigger migraines in some people, reports the Mayo Clinic. Aspartame is a combination of two amino acids, phenylalanine and aspartic acid. Due to its phenylalanine content it is not safe to consume if you have phenylketonuria (PKU), a disorder in which your body cannot metabolize any amount of phenylalanine. PKU can cause irreversible mental retardation, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Newborns are tested for this rare condition during the first 72 hours of life in the United States.
Due to its phenylalanine content, you should not eat candy with aspartame in it unless you've discussed it with a doctor if you take certain drugs, according to UMMC. Taking phenylalanine along with antidepressant medicines known as monoamine oxidase inhibitors may cause a severe increase in blood pressure. Phenylalanine also may reduce absorption of the muscle spasm medication baclofen, may reduce the effectiveness of Parkinson's medication, levodopa, and can worsen side effects from antipsychotic or neuroleptic drugs.
If you choose to eat candy with saccharin read the label carefully if you need to maintain a low-salt diet. Most common brands are “sodium saccharin.” This can increase the sodium content in your diet, according to Texas A&M University. While saccharin does cross the placenta, harmful effects to babies are not documented. Most recommendations call for using it in moderation during pregnancy, advises Texas A&M.
Sucralose is generally believed to be safe and sans side effects, but there is little research on it because it is newer to the marketplace than other artificial sweeteners, reports Texas A&M. There is one case report of migraines apparently triggered by sucralose, according to clinical notes by New York-based doctors Marcelo E. Bigal and Abouch V. Krymchantowski, published in “Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain.”
Artificial sweeteners often are reported to carry a cancer risk, though scientific studies do not support this allegation, according to the Mayo Clinic. Potential cancer risk for all types of artificial sweeteners, though often fueled by mass media reports, are actually found to be negligible, report M.R. Weihrauch and V. Diehl in a review published in the Annals of Oncology. “Epidemiological studies in humans did not find the bladder cancer-inducing effects of saccharin and cyclamate that had been reported from animal studies in rats. Despite some rather unscientific assumptions, there is no evidence that aspartame is carcinogenic,” the authors report. However, for sucralose the authors note that there’s not enough epidemiological evidence about possible carcinogenic risks to draw conclusions.