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Candy's calories are hard to swallow


An inquiring reader wants to know: "Is 'sugar free' candy really sugar free?"

Yes, if you're worried about tooth decay. No, if you're interested in total calories.

The sample of real candy the reader sent me has no nutrition label, so it's impossible to get a calorie count. So I looked it up. One ounce of butterscotch hard candy equals about five pieces and contains 112 calories.

The ingredients list (for a bag of mixed hard candies including the butterscotch) includes sugar, corn syrup, sweetened condensed milk, apples, pineapples, oranges, molasses and raspberries. They all mean sugar, as do honey, corn sugar, maple syrup, maple sugar, invert sugar and any word ending in "-ose." Although the "sugar free" sample carries a nutrition label, it's the old one, and it's pretty confusing. But it sheds enough light for comparison.

The information is given in grams. Fifteen grams of candy contains 60 calories. There are 7.5 servings per container. There are 15 grams of carbohydrate per serving.

I decided to do an end run and translate everything to ounces, so I could compare it to the "real" candy.

Sixty calories times 7.5 servings equals 450 calories in the whole bag. According to the front of the package, it weighs 4 ounces. 450 divided by 4 equals 112 calories per ounce.

Then I counted the pieces. There were 21 divided by 4 equals 5 pieces per ounce.

Both candies contain 112 calories per five pieces or 1 ounce.

The ingredients list reveals that the primary item is "Lycasin (a maltitol syrup)." Ingredient words ending in "-ol" indicate a sugar alcohol.

They contain just as many calories, all from refined carbohydrates, which contain no other nutrition.

Candy is candy.

Colleen Pierre, a registered dietitian, is the nutrition consultant to the Union Memorial Sports Medicine Center in Baltimore.

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