I’m especially excited about this product review! Why? Because 1) I LOVE CANDY. I have a serious sweet tooth! And 2) when I heard about Smart Sweets, I just knew I had to give them a try. I love the innovative aspect of this product, and that the woman who invented this candy had health in mind when she created it.
I also want to touch on the (controversial?) tricky part of this product, and why I think it may be a part or result of the problem with how we talk about “bad” foods in our culture today. On to the review!
What Do Smart Sweets Taste Like?
These. Were. So. Dang. DELICIOUS.
Really. Like, me and my husband were surprised. We are definitely going to be buying them again, because they taste awesome.
I’m going to break down the details of flavor, texture, mouth-feel (yeah, it gets that serious over here) and all that by the type of candy we tried (we tried 4!):
These were my favorite. My husband, not so much. They were just sweet enough and had a sort of tacky chewy texture, although they were not much like Swedish fish. They were semi-opaque, and had less of a stretchy-ness (is that a word…?) to them than regular Swedish fish. There also was not that light powdery coating that Swedish fish have on the outside that make them a little chalky at first–these had a smooth outer texture that let you get straight to the fruitiness locked inside 😉
SOUR GUMMY BEARS
Although harder to chew than the fish, the texture was about what you’d expect from a gummy bear. These were so good flavor-wise, but they didn’t have as much flavor as the Sweet Fish. It took several bears before I really got the sour flavor; overall, I’d give it a 5/10!
FRUITY GUMMY BEARS
These were just like real gummy bears. It was strange to think that I was eating something with almost entirely different ingredients from your average Haribo.
SOUR BLAST BUDDIES
My first impression of these was that they were so small. Perhaps compared to Sour Patch Kids, their non-plant-based equivalent, they are not much different in size. To me, though, that was the very first thing I noticed.
The second thing I noticed was that the citric acid (the bitter stuff on the outside of sour candy that makes it sour) was more powdery and lacked sourness.
Compared to Smart Sweet’s regular fruity candies, these were a lot denser and harder to chew as well. In the end, I didn’t care for these.
How is Smart Sweets So Low In Sugar and So High in Fiber?
Typically, companies are able to achieve a “sugar-free” or low sugar product by substituting conventional sugars for sugar alcohols or artificial sweeteners. What makes Smart Sweets different is that they do not use any artificial sweeteners or sugar alcohols in their products. Instead, to sweeten their candy they use allulose.
Note: their formula has changed several times, so depending on where and when you get your candy, you may be getting a different natural alternative sweetener–more on this later.
The batch I received from Amazon contained no allulose but instead had stevia leaf extract–another plant-derived no-calorie sweetener.
What Is Allulose?
Allulose is relatively new as far as no-calorie sweeteners go. It is naturally occurring in small amounts in foods such as honey, wheat, and raisins. It is processed by the body in such a way that it does not increase blood sugar levels. It was also found to have a low level of fermentability, which essentially means it is far less likely to cause gastrointestinal stress in people who have sensitive stomachs or conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
What Are Sugar Alcohols and Why Does Smart Sweets Avoid Using Them?
Sugar alcohols are a commonly used sweetener in sugar-free candy and soda. They typically end in “-ol,” so that’s the fastest way to find them on a nutrition label! They are not digested by the body but instead pass through. In short: they taste sweet like sugar, but have fewer calories and don’t increase blood sugar levels.
They do have some negative side effects, however. In large quantities, sugar alcohols can cause cramping and diarrhea–not fun, right? Most people do not experience issues with regular consumption of moderate portions.
What about the long term effects, though?
A review from 1989 suggests that since no toxic effects were reported in places where sugar alcohols had been used for a while (such as Europe), there was a lack of evidence that long-term use was harmful to humans. Other articles I found echoed similar sentiments.
Sugar alcohols are different from artificial sweeteners, which have gotten lots of bad press over the years. I’m going to save that whole topic for another blog post.
Main takeaway: research seems to support that sugar alcohols are fine in moderation, even long-term.
Why Are There So Many Formula Changes in Smart Sweets?
A major part of Smart Sweet’s brand is innovation–that is part of what drew me to try and subsequently review this product in the first place. They are on top of their science from what I can tell, and they are on the cutting edge of “kicking sugar” as their packages say!
Because of this, they are not afraid to pivot and change their formula when they find a component of their product that could be improved upon. Unfortunately, this means the consumer has to take a bit of extra time to read the nutrition label and ingredients list to ensure that they are getting ingredients they are okay with.
For example, my batch included carrageenan: a controversial food additive used to thicken products. According to Smart Sweet’s website, many of their fans did not want this ingredient in the product due to concerns such as cancer, so Smart Sweets has removed it! I respect the company for being attentive to the concerns and needs of their target audience. It’s hard to go through such public changes and transitions, and they’ve handled it well by keeping their website updated with a FAQ section.
How Long Do Smart Sweets Last?
NOT VERY LONG IN OUR HOUSE. *buh dum, tisss*
Really, they don’t. But actually the shelf life is pretty sweet (okay, last pun–I had to). The batch I got in mid-April had an expiration date of November, which is 8 months! I’m honestly not sure why this is, especially considering all of the ingredients are from actual fruits and/or vegetables. Either way, it’s pretty cool.
Cost of Smart Sweets
I got my 4-count variety pack of 1.8 oz bags on Amazon for $15. Not bad, but when compared to conventional candy it is more expensive.
A similar variety pack of candy on Amazon costs $14 and you get 6 2-oz bags each of Sour Patch Kids, Swedish Fish, and Sour Watermelon candy (that’s 18 bags total for about the same price as Smart Sweets). Considering they have ingredients that aren’t exactly cheap (like stevia), this makes sense.
Are Smart Sweets Healthier Than Regular Candy?
I’m probably sounding like a broken record at this point, but I care too much to not repeat this each time it’s asked: there is not one definition of “health.”
I know, I know. “That’s not what I mean, Shavonne. I just want you to tell me if it’s actually better than regular candy or not.” It’s not that simple, friend. But I will give you my educated opinion, as long as you promise not to skip ahead and decide this candy is “better” or “worse” than other candy in a morally superior sense. If you see someone enjoying Sour Patch Kids and think they’re dumb for not eating Smart Sweets, you’ll know you’ve gone too far.
All that being said, I do believe this candy actually offers health benefits, whereas traditional candy is completely void of nutrition. This candy offers 28g of fiber per bag. That’s roughly 95%-100% of your daily needs. With the majority of Americans not getting enough fiber and the vast amount of research showing that including lots of fiber in your diet can significantly reduce your risk for heart disease and cancer…I have to give this candy props for that!
I also think it must be mentioned that a bag of this candy has just 3g of sugar, without having any artificial sweeteners or sugar alcohols (which I personally prefer not to have in my diet, for no reason other than I prefer actual sugar). I’m interested to see more research come out about this allulose thing, so we can understand what the long-term implications are.
This leads me to one of the most important points of this post. My fear with this product is that people who swore off candy, believing it is “bad” and they can’t eat it, will suddenly latch onto this candy and eat it exclusively, believing that this candy is “the good candy, not that sugary processed junk.” I do not believe that sentiment is indicative of a healthy relationship with food. Now, I’ve taken a lot of time to think about this. And I found myself really going back and forth about it because I don’t think it makes sense to ignore the fact that this candy has a nutritional benefit to offer that conventional candy just doesn’t.
On Smart Sweet’s website, their founder mentions this. She talks about how she loved candy but knew eating too much sugar wasn’t best for her health. At the same time, obsessing about reducing her sugar intake only left her craving candy more. Thus, their product was created to solve the problem of wanting to “kick sugar, but keep candy!”
This is what I saw when I was a nutrition educator working with the public. People who restrict foods, especially because they are “bad” end up wanting them more. They become a sort of “forbidden fruit,” and psychologically we end up between a rock and a hard place trying to enjoy life while also doing what we know is best for our health long-term.
Have you experienced this? Can you relate? Would you like to see all candy companies adapt in this way or not, and why? I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments below.
What Smart Sweets Are Good For
- If you like the taste of them.
- If you are trying to reduce the amount of added sugars in your diet and still want to enjoy candy similar to your faves.
What Smart Sweets Aren’t So Good For
- If you feel guilty eating regular candy and want to choose this instead so you can “be good.”
- Consumption in too large of quantities due to the high amount of fiber. Some may have stomach issues if they consume too much fiber in one sitting. I personally had no issues finishing a bag, but just be mindful and drink lots of water with it to help keep it movin’!
This candy is delicious, and offers low sugar from plant-based sources. It has fiber, a beneficial nutrient vital to our health, which gives it a clear advantage over conventional candies.
However, those that struggle with guilt, shame or fear around eating “bad” foods should be aware of their motives in choosing this brand. A healthy relationship with food is foundational to your health.
I’m not going to recommend you eat this if you are not working on getting to the root of the issue: addressing your fears about eating foods you have deemed “bad.” Ideally, you should be able to enjoy soda, candy, cake, cookies, ice cream, and all the other delicious treats life has to offer without fear, shame, or guilt attached to it.
If you’re not in that place, I see you. If you’re interested in changing that so you can enjoy holidays, birthdays, and weddings without anxiety or guilt around the food that’ll be there, I’d like to direct you to registered dietitian Colleen Christensen, who advocates for food freedom and living a healthy lifestyle without food rules!
That’s it for this week’s product review! Be sure to leave a couple of thoughts in the comments, and let me know what product you want me to review next!