Sugar free syrups are commonly used as sweeteners in foods and drinks as substitutes for regular syrups that contain sugar. While sugar free syrups contain no sugar and no calories from sugar, there are still some considerations regarding whether they are truly calorie free.
The short answer
Most sugar free syrups contain very few calories, but are not completely calorie free. Sugar free syrups can contain small amounts of calories from non-sugar ingredients.
Ingredients in sugar free syrups
Sugar free syrups are made using artificial sweeteners rather than sugar. Common artificial sweeteners used include:
- Acesulfame potassium
These artificial sweeteners provide the sweet taste of the syrup without adding calories from sugar. Artificial sweeteners contain little to no calories. For example, sucralose provides 600 times the sweetness of sugar with no calories.
In addition to artificial sweeteners, sugar free syrups contain other ingredients for flavor, texture, and appearance, such as:
- Natural and artificial flavors
- Food coloring
- Thickeners like xanthan gum or cellulose gum
Any calories contributed by these additional ingredients are generally minimal. However, they can result in sugar free syrups containing 1-15 calories per serving rather than being completely calorie-free.
Calories from sugar alcohols
Some sugar free syrups are sweetened with sugar alcohols rather than artificial sweeteners. Common sugar alcohols used include:
Sugar alcohols provide fewer calories than sugar – about 0.2-3 calories per gram compared to 4 calories per gram for sugar. So syrups sweetened with sugar alcohols are lower in calories than regular syrup.
However, sugar alcohols are not completely calorie-free. The small amounts of calories from sugar alcohols can result in sugar free syrups containing 5-20 calories per serving.
Does the FDA regulate calorie claims?
The FDA has regulations on when a food product can be labeled as “calorie free” or containing “zero calories.” To carry these claims, the product must contain fewer than 5 calories per serving.
Since most sugar free syrups contain 1-15 calories per serving, they do not qualify to be advertised as calorie or sugar free according to FDA regulations. However, many brands of sugar free syrup continue to make the “calorie free” claim.
Comparisons of calorie content
To understand the relatively low calorie content of sugar free syrups, it helps to compare them to regular syrups with sugar:
|Syrup Type||Calories per Serving|
|Regular maple syrup (1/4 cup)||213 calories|
|Regular pancake syrup (1/4 cup)||176 calories|
|Sugar free maple flavored syrup (1/4 cup)||15 calories|
|Sugar free pancake flavored syrup (1/4 cup)||4 calories|
As shown, regular syrups contain significant calories from sugar, while sugar free varieties are very low in calories in comparison.
Impact on blood sugar
While not completely calorie free, sugar free syrups have a negligible effect on blood sugar since they do not contain sugar.
Syrups sweetened with sugar alcohols result in a lower glycemic response than regular syrup, but they can still impact blood sugar levels slightly more than artificial sweeteners.
For people with diabetes or prediabetes, sugar free syrups sweetened with artificial sweeteners are the best option for limiting effects on blood sugar and insulin compared to regular syrup and sugar alcohol-sweetened varieties.
Weight control benefits
The very low calorie content of sugar free syrups can make them a useful tool for weight management and loss:
- Help reduce overall calorie intake when substituting sugar free syrup for regular syrup
- Allow sweet flavors with minimal calories
- Help control hunger and cravings for sweets
Using sugar free syrup instead of regular syrup during weight loss can allow you to still enjoy pancakes, waffles, and other foods paired with syrup while supporting your weight goals.
While sugar free syrups offer calorie and blood sugar advantages, there are some potential downsides to consider as well:
- Cost more than regular syrup
- Aftertaste from artificial sweeteners
- Gastrointestinal effects in some people from sugar alcohols
- Highly processed and less natural
Experimenting with different brands of sugar free syrup may help you find an option that you enjoy the taste of and that doesn’t cause any gastrointestinal discomfort.
Are there healthier alternatives?
While sugar free syrups are lower in calories and sugar than regular syrups, there are some even healthier alternatives you can consider:
- 100% maple syrup – contains minerals like zinc and manganese, with a lower glycemic index than plain sugar. Still high in calories from sugar though.
- Fruit syrups – made from pureed fruit so provide more nutrients. Still high in sugar and calories.
- Greek yogurt – provides protein, calcium, and probiotics. Can be flavored and sweetened with vanilla, cinnamon, and small amounts of honey.
- Nut butters – provide healthy fats and nutrients. Great paired with pancakes or waffles.
- Fresh fruit – provides fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants with no added sugar.
Sugar free syrups are very low in calories and sugar compared to regular syrups. However, most still contain 1-15 calories per serving so are not completely calorie or sugar free.
Sugar free syrups can be used in moderation as part of a healthy diet for benefits like blood sugar control and weight management. But healthier alternatives like fruit, yogurt, and nut butters provide more nutrients with less highly processed ingredients.
When enjoyed responsibly as part of an overall balanced diet, sugar free syrups can be an effective tool for achieving your nutrition goals.