It’s that time of year again, when s’mores become a must-have for your summer bonfire.
We all know the white things inside are just fluffy balls of sugar. Obviously, there’s no such thing as a nutritious or healthy marshmallow.
But a healthier version – as in relative to the Kraft Jet Puffed – does actually exist. You have a few options for sugarless marshmallows, or at least those with a lower amount of carbs.
For example, on Amazon check out these made with monk fruit and xylitol. They’re just 90 calories… for the whole bag!
They may seem like an obviously better alternative but guess what? For some, these and similar recipes can cause side effects which might actually be worse for your health overall, versus eating the sugar laden version. However, most people do good with them in moderation.
Sugar vs. sugar alcohols
When you see xylitol, erythritol, mannitol, sorbitol, or malitol on an ingredients label, it’s referencing a sugar alcohol.
Most chewing gums on the market today makes use of these, or artificial sweeteners.
On a molecular basis, they differ slightly from normal table sugar. As a result, they’re poorly absorbed during digestion and hence, have a much lower effect on blood sugar. It also means less calories than regular sugar, since your body can’t fully absorb this form.
How does their sweetness compare to sugar? Xylitol is equivalent, maltitol is close behind at 90%, erythritol is 81%, while most of the others land around 40 to 60%.
So it’s the same sweetness (or close) with less calories and less blood sugar impact? Where do I buy these marshmallows!
Not so fast…
They may not be a free lunch, either. Many people do fine with them, especially those who eat them regularly. For others, they can cause some major digestive problems.
3 possible side effects
If you eat a marshmallow made without sugar that contains these, you probably won’t experience any noticeable reaction. But notice we said “a” marshmallow… and as we all know, eating just one or two can take immense will power, right?
You may be even more inclined to pig out on them, since they taste so good and you know they are lower calorie and have a much lower glycemic impact.
If you do let go and devour a bag, be prepared for some unpleasant times to follow.
While not specific to any particular food made with them, the side effects of sugar alcohols can be…
How much is too much? 20 grams of mannitol or 50 grams of sorbitol per day will cause diarrhea, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formally known as the American Dietetic Association).
20 grams of mannitol = 0.7 ounce
Here’s how that weight compares…
- Kraft Jet-Puffed = 0.3 ounce per piece (FYI Kraft sugar free marshmallows don’t exist)
- La Nouba sugar free marshmallows = 0.26 ounce per piece
Here’s the La Nouba ingredients list: Water, Sweeteners (Maltitol, Isomalt, Maltitol Syrup, Lactitol) Gelatine, Natural colors and natural flavoring (vanilla)
Obviously it’s not all sugar alcohols, but they do make up the vast majority of the ingredients.
The good news is they aren’t using sorbitol or mannitol, the two cited by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
The bad news is that all sugar alcohols cause diarrhea when eaten in excess. Some offer a much higher tolerance than others, but you can bet that eating half the bag – regardless of which type is used – is probably a bad idea!
Do they sell any marshmallows made with stevia?
Nope and the reason for that is probably because of the not-so-pleasant stevia aftertaste. It could work as a secondary ingredient in a recipe, but certainly not as the primary sweetener used. That’s why all of the brands use alcohols instead of stevia, which is not one.
How about monk fruit marshmallows?
Something else which is not a sugar alcohol is monk fruit. With the exception of marshmallow fluff (reviewed below) there are no premade options for sale which incorporate this natural sweetener, but it seems like a good idea given that it doesn’t have the stevia aftertaste problem.
If a monk fruit marshmallow was for sale, we would be the first to buy it! Though for now, in order to have it you would need to concoct a homemade recipe.
2. Gas and bloating
You will be relieved to hear that diarrhea is the worst case scenario and the least likely side effect, assuming only moderate consumption.
Though even with moderate consumption, gas and bloating can occur.
This goes hand in hand with the nature of these sugar free molecules. Since they’re not fully digestible, they ferment longer in the intestines and can create gas.
This can be especially problematic for those with a gastrointestinal motility disorder such as IBS, Crohn’s disease, or chronic intestinal pseudo obstruction (CIP).
3. Abdominal pain
When air pockets gets trapped in your intestines, it can be extremely painful. For most people with healthy digestive tracts this shouldn’t be an issue. However if you have any kind of GI motility disorder, you may experience stomach pain and cramping as a result of the increased fermentation taking place, which creates more gas.
How can they be good for you?
Despite the side effects which are possible, in many cases the sugarless marshmallow is an overall better choice. The lower calorie count is a secondary benefit. Really the main attraction is the fact that they have significantly less impact on your blood sugar. While no one has tested the glycemic index (GI) of these fluffy balls specifically, we can assume this based on how the sugar alcohols themselves measure up.
Here’s when they make the most sense:
- Small amounts: Maybe it’s tiny pieces which are sprinkled atop a brownie or other dessert. Perhaps you’re using them to make just one smore.
- You’re accustomed to them: Not always, but a lot of people who consume them regularly adjust to the side effects and they eventually minimize or even go away entirely. If you eat sugar alcohols on a regular basis, then you probably have less to worry about.
- Type 1 and 2 diabetics: These diseases are nothing to fool around with. Farting is temporary but the damage real sugar can do to your body is permanent. In addition to using alternative sweeteners like these, consider L carnosine benefits. Studies suggest the antioxidant carnosine might help reduce how much glycation takes place in the body.
Real sugars… whether the white granular sand type, agave nectar, fructose, or any other… they all cause inflammation and glycation in your body.
This is why even with the side effects, natural sugar alcohols are often times a better choice. Especially versus the artificial sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose.
Where can I buy them?
You can’t buy sugar free marshmallows at Walmart or Target. Nor will you find them at your typical grocery store (at least in the United States).
Not even Whole Foods carries them, but they do sell a vegan and gluten free version.
If you live in the UK, you can find them at Sainsbury’s, Tesco, and most other major supermarket chains.
So which grocery stores sell them in the US? Even in Los Angeles where we are located, we have never seen them for sale at any brick and mortar store.
This probably has to do with the fact that that the main manufacturer of this niche product is out of Belgium. The brand is called La Nouba (mentioned above) and here in America, the only place we are aware of that sells them are online retailers.
La Nouba uses natural colors and flavoring (vanilla) with no additives or preservatives.
They’re not vegan because they use gelatin, nor are they certified gluten free, however we didn’t notice any gluten ingredients listed on the nutrition facts label (though Celiacs should avoid to be safe).
They label it as no sugar and no carbs, but keep in mind that these “alcohols” still have some calories. They have a slight glycemic impact, but it’s comparable to low GI foods.
How much La Nouba costs will be more than your standard bag of Kraft marshmallows from Walmart. But given the potential benefit for your health, they’re worth it… especially for diabetics.
As far as how to make sugar free mini marshmallows, the only option for Americans seems to be cutting these big ones into smaller pieces.
If you like in the United Kingdom, you have it much easier. Sainsburys sugar free marshmallows are already mini to begin with. They sell them in a 75 gram bag, which only costs £1.18 at their supermarket as of the time of this review.
Solens brand is sold in Europe. They’re heart-shaped sugarless mallows in a 100 gram bag. The price was €3.50 at a brick and mortar grocery store in France when we checked. While their customer reviews look positive, unfortunately we don’t see anyone who ships Solens to the states.
The UK brand Free’ist also makes them and they’re marketed as gluten free. But this brand too doesn’t appear to have anyone selling them internationally.
Sugarless Confectionery is yet another UK-only brand.
Here in the US, Russell Stover sugar free marshmallow eggs are a candy, but those can work if you just need the taste rather than form and texture.
You typically only seem them for sale during Easter and being Russel Stover brand, of course they’re coated in chocolate. It’s sweetened with maltitol and sorbitol.
Peeps sugar free are made and sold in the USA, but all theirs are like candy. For example during Easter time, fluffy yellow chicks which use artificial sweetener (Splenda) as well as artificial food coloring can be found for sale. At Valentines Day, its red shaped hearts. Even if you are OK with the artificial ingredients, Peeps are not very compatible for baking and other recipes.
If you just need the flavor and not the actual shape, then sugar free marshmallow fluff is an option. Try it for fondant icing on cake.
Walden Farms dip is one option, but it’s not one we would buy because it uses an artificial sweetener, sucralose.
D’s Naturals Fluffbutter was the best one in our book. It’s a hybrid of marshmallow and peanut or almond butter, sweetened with xylitol, monk fruit, and stevia extract. Dairy free, soy free, gluten free, and vegan.
The bad news? It’s discontinued for 2020.