After A Mom Tried This Sugar-Free Candy, She Majorly Regretted Not Reading The Label First

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Nowadays, lots of people want to reduce their sugar intake. The sweetener has links with a number of health issues, including obesity and diabetes. However, if you’re tempted to try this particular sugar-free candy, make sure you read the small print on the packaging. If you don’t, you might be in for a nasty surprise, as Katey Johnson discovered.

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Sugar-free alternatives have existed for some time. However, the first artificial sweetener came about by accident in 1879 when Constantin Fahlberg discovered it. The Russian chemist was working with a black substance known as coal tar. For some unknown reason, one evening, Fahlberg licked his still-dirty hands to discover they had a sweet taste.

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Fahlberg linked the sugary-taste with benzoic sulfimide, which he’d used in the lab that day. The compound would later become known as saccharin. The name itself comes from “saccharine,” which means “sugary.” In 1886, having patented the substance two years earlier, the chemist began producing it in a factory located in Magdeburg, Germany.

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The market for saccharin boomed in the wake of the First World War, as a result of sugar shortages. Discoveries of new artificial sweeteners like cyclamate and aspartame came in the decades that followed. And eventually, natural alternatives such as Stevia, xylitol and corn syrup also emerged.

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At the same time that artificial sweeteners gained prominence, people began turning their backs on sugar. The sweet stuff has long been associated with a number of health issues, including high blood pressure and diabetes. As a result,the aforementioned alternatives are touted as a healthier substitute.

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In recent years the so-called war on sugar has intensified. In 2016 five cities in the U.S. introduced a tax on sugar-heavy sodas and more localities soon followed suit. This levy led to an increasing debate on the matter in many other states, cities and even at the federal government level.

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The World Health Organization agrees with taxes like the ones imposed on sugary drinks in some parts of the U.S. Such levies, the thinking goes, send a clear message that overly sweetened products are unhealthy. Therefore, it’s hoped, consumers will opt for alternative products in a bid to keep themselves well.

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For those already turning away from the white stuff, there are plenty of alternative products on the market to satisfy their sweet tooth. Even candy went sugar-free in recent years and its popularity is on the rise. These treats contain artificial sweeteners, including saccharin, sugar alcohols, such as sortibol, or food additives, like maltodextrin.

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However, while most people believe sugar-free versions are healthier than traditional candies, the jury is still out. Some artificial sweeteners have actually been linked to changes in our gut microbiome. This collection of organisms is found in the digestive system and helps to ward off disease and viruses.

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It’s not yet proven, however, that alternative sweeteners are healthier than sugar. Nevertheless, it’s generally accepted that you can still enjoy goodies containing them as part of a healthy, balanced diet. As is the case with their sugary counterparts, it’s all about moderation. In 2019 dietician Alyssa Lavy reminded Women’s Health magazine readers, “Sugar-free candy is still candy.”

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While healthier candies with substitute sweeteners may have less sugar in them, they also lack any real nutritional benefit. Furthermore, the ingredients could include other things that aren’t good for us. They may,  in addition, contain fat and calories, the intake of which should ideally be moderated at part of a healthy diet.

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That’s not to say, though, that candies with artificial sweeteners don’t provide a beneficial alternative. Some people may have to monitor their sugar intake, for example, if they suffer from diabetes. Alternatively, others might want to reduce their consumption of the stuff if they’re following a particular diet.

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One person who turned to sugar-free candy was Katey Johnson, during her time following the Weight Watchers diet program. She, of course, expected goodies containing alternative sweeteners to provide her with a much needed sugar kick while she watched what she ate. But she soon found that those guilt-free candies came with a rather unfortunate side-effect.

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Johnson learned the hard way that sugar-free sweets could cause a negative reaction. On that occasion, her confectionery of choice was a packet of Sugar Free Jelly Beans made by Jelly Belly. They’d appealed to her because they contained just 200 calories per bag, which meant she could enjoy them as part of her diet. But she was unaware of the small print attached to the candies.

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Regular Jelly Belly jelly beans are generally made up of sugar, glucose syrup, corn and starch, as well as colors and flavorings. However, Johnson’s diet-friendly versions contain Splenda, a sucralose-based sugar alternative. And while the sweetener is low in calories, it can have some pretty unfortunate side effects, as the dieter discovered.

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Johnson wrote about her sugar-free candy woes in a self-penned piece published on the Scary Mommy website in October 2019. She revealed her belief that guilt-free snacks would be her salvation while following her new eating plan. However, the dieter soon discovered that candies containing artificial sweeteners had a very specific downside.

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Opening the Scary Mommy article, Johnson set the scene. She wrote, “Long before our girl Oprah was doing yoga in a black Spandex onesie on her lawn, I was on Weight Watchers. I loved it because I was on a diet, but I could still have junk food. I was like a CIA operative when it came to finding sweet, guilt-free treats that I could fit into my daily points.”

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For a time, it seems Johnson was blissfully unaware of the tricky tightrope she was traversing with her sugar-free candy consumption. However, disaster soon struck. As she so colorfully explained on Scary Mommy, “One day […] my skills backfired. Literally. Like, fire came out of my backside.”

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Revealing how the ordeal unfolded, Johnson recalled, “It was a gorgeous, sunny, summer Friday. I was scheduled to head home from my publishing job in Manhattan at 1 p.m. I’d been good on my diet all week, so I decided to hit up the drugstore on the way to work to do some WW-friendly intel in the candy aisle.”

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With Johnson’s guilt-free, sugarless candies located, she couldn’t wait to indulge her sweet tooth. So as soon as she arrived at her office that morning, the dieter tore open her bag of candies and, as she put it, “inhaled” its contents. It’s safe to say, then, that not only were her tastebuds satisfied, so, too, was her sense of achievement.

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Writing about those fateful Jelly Beans later on Scary Mommy, Johnson said, “They were awesome. I felt like I really had my you-know-what together.” For a while, we can only presume that she basked in the glory of her sugar-free candy hit. However, the artificial high was only to last so long.

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Being an ever-diligent Weight Watchers follower, Johnson examined her Jelly Beans packaging so that she could make a note of its nutritional information. At that point, the dieter realized she’d made a dreadful mistake. Referring to a little red warning sign on the wrapper, she explained, “That’s when I noticed it.”

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The notice that had caught Johnson’s eye caused her some concern. Written in capital letters, it simply read, “WARNING: CONSUMPTION MAY CAUSE STOMACH DISCOMFORT AND/OR LAXATIVE EFFECT. INDIVIDUAL TOLERANCE WILL VARY; WE SUGGEST STARTING WITH EIGHT BEANS OR LESS.”

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For Johnson, the recommended serving, as stated on the packaging, was almost laughable. She explained, “Has anyone in the history of humankind ever eaten eight jelly beans as a single serving?” Her incredulity, however, would soon turn to concern when she realized just how many beans she’d guzzled in one go.

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Revealing the total Johnson ingested, she told her Scary Mommy readers, “I ate 70 jelly beans. Yes, that’s right. Seventy. Roughly ten times their suggested serving.” She conceded, “I should’ve read the package more thoroughly, but a warning on the back of a bag of candy was not something I thought to look for.”

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Presumably not knowing what to expect from this misguided sugar-free candy binge, Johnson made what was surely her second mistake of the day. She decided to research the jelly beans and discovered the fate that others in her situation had met. And it’s safe to say that it wasn’t pretty.

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Johnson explained, “I Googled the jelly beans and read, to my horror, account after account of people who, like me, had mistakenly eaten the whole bag.” She also discovered which ingredient made the candy so irritating to the digestive system. Summarizing her findings, she wrote, “The sugar alcohol they use in place of real sugar is not good on the old insides.”

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At that point, a great sense of foreboding fell over Johnson. In her Scary Mommy piece, she wrote, “I looked at the empty bag. OMG. What had I done?” The dieter couldn’t go back in time and tell herself to not eat so many beans. All she could do was expect the worst and hope that she could get home before it hit.

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Unfortunately for Johnson though, it would be another four hours before she could get home. Before then, she had to finish up at work and take a 90-minute train journey. As a result, she tried to think of an alternative solution to what looked likely to become a very messy problem.

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Johnson revealed, “I briefly considered trying to throw up the jelly beans to save myself a nail-biter situation, but that’s not my style. I love food too much to part with it in that manner. And my husband and I eat Taco Bell regularly, so I figured if my insides could handle their refried beans, some sugar-free jelly frijoles wouldn’t be too much of an issue. Right?”

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But it appears that Johnson was very wrong to presume things would turn out okay. It did, however, take a while for her negative reaction to the jelly beans to kick in. In fact, she was on the train home before her stomach began to gurgle ominously. Then, halfway into her journey, her insides started making a series of strange noises and the cramping began.

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With Johnson’s stomach seemingly taking on a life of its own, the dieter surrendered herself to the inevitable. She told Scary Mommy, “With 40 minutes to go, I sat very still and accepted the fact that it had begun. I had to elevate my poop status to the emergency level: CODE BROWN.” And with that, she tried to hold on for as long as possible, but this was a battle she felt she couldn’t win.

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Revealing the struggle Johnson faced on that train, she wrote, “It began to sound like an airplane toilet was flushing in my stomach. And then it happened. I downloaded, if you will. The brown hellhound had climbed the steps and was at my backdoor. I was touching cloth. This is when the feverish, desperate, soul-igniting, butt-cheek clenching began.”

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Somehow, Johnson was able to maintain control of her bowels and exited the train at her stop, where she found her partner waiting to rush them both home. She wrote, “My husband was getting the play-by-play via text, so he was prepped. […] He knew what was at stake here and basically pulled away as I opened the car door and fell in.”

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By some kind of miracle, Johnson successfully made it home. Not only that, but she got to the bathroom as well, successfully averting any further embarrassment. However, her ordeal was not over. As she explained, “I will spare you the particulars but you should know that I expelled things from my body that day that had probably been there since junior high, maybe even elementary school.”

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Johnson added, “I was sweaty and light-headed, and I felt like I would pass out, but I didn’t. I made it. I believe that’s the closest I’ve ever been to meeting God. I leaned against the cold bathroom wall and I talked to Him. ‘OMG. THANK YOU, GOD. THANK YOU, GOD, IF YOU’RE REAL. THANK YOU FOR NOT LETTING ME BLOW OUT MY JEANS ON THE LONG ISLAND RAILROAD.’”

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While many people might wish to forget such an incident, Johnson shared her experience with sugar-free jelly beans with the world via her Scary Mommy piece. However, she wasn’t the only person who’d experienced the negative side effects of the confectionery. And like the dieter, there were others who weren’t shy about revealing their reactions to the candy.

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A quick scan of the reviews for Jelly Belly Sugar-Free Mix Bag on Amazon reveals the suffering of many others who experienced stomach issues after consuming too much of the candy. One such person warned, “Heed the warning! On the package, it said that they could act as a laxative. Did they ever!”

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Meanwhile, another reviewer reported, “At the movies, enjoyed the flavor, ate the whole small package. Spent the next two hours in the bathroom. And then every hour after that, all night long. No sleep, but what a detox!” One more simply said, “The side effects were too bad. Had to discard after only one bag.”

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These reviews serve as cautionary tales of why you should always read the label. As Johnson said, “I still love me some sweets, but since that day, I keep my eye out for warning labels.” However, maintaining a sense of humor, she added, “I tell any of my friends getting colonoscopies that they should eat these jelly beans instead of drinking that awful stuff the doctors make you drink to cleanse your colon.”

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