Is Red Licorice Candy Bad For You?

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While there can be health benefits of licorice, there can also be risks of overconsuming licorice root.

Therefore, the questions that often arise are: is red licorice bad for you? Is strawberry licorice better for you than black licorice? Can you eat too much licorice?

In this red licorice candy nutrition guide, we will explain what red licorice candy is, the benefits of eating it, red licorice nutrition facts, and if red licorice candy is actually bad for you.

We will cover: 

  • Is Licorice Good for You?
  • Is Red Licorice Bad For You?
  • Is It Okay to Eat Red Licorice Candy?

Let’s get started!

Red Licorice Candy

Is Licorice Good for You? 

When most people think of licorice, what comes to mind is the black, rope-like candy with the distinctive anise flavor.

Black licorice candy seems to be one of the most polarizing foods, sort of the cilantro of the candy world in that you either love it or hate it.

However, red licorice candy, generally flavored as strawberry licorice, seems to be more of a crowd-pleasing alternative to the original black licorice candy flavor.

But, no matter which side of the black licorice vs red licorice candy debate you fall on, in terms of whether you prefer strawberry licorice or anise licorice, licorice candy is distinct from licorice as an herb.

Licorice is an herb that is frequently used in traditional Chinese medicine. 

In fact, in China, reports of using licorice—called “gancao,” meaning “sweet grass” (due to the sweet taste)—for medicinal purposes dates back at least as far as 2100 BCE, where “life-enhancing properties” of the herb were reported in the Shennong׳s Classic of Materia Medica.

In the subsequent 4,000 years or so, licorice has been used in Chinese medicine for a variety of ailments, from pain relief to calming the stomach, and black licorice candy was originally made using some of the compounds from the licorice herb. 

Licorice root.

Licorice, as a plant, contains amino acids, polysaccharides, starches, pectins, resins, gums, sterols, and minerals (calcium, phosphorus, sodium, potassium, iron, magnesium, silicon, selenium, manganese, zinc, and copper). 

It also contains tannins, flavonoids, vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B5, E, and C), and other phytochemicals, like saponins, which impart its sweet taste. 

The medicinal parts of the licorice plant are the fibrous, woody, wrinkly roots and rhizomes, which are underground stems that grow horizontally under the soil. 

The licorice roots contain more than 20 triterpenoids and nearly 300 flavonoids. The primary pharmacologically active compound in licorice roots is glycyrrhizin, a saponin, which is a flavonoid.

The glycyrrhizin in licorice has been shown to impart many of the immunomodulating, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory effects seen with supplementation of licorice extract.

The anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects of licorice confer a variety of benefits to the stomach and digestive tract.

Licorice root.

Numerous studies have reported the effectiveness of licorice in the treatment of gastric ulcers; in fact, it has been used to help treat peptic ulcers since the 1970s.

Licorice flavonoids have been shown to have potent immunomodulatory effects, such as inhibiting inflammatory pathways, activating macrophages to destroy inflammatory and toxic cells and compounds, and blocking the expression of genes and proteins involved in the inflammatory damaging characteristic of ulcerative colitis.

According to research studies, licorice extract also displays favorable gut microbiota-modulating effects and prebiotic-like benefits to the gut microbiome. 

This means that licorice can help support healthy gut bacteria and protect against gut inflammation and pathogenic bacteria in the gut. 

Although licorice root supplements have benefits, there are also licorice side effects to be aware of.

For example, some of the common side effects of licorice overconsumption include reducing potassium levels, increasing blood pressure, and interacting with different drugs such as blood pressure medications and insulin.

The hypertensive side effects of licorice coupled with the risk of licorice lowering potassium levels together can cause a variety of potentially dangerous heart and muscle problems, particularly for anyone who has high blood pressure or takes medications for blood pressure.

Red licorice candy.

Is Red Licorice Bad For You?

The principal risks of licorice candy consumption, mainly when talking about red licorice candy, are independent of the licorice risks for the supplements or licorice root itself since strawberry or cherry licorice does not contain any of the active licorice compounds.

Indeed, according to the USDA, red licorice candy doesn’t contain any of the actual licorice root or any of the active compounds in licorice that are purported to provide health benefits.

Instead, red licorice candy uses artificial flavorings.

For this reason, eating too much red licorice candy isn’t going to cause the same health problems or risks as eating too much licorice root itself.

That said, strawberry licorice candy is still indeed a candy, which means that, by nature, eating too much red licorice can still be bad for you.

Red licorice candy.

That said, just because there is no real licorice extract or licorice root in red licorice candy does not mean that there are no red licorice candy risks.

If you look at red licorice nutrition facts or ingredients, both pieces of information will quickly inform you that there is little to no nutritional value found in Twizzlers, Red Vines, or red licorice candy.

Any red licorice is essentially just sugar, artificial color, artificial flavor, corn syrup, and processed junk.

Therefore, eating too much red licorice candy can contribute to any of the same health problems seen by over-consuming foods with added sugar or processed foods and candy in general.

Let’s discuss further nutrition details of red licorice candy:

Red licorice candy.

#1: Red Licorice Is High In Sugar

According to the USDA, a typical serving of red licorice candy packs 31 grams of carbohydrates and 13 grams of sugars.

A 38-gram serving of red strawberry Twizzlers has 130 calories, 30 grams of carbs, and 16 grams of sugar, and the first ingredient is corn syrup.

Plus, the carbs in red licorice—like all fruity candy—are simple sugars.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020–2025 recommends limiting the intake of added sugars to less than 10% of your total daily calories, yet according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the average adult in the United States consumes 17 teaspoons of added sugar per day.

Because there are 16 calories in a teaspoon of sugar (and about 4.2 grams of sugar), this average sugar intake works out to 272 calories.

A 2,000-calorie diet would entail eating a maximum of 200 calories from added sugars, which is about 12 teaspoons, and smaller individuals who consume fewer calories should cap their sugar intake at a lower level equivalent to no more than 10% of their daily caloric intake.

Red licorice candy.

There are many adverse health conditions associated with a high sugar intake, such as dental cavities and periodontal disease, fatty liver disease, obesity, cardiovascular disease, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, depression, metabolic syndrome, and dysfunction.

Plus, diets high in simple sugars, such as the high-fructose corn syrup used in cherry licorice candy, have been associated with high blood sugar and insulin resistance.

Insulin resistance can increase the risk of pre-diabetes, type 2 diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome, and even cardiovascular disease, as it means that your cells have become less receptive and responsive to insulin in the bloodstream, which not only increases insulin production but also leads to elevated blood sugar levels.

Therefore, limiting your consumption of red licorice candy may improve insulin sensitivity.

#2: Red Licorice Contains Artificial Flavors and Colors

Red licorice also contains artificial food dyes, such as Red No. 40.

These types of artificial dyes have been associated with increasing hyperactivity in children and potentially increasing the risk of certain cancers.

Red licorice candy.

#3: Red Licorice Is Not Gluten-Free

Another thing to be mindful of is that red licorice candy almost always contains wheat, which means that it has gluten.

This is important to point out because most people don’t tend to think of gummy candy or fruity candy as containing wheat or grains, so if you have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, you cannot eat red licorice safely.

There may be some natural food brands or organic red licorice that are gluten-free, but the general answer to the question: “Is licorice candy gluten-free?” is no.

Is It Okay to Eat Red Licorice Candy?

Even though strawberry licorice or cherry licorice is not healthy and there are no benefits of red licorice candy, occasionally enjoying red licorice candy in moderation as part of a nutritious, balanced, calorie-appropriate diet is not going to harm you.

Just make sure that you are prioritizing whole, unprocessed, natural foods for the bulk of your calories, limiting foods with added sugar, and brushing your teeth right after eating strawberry licorice candy to minimize the negative impact of eating candy in your diet.

For an alternative, healthier candy with some potential health benefits, check out our guide to the benefits of ginger candy here.

Ginger candy.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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