Dr. Andrea Middleton - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Andrea Middleton

Is Dulce De Leche Bad For You?

Also Known As: Milk caramel, Manjar, Cajeta, Arequipe



Short answer

Dulce de Leche, a sweet Latin American spread, contains high amounts of sugar and saturated fat, contributing to health risks like heart disease, diabetes, and obesity when consumed excessively. Its commercial variants may include additives like emulsifiers and preservatives, which some individuals may wish to avoid. Despite its enticing taste, it's important to enjoy it in moderation, considering its caloric density and potential impact on overall dietary intake, to minimize the risk of adverse health effects.



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Long answer

Sugar Content and its Impact on Health in Dulce de Leche

Dulce de Leche, an indulgent caramel-like spread hailing from Latin America, is loved for its rich, sweet flavor. This enticing treat is traditionally crafted by slowly simmering milk and sugar, achieving a creamy consistency and a deep, golden color. However, its primary ingredient—sugar—merits a closer examination due to potential health impacts when consumed in excess.

Sugar, particularly in its added form, plays a significant role in the nutritional profile of Dulce de Leche. Depending on the recipe or brand, a single tablespoon of Dulce de Leche can contain between 10 to 15 grams of sugar. This represents a considerable portion of the recommended daily limit, which according to the American Heart Association, is no more than 36 grams for men and 25 grams for women.

  • Increased Blood Sugar Levels: Regular consumption of high-sugar foods like Dulce de Leche can lead to spikes in blood glucose, potentially resulting in insulin resistance over time and an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
  • Weight Gain: Sugar is calorie-dense, and Dulce de Leche is no outlier. Calorically speaking, it can contribute to weight gain if consumed without mindful portion control, as it is easy to exceed energy needs.
  • Dental Health: Sugary products are linked to dental caries and tooth decay; Dulce de Leche is sticky, increasing the likelihood of sugar adhering to teeth and thereby the risk of dental issues.
  • Heart Health: Research indicates an association between high sugar intake and unfavorable lipid profiles, which can impact heart health. An overconsumption of added sugars may lead to increased levels of triglycerides and LDL cholesterol (the "bad" cholesterol).
  • Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD): Added sugars, particularly fructose, are implicated in the development of NAFLD. While Dulce de Leche primarily contains sucrose, it is broken down into glucose and fructose in the body, potentially contributing to liver fat accumulation.

It's important to note that moderation is key. Dulce de Leche can be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet when consumed in small quantities. To mitigate the impact on your health, consider pairing it with foods high in fiber, protein, or healthy fats to slow glucose absorption and promote satiety. Nevertheless, individuals with pre-existing health conditions such as diabetes, obesity, or metabolic syndrome should exercise caution and consult with a healthcare professional before incorporating Dulce de Leche into their diet.

Scientific references supporting the impact of high sugar consumption include:

  • A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine in 2014 found that a high sugar diet was associated with an increased risk of dying from heart disease. (Yang et al., 2014)
  • Further research in The New England Journal of Medicine indicated a clear link between sugar intake and the incidence of type 2 diabetes, independent of obesity rates. (Basu et al., 2013)

Understanding the sugar content and its potential health impacts is imperative for informed dietary choices. While Dulce de Leche is a beloved sweet treat, being aware of the quantity and frequency of its consumption is essential for maintaining health and wellness.

Saturated Fats: Examining the Dairy Content

Dulce de leche, the creamy caramel-like confection originating from Latin America, is a beloved sweet treat around the world. While its indulgent flavor captures the hearts of many, it's essential to examine the dairy content that primarily contributes to its high levels of saturated fats. The primary dairy ingredient in dulce de leche is milk or cream, which naturally contains these fats. Understanding the role of saturated fats in our diet and how they can impact health is crucial, especially for those monitoring their heart health or overall fat intake.

First, let's break down the nutrition specifics. A tablespoon of dulce de leche typically contains:

Considering these values, it's evident that dulce de leche is rich in saturated fats. The American Heart Association recommends aiming for a dietary pattern that achieves 5-6% of calories from saturated fat; for example, in a 2,000 calories daily diet, that's about 13 grams of saturated fats per day. If dulce de leche is consumed in moderation – say, a tablespoon – it would account for a significant portion of this limit.

Since saturated fats can raise low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels in the blood, which is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke, moderating intake is advised. According to a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, high intake of these fats is associated with increased cardiovascular risk.

However, it is important to also consider the context of overall dietary patterns. Emerging research, such as a systematic review and meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, suggests that the relationship between saturated fat, cardiovascular disease, and all-cause mortality may be more complex than originally thought, with some evidence not supporting significant associations. Therefore, while it is still advisable to consume saturated fats in moderation, complete elimination may not be necessary for all individuals.

For those concerned about the saturated fat content in dulce de leche and looking to enjoy this delicacy more health-consciously, there are alternatives. For instance, choosing a product made with partly skimmed milk instead of full-fat cream can reduce the saturated fat content. Additionally, some brands offer lighter versions made with milk substitutes or low-fat milk, though the taste and texture may differ from the traditional recipe.

In conclusion, while dulce de leche can be high in saturated fats due to its dairy content, mindful consumption alongside a balanced diet can allow for its occasional enjoyment. It is, however, important to consider individual dietary needs and consult with a healthcare provider or a dietitian for personalized advice on saturated fat intake.

Potential Additives and Preservatives in Commercial Dulce de Leche

Commercially produced dulce de leche, while deliciously rich and sweet, often contains more than just milk and sugar. Unlike its traditionally homemade counterpart, the store-bought varieties can include a range of additives and preservatives to improve texture, flavor stability, and shelf life. Some of the commonly used substances in commercial dulce de leche include:

  • Stabilizers such as pectin or agar-agar which help maintain a consistent texture and prevent separation.
  • Emulsifiers like lecithin that ensure the mixture of ingredients remains homogenized.
  • Preservatives such as potassium sorbate or sodium benzoate to inhibit mold and yeast growth, which may otherwise spoil the product.
  • Flavor enhancers, including vanillin—synthetic vanilla flavor—which is used to boost the dulce de leche flavor profile without the expense of real vanilla extract.

While these additives and preservatives can extend the product's life and enhance its characteristics, they also raise health and dietary concerns. For instance, emulsifiers like lecithin are generally regarded as safe, but excessive consumption may lead to gastrointestinal discomfort or more serious health issues in sensitive individuals.

Preservatives such as potassium sorbate and sodium benzoate are identified as safe by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) when consumed at levels typically present in foods. However, some studies, like one published in the Journal of Immunotoxicology, suggest that these compounds can cause allergic reactions or other adverse effects in certain individuals, particularly when consumed in large quantities.

Artificial flavors, although generally recognized as safe, may be undesirable for those seeking a whole foods diet or those with sensitivities to synthetic ingredients.

To make an informed decision, consumers should check the ingredient label of commercial dulce de leche products for the presence of these additives. Where possible, opting for brands with minimal preservative and additive use, or making dulce de leche at home, can help manage intake of these substances. Moreover, consulting a dietitian or healthcare provider can provide guidance tailored to individual health needs and dietary restrictions.

Caloric Density and Overconsumption Risks

Understanding the caloric density and potential risks of overconsumption is crucial when evaluating the impact of dulce de leche on your diet. This sweet treat, originally from Latin America, is made by slowly heating sweetened milk to create a product that’s both rich in flavor and calories. Below, we dissect the elements of caloric density and the risks associated with overindulging in dulce de leche.

What is Caloric Density?

Caloric density refers to the number of calories in a given weight or volume of food. High-calorie dense foods provide a large number of calories in a small amount of food. These are often rich in sugar and fat, which is the case with dulce de leche. The high caloric density makes it easy to consume more calories than intended, especially when enjoyed straight from the jar or as a topping.

Calorie Content of Dulce de Leche

A tablespoon of dulce de leche can contain around 60 to 80 calories, primarily from sugars and fat. Although these numbers may seem small, they can add up quickly. For instance, spreading a generous layer on a slice of toast or using it as a filling in pastries significantly increases the calorie intake of the dish.

Risks of Overconsumption

Constantly exceeding your daily caloric intake can lead to weight gain and associated health risks such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and metabolic syndrome. Additionally, foods high in added sugars, like dulce de leche, can contribute to tooth decay and impact blood sugar levels, potentially causing spikes and crashes that affect your energy and mood.

Recommended Serving Size

Nutritionists often recommend moderating the consumption of high-calorie dense foods. A standard serving size for dulce de leche might be set at one or two tablespoons, particularly if it's part of a balanced diet that includes a variety of food groups. Keeping portion sizes in check can prevent the inadvertent intake of excess calories.

Tips to Avoid Overeating

  • Measure out your serving instead of eating straight from the container.
  • Use it as an occasional treat, not a daily staple in your diet.
  • Pair a small portion of dulce de leche with nutrient-dense foods like fruits or whole grains to balance out your snack or dessert.
  • Be mindful of hidden sources, such as flavored yogurts or prepackaged desserts, that may contain dulce de leche.


Enjoying dulce de leche in moderation can be part of a varied and balanced diet. However, the high caloric density of this decadent confection underscores the importance of being vigilant about portion sizes to mitigate the risks of overconsumption. Awareness of the calories per serving and the cumulative impact on your daily caloric intake can help keep your eating habits healthy and enjoy the rich flavor of dulce de leche without adverse effects.

Frequently asked questions

Diabetics can explore sugar substitutes like stevia or erythritol for homemade dulce de leche. However, it's crucial to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the best options for individual health needs.

Lactose intolerant individuals may need to avoid traditional dulce de leche due to its high dairy content. However, some brands offer lactose-free versions, or you can make your own using lactose-free milk.

To include dulce de leche in a balanced diet, consume it in small portions as an occasional treat, pair it with nutrient-dense foods to balance your meal, and ensure your overall diet is varied and nutritionally rich.

Homemade dulce de leche can be healthier than store-bought products as it allows control over the ingredients used and avoids potential additives and preservatives. However, it still contains high levels of sugar and should be consumed in moderation.

Ask a question about Dulce De Leche and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • increased blood sugar levels
  • weight gain
  • dental issues
  • elevated triglycerides and ldl cholesterol
  • gastrointestinal discomfort

Possible long-term side effects

  • type 2 diabetes
  • obesity
  • cardiovascular disease
  • dental caries
  • non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (nafld)
  • allergic reactions
  • increased cardiovascular risk

Ingredients to be aware of


  • can be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet in moderation

Healthier alternatives

  • dulce de leche with partly skimmed milk
  • low-fat or milk substitute-based versions
  • brands with minimal preservatives and additives
  • homemade dulce de leche

Our Wellness Pick (what is this?)

Organic Condensed Coconut Milk

  • Organic ingredient
  • Sweetened naturally
  • Dairy-free alternative
  • Convenient can form
  • Multi-pack offering
Learn More!

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 12-27-2023

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 12-27-2023

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