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Dulce de Leche vs. Caramel — Health Impact and Nutrition Comparison

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Article author photo Arpi Gasparyan by Arpi Gasparyan | Last updated on July 10, 2023
Medically reviewed by Astghik Baghinyan Article author photo Astghik Baghinyan
Dulce de Leche
vs
Caramel

Summary

Dulce de leche is made by heating sugar and milk, whereas caramel is made by heating sugar and water.

Both dulce de leche and caramel are high-calorie and high-carb foods; however, caramel provides more calories, fats, and carbs when compared to dulce de leche. 

Dulce de leche contains around 1.6 times more vitamin B2 and 1.3 times more vitamin B5. On the other hand, caramel contains around 6 times more vitamin B1. Dulce de leche is also richer in most minerals, including calcium, phosphorus, zinc, and potassium, while also containing 2 times less sodium than caramel.

Most health benefits found in these foods are associated with choline, while downsides or risks are associated with the high amounts of unhealthy fats and sugar levels.

Introduction

Dulce de leche and caramel are confectionery products made by heating sugar. Dulce de leche is prepared by heating sugar and milk, whereas caramel is prepared by heating sugar (usually white granulated) and water. 

Caramel has a darker brown color and denser consistency.

Both dulce de leech and caramel are sweet, tasty, and improve our moods; however, their consumption increase the risk of various chronic diseases. 

Use

Dulce de leche is used in a lot of ways. As an ingredient, it’s used in cakes, ice cream, ice cream sandwiches, sundae cups, cheesecakes, brownies, peach pies, caramel or bread puddings, doughnuts, and desserts; it can be used as a topping for waffles or pancakes, sweetens the milk or coffee as well.

Caramel is used in chip pancakes, caramel bacon, brownie bites, popcorn balls, cornbread, cookies, truffles, nuts, eclairs, and marshmallows. It is also used as a filling in chocolate candies, flavoring in puddings and desserts, and toppings for ice cream and cakes. Caramel is used in chai lattes, hot cocoa, and rum too.

Nutrition

The nutritional values are presented for dulce de leche and caramel.

Macronutrients and Calories

One serving of dulce de leche is usually 1 tbsp (19 grams), while one serving  of caramel is one piece (10.1 grams).

Dulce de leche consists of 28.7% water, whereas caramel is much denser and consists of 8.5% water. Both are made primarily of carbs. 

Macronutrient Comparison

Macronutrient breakdown side-by-side comparison
Contains more Protein +48.7%
Contains more Water +237.8%
Contains more Fats +10.2%
Contains more Carbs +39.1%
Equal in Other - 1.8
7% 7% 55% 29% 2%
Protein: 6.84 g
Fats: 7.35 g
Carbs: 55.35 g
Water: 28.71 g
Other: 1.75 g
5% 8% 77% 9% 2%
Protein: 4.6 g
Fats: 8.1 g
Carbs: 77 g
Water: 8.5 g
Other: 1.8 g
Contains more Protein +48.7%
Contains more Water +237.8%
Contains more Fats +10.2%
Contains more Carbs +39.1%
Equal in Other - 1.8

Calories

Both dulce de leche and caramel are very high in calories. However, caramel provides relatively more calories.

To make the comparison between the two easier, we will be reviewing 100-gram servings of each. 

A 100-gram serving of dulce de leche provides 315 calories, whereas a 100-gram serving of caramel provides 382 calories.

Protein and Fats

Dulce de leche contains almost 1.5 times more proteins, whereas caramel contains slightly more fats.

Caramel is slightly richer in fats when compared to dulce de leche. The predominant fats found in caramel are polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are present 1.4 times more when compared to saturated fats. 

On the other hand, the predominant fats found in dulce de leche are saturated fatty acids, which are present 12 times more than polyunsaturated fatty acids.

Dulce de leche contains 4 times more cholesterol compared to caramel.

Fat Type Comparison

Fat type breakdown side-by-side comparison
Contains more Monounsaturated Fat +39%
Contains less Saturated Fat -45.4%
Contains more Polyunsaturated fat +827.5%
64% 30% 5%
Saturated Fat: 4.534 g
Monounsaturated Fat: 2.143 g
Polyunsaturated fat: 0.375 g
33% 21% 46%
Saturated Fat: 2.476 g
Monounsaturated Fat: 1.542 g
Polyunsaturated fat: 3.478 g
Contains more Monounsaturated Fat +39%
Contains less Saturated Fat -45.4%
Contains more Polyunsaturated fat +827.5%

Carbohydrates

Both dulce de leche and caramel are very high in carbs, with caramel containing almost 22g more carbs per 100-gram serving.

A 100g dulce de leche contains 55.35g of carbs, whereas caramel contains 77g. The carbs are mainly sugar (sucrose).

Vitamins

It is important to note that a single serving of neither caramel nor dulce de leche (10-20 grams) provides any significant amounts of vitamins. However, both contain small amounts of various vitamins, which we can compare. 

The predominant vitamins found in caramel and dulce de leche are vitamin B2, vitamin B5, and vitamin B12. 

Dulce de leche and caramel both contain equal amounts of vitamin B12. Dulce de leche contains around 1.6 times more vitamin B2 and 1.3 times more vitamin B5. On the other hand, caramel contains around 6 times more vitamin B1. 

Caramel is absent in vitamin D, while dulce de leche contains small amounts. 

Vitamin Comparison

Vitamin comparison score is based on the number of vitamins by which one or the other food is richer. The "coverage" charts below show how much of the daily needs can be covered by 300 grams of the food.
:
Contains more Vitamin A +535.7%
Contains more Vitamin D +∞%
Contains more Vitamin C +550%
Contains more Vitamin B2 +58.2%
Contains more Vitamin B3 +41.9%
Contains more Vitamin B5 +34.7%
Contains more Folate +175%
Contains more Vitamin E +130%
Contains more Vitamin B1 +543.8%
Contains more Vitamin B6 +250%
Contains more Vitamin K +38.5%
Equal in Vitamin B12 - 0.3
Vitamin A Vitamin E Vitamin D Vitamin C Vitamin B1 Vitamin B2 Vitamin B3 Vitamin B5 Vitamin B6 Folate Vitamin B12 Vitamin K 17% 4% 6% 9% 4% 94% 4% 51% 4% 9% 39% 4%
Vitamin A Vitamin E Vitamin D Vitamin C Vitamin B1 Vitamin B2 Vitamin B3 Vitamin B5 Vitamin B6 Folate Vitamin B12 Vitamin K 3% 10% 0% 2% 26% 60% 3% 38% 13% 3% 38% 5%
Contains more Vitamin A +535.7%
Contains more Vitamin D +∞%
Contains more Vitamin C +550%
Contains more Vitamin B2 +58.2%
Contains more Vitamin B3 +41.9%
Contains more Vitamin B5 +34.7%
Contains more Folate +175%
Contains more Vitamin E +130%
Contains more Vitamin B1 +543.8%
Contains more Vitamin B6 +250%
Contains more Vitamin K +38.5%
Equal in Vitamin B12 - 0.3

Minerals

Dulce de leche is richer in most of the minerals. It is richer in calcium, phosphorus, zinc, and potassium.

Caramel is also almost two times higher in sodium when compared to dulce de leche.

Mineral Comparison

Mineral comparison score is based on the number of minerals by which one or the other food is richer. The "coverage" charts below show how much of the daily needs can be covered by 300 grams of the food.
Contains more Calcium +81.9%
Contains more Iron +21.4%
Contains more Magnesium +29.4%
Contains more Phosphorus +69.3%
Contains more Potassium +63.6%
Contains less Sodium -47.3%
Contains more Zinc +79.5%
Contains more Selenium +50%
Contains more Copper +350%
Contains more Manganese +450%
Calcium Iron Magnesium Phosphorus Potassium Sodium Zinc Copper Manganese Selenium 76% 7% 16% 83% 31% 17% 22% 2% 1% 15%
Calcium Iron Magnesium Phosphorus Potassium Sodium Zinc Copper Manganese Selenium 42% 6% 13% 49% 19% 32% 12% 6% 2% 10%
Contains more Calcium +81.9%
Contains more Iron +21.4%
Contains more Magnesium +29.4%
Contains more Phosphorus +69.3%
Contains more Potassium +63.6%
Contains less Sodium -47.3%
Contains more Zinc +79.5%
Contains more Selenium +50%
Contains more Copper +350%
Contains more Manganese +450%

Glycemic Index

There is no information provided about the glycemic index values of dulce de leche or caramel. 

Acidity

The PRAL value or potential renal acid load value shows the amount of acid the consumed food produces.

The PRAL values for dulce de leche and caramel are -0.7 and -0.3, respectively. Dulce de leche has a more negative value; therefore, it is more base-producing when compared to caramel.

Weight Loss & Diets

Since both dulce de leche and caramel are high-calorie foods, they are not often included in weight loss diets. 

Although they are not suitable for weight-loss diets, dulce de leche would be a better choice for low-carb, low-fat, and low-calorie diets when compared to caramel.

These foods can be used in the third and fourth stages of the Dukan Diet.

They are not a good choice for weight gain diets as well, as they contain too much sugar and lead to unhealthy weight gain.

Health Impact

Health Benefits

Neurological Health

Choline is a micronutrient required for normal brain development and growth. Dulce de leche contains 11 times more choline compared to caramel.

Choline plays an essential role in maintaining the structural and functional integrity of cell membranes; it leads to acetylcholine synthesis, which modulates cholinergic neurotransmission․

Choline improves mood, memory, and cognitive functions as well (1).

Research on mice has shown that choline supplementation during adulthood reveals a beneficial effect on Alzheimer’s disease progression and shows therapeutic effects for patients (2).

Downsides and Risks

Even though caramel and dulce de leche are good sources of nutrients and antioxidants, they mainly have adverse health effects caused by excess carbs and unhealthy fats.

Excess carbs are converted to triglycerides for long-term energy storage. A diet rich in carbs stimulates this process both in the liver and fat tissue leading to elevated postprandial triglycerides, showing adverse effects on health (3, 4).

Studies suggest replacing mentioned fats with polyunsaturated fatty acids, as they are better for health (5).

Cardiovascular Health

Section reviewed by cardiologist Astghik Grigoryan Article author photo Astghik Grigoryan

If you're comparing the two directly in terms of their impact on CVD, Dulce de Leche might have a slight advantage. This is because dulce de leche is typically made with milk, which provides some essential nutrients like calcium and protein. Caramel, on the other hand, is primarily sugar and doesn't offer much in terms of nutritional value.

Fats mentioned above are another reason for cardiovascular and coronary heart disease risks; fats worsen the progression of the disease and increase all-cause mortality rates.

Unhealthy fats are associated with changes in the heart’s structure and function, predominantly the heart’s left ventricle, leading to its mass and volume gain (6).

High cholesterol impacts cardiac arrhythmias and leads to the development of atherosclerosis (7, 8).

Acrolein is a compound formed during the fat-heating process in caramel and is associated with increased cardiovascular disease risk (9, 10).

Respiratory Health

Diacetyl is a butter flavoring in caramel that may adversely affect the respiratory system. Employees with jobs involving diacetyl exposure or food flavorings containing diacetyl show increased occurrence of airway obstruction, bronchiolitis obliterans, or “popcorn lung,” and other respiratory disorders (11).

Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease & Insulin Resistance

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is the most common liver disease that affects up to a quarter of the population. One of its types is hepatic steatosis or fatty liver.

In most cases, hepatic steatosis is linked to increased fat ingestion. The disease is characterized by increased liver uptake of free fatty acids and de novo lipogenesis (fat synthesis from carbs). On the one hand, insulin resistance plays its role in developing and progressing hepatic steatosis; on the other hand, hepatic steatosis is linked to the secondary development of hepatic insulin resistance (12, 13, 14).

Diabetes

Large amounts or frequent use of dulce de leche and caramel lead to unhealthy weight gain and increase the risk of obesity. Obesity usually goes in parallel with fatty liver, metabolic syndrome, and insulin resistance leading to a high likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes (15, 16, 17).

Article author photo Arpi Gasparyan
Education: General Medicine at YSMU
Last updated: July 10, 2023
Medically reviewed by Astghik Baghinyan

Infographic

Dulce de Leche vs Caramel infographic
Infographic link

Comparison summary table

Pay attention to the rightmost column. It displays the amounts side by side, giving a clearer understanding of the difference.
Dulce de Leche Caramel
Lower in Sugar ok
Lower in Sodium ok
Lower in Glycemic Index ok
Rich in minerals ok
Rich in vitamins ok
Lower in Cholesterol ok
Lower in Saturated Fat ok
Lower in price ok

All nutrients comparison - raw data values

Nutrient Dulce de Leche Caramel Opinion
Net carbs 55.35g 77g Caramel
Protein 6.84g 4.6g Dulce de Leche
Fats 7.35g 8.1g Caramel
Carbs 55.35g 77g Caramel
Calories 315kcal 382kcal Caramel
Fructose 0.32g Dulce de Leche
Sugar 49.74g 65.5g Dulce de Leche
Calcium 251mg 138mg Dulce de Leche
Iron 0.17mg 0.14mg Dulce de Leche
Magnesium 22mg 17mg Dulce de Leche
Phosphorus 193mg 114mg Dulce de Leche
Potassium 350mg 214mg Dulce de Leche
Sodium 129mg 245mg Dulce de Leche
Zinc 0.79mg 0.44mg Dulce de Leche
Copper 0.004mg 0.018mg Caramel
Manganese 0.002mg 0.011mg Caramel
Selenium 2.7µg 1.8µg Dulce de Leche
Vitamin A 267IU 42IU Dulce de Leche
Vitamin A RAE 74µg 12µg Dulce de Leche
Vitamin E 0.2mg 0.46mg Caramel
Vitamin D 6IU 0IU Dulce de Leche
Vitamin D 0.2µg 0µg Dulce de Leche
Vitamin C 2.6mg 0.4mg Dulce de Leche
Vitamin B1 0.016mg 0.103mg Caramel
Vitamin B2 0.405mg 0.256mg Dulce de Leche
Vitamin B3 0.21mg 0.148mg Dulce de Leche
Vitamin B5 0.835mg 0.62mg Dulce de Leche
Vitamin B6 0.016mg 0.056mg Caramel
Folate 11µg 4µg Dulce de Leche
Vitamin B12 0.31µg 0.3µg Dulce de Leche
Vitamin K 1.3µg 1.8µg Caramel
Tryptophan 0.06mg Caramel
Threonine 0.192mg Caramel
Isoleucine 0.258mg Caramel
Leucine 0.417mg Caramel
Lysine 0.338mg Caramel
Methionine 0.107mg Caramel
Phenylalanine 0.205mg Caramel
Valine 0.285mg Caramel
Histidine 0.115mg Caramel
Cholesterol 29mg 7mg Caramel
Trans Fat 0.364g Caramel
Saturated Fat 4.534g 2.476g Caramel
Omega-3 - EPA 0.004g 0g Dulce de Leche
Omega-3 - DPA 0.009g 0g Dulce de Leche
Monounsaturated Fat 2.143g 1.542g Dulce de Leche
Polyunsaturated fat 0.375g 3.478g Caramel
Omega-6 - Eicosadienoic acid 0.001g Dulce de Leche
Omega-6 - Linoleic acid 0.131g Dulce de Leche
Omega-6 - Gamma-linoleic acid 0.002g Dulce de Leche
Omega-3 - ALA 0.05g Dulce de Leche
Omega-3 - Eicosatrienoic acid 0.001g Dulce de Leche
Omega-6 - Dihomo-gamma-linoleic acid 0.005g Dulce de Leche

Which food is preferable for your diet?

ok
ok
is better in case of low diet
Dulce de Leche Caramel
Low Fats diet ok
Low Carbs diet ok
Low Calories diet ok
Low Glycemic Index diet ok

People also compare

Vitamins & Minerals Daily Need Coverage Score

The summary scores indicate the extent to which this food can fulfill your daily vitamin and mineral requirements if you consume 3 servings, consisting of 100 grams of each (an approximation of 3 serving sizes).
Vitamins Daily Need Coverage Score
20%
Dulce de Leche
16%
Caramel
Minerals Daily Need Coverage Score
27%
Dulce de Leche
19%
Caramel

Comparison summary

Which food is lower in Sugar?
Dulce de Leche
Dulce de Leche is lower in Sugar (difference - 15.76g)
Which food contains less Sodium?
Dulce de Leche
Dulce de Leche contains less Sodium (difference - 116mg)
Which food is lower in glycemic index?
Dulce de Leche
Dulce de Leche is lower in glycemic index (difference - 23)
Which food is richer in minerals?
Dulce de Leche
Dulce de Leche is relatively richer in minerals
Which food is richer in vitamins?
Dulce de Leche
Dulce de Leche is relatively richer in vitamins
Which food is lower in Cholesterol?
Caramel
Caramel is lower in Cholesterol (difference - 22mg)
Which food is lower in Saturated Fat?
Caramel
Caramel is lower in Saturated Fat (difference - 2.058g)
Which food is cheaper?
Caramel
Caramel is cheaper (difference - $1.5)

References

All the values for which the sources are not specified explicitly are taken from FDA’s Food Central. The exact link to the food presented on this page can be found below.

  1. Dulce de Leche - https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/173461/nutrients
  2. Caramel - https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/167974/nutrients

All the Daily Values are presented for males aged 31-50, for 2000-calorie diets.

Data provided by FoodStruct.com should be considered and used as information only. Please consult your physician before beginning any diet.