The ‘Sugar Free” Saga

Two months ago a popular frozen yogurt company approached us for “sugar free” chocolate bars samples for their new healthy chocolate range. As a chocolatier, explained sugar is pivotal to overcome the bitterness in pure chocolate “liquer” extracted from cacao beans and there are very few companies that actually manufacture real chocolate without adding cane sugar in the manufacturing process. The rare ones out there are real expensive chocolates and the taste may not be for everyone. I offered to make them samples of bars with 71 percent all real fine chocolate with no added sugar like all the other truffles in our range. 60-71 percent cacao is pure dark chocolate ( also called couverture: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Couverture_chocolate) which is not only low in sugar but also provides anti-aging antioxidants, mood lifting theobromins (phenylethylamine), blood pressure lowering flavonoids and healthy epicatechin that is found to reduce heart disease, cancer and diabetes! The remaining fat in dark chocolate comes from cocoa butter and is made up of equal amounts of oleic acid (a heart-healthy monounsaturated fat also found in olive oil), stearic and palmitic acids. Stearic acid appears to have a neutral effect on cholesterol, neither raising nor lowering it. Palmitic acid does affect cholesterol levels but only makes up one-third of the fat calories in chocolate! Few weeks, later, they informed they enjoyed the taste of the bars very much however due to the cost of the bars decided to go for “compound” sugar free bars from another company that would work in their budget. Although little disappointed, knew nor I or my vendor could not do the price they quoted as Fine Belgian and French chocolate is real expensive due to the high cacao butter content (32%-39%) and did not want to give them sweetener enriched chocolates or cheaper compound chocolate. Their bars were launched nationally last month and apparently selling fast. To me, it’s really sad that people would buy the wrong food in the name of “sugar free” and may even consume it in large quantities thinking it’s healthier than the real chocolate. Compound chocolate in America is called fake chocolate, since it has no real cacao extracts or cacao “liquer”, but cocoa powder (“cocoa” not “cacao” powder made from nibs of cacao beans after cacao butter is removed), milk powder, vegetable fats and sugar. “Sugar free” compound contain a sweetener called “Maltitol” (sugars derived from corn, http://lowcarbdiets.about.com/od/nutrition/a/maltitol.htm). In some countries, it is illegal to name compound “chocolate” as chocolate. Although Maltitol sweetener is safe unless taken in large amounts, compound chocolate (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compound_chocolate) does not have the benefits of real dark chocolate. Most people cannot make-out the difference because its chocolate flavor. How different is it then from junk food with empty calories and no nutritional benefits? Most of the “couverture” real chocolate called “sugar free” in the market also contains Malititol as a replacement from added sugar. They still contain sugar during the manufacturing process and should therefore be labeled correctly as “No Added Sugar” unless absolutely no sugar is added in the manufacturing process. cartoon sugar free   The American Heart Association (AHA) and American Diabetes Association (ADA) have cautioned about the use of artificial sweeteners in place of sugar to combat obesity, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes, all risk factors for heart disease as regular use of these will confuse the taste of even slightly sweet foods. Dr. David Ludwig, an obesity and weight-loss specialist at Harvard-affiliated Boston Children’s Hospital says, “Non-nutritive sweeteners are far more potent than table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. Over stimulation of sugar receptors from frequent use of these hyper-intense sweeteners may limit tolerance for more complex tastes” honest_labels_600   Instead of these artificial foods, that the body cannot digest properly can can cause long term harm, a diabetic can have about 40grams of good quality dark chocolate with a cocoa content of over 55%  in a day. Having half an hour before a main meal and it will assist with the digestion of food, breakdown of fats, and increase seratonin levels in the body.  I do know that true sugar free couvertures companies do exist in Europe however I am still looking for them. Till they become more common and more affordable, I would stick to the best quality chocolate with high cacao and cacao butter content as possible. Real dark chocolate products have more medicinal healing components that can override the little sugar added to make them less bitter. For diabetes and weight conscious peoples, good real pure foods in their natural states eaten in moderation would probably be a better choice. In fact with so much research proving the benefits of real dark chocolate, the old quote should be revised to “A piece of dark chocolate a day, keeps the doctor away!”      

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