Ok so after my last blog post, which you can read here, I got a few messages of chocolatiers saying that they still don’t like to use the sugar alcohols I mentioned and instead rather stick to invert sugar and glucose. When we do that with our consumers’ health at heart, the motivation is noble, but in my opinion misguided. Let’s look why that is:

Insulin

For the people who saw my #10yearchallenge instagram story: You know that for a chunk of my young adult life I was involved in competitive bodybuilding. (yes the black man in red speedos was indeed the 10yr younger gym obsessed version of myself with a thick layer of tan on). Why am I telling you this? because in those years I learned several important nutritional lessons, one of those was the one of insulin. Insulin, is the most anabolic hormone in our bodies, unfortunately it is that for both our muscle and fat cells. To maximise performance and muscle growth I used to aim to have low insulin levels throughout the day and spike them after the workout to help lower cortisol levels, (stress hormone) that would have built up throughout the workout, and help shuttling nutrients into the muscle cells. To achieve this I would resort to sugars which rank high on the glycemic index at strategic times. After a workout muscles are more sensitive to insulin because I had been eating low GI throughout the day combined with the workout.

The problem for the majority of people

Today ’s diet is typically high in GI foods, that means people chronically have elevated insulin levels, this eventually leads to decreased insulin sensitivity from the muscle cells. When this happens insulin will push the nutrients that were actually meant for the muscle cells in to the fat cells, largely explaining the obesity problem in the modern western world.

Sugars, chocolate and the GI index

Let’s have a look at the GI index of the sugars some chocolatiers view as the healthier option: (please not that depending on which source you use, the GI values will vary slightly)

Sugar

GI score

Dextrose

100

Glucose

100

Inverted sugar

50

Honey

60

Fructose

25

Alternatively let’s look at the sugar alcohols:

Sugar

GI score

Glycerol

9

Sorbitol

9

It’s safe to say that the impact on insulin is a lot lower, therefor insulin related health risks, such as heart disease and diabetes are a lot lower.

Fructose

What about fructose I hear you ask? the good old fruit sugar… it only has a GI of 25, hence the GI score of invert sugar is also quite low (as it contains near enough 50/50 glucose and fructose). You might think now that invert sugar and fructose might still be ok. Well unfortunately there is only one organ in our body that can process fructose, the liver. It does not use convert fructose into glucose for energy, instead it converts fructose into triglycerides, when our diet is overly rich in fructose (as it in many cases is) and our liver produces more of these fats than we need this will lead to fatty liver disease. Overconsumption of fructose is actually the leading cause of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, a serious condition that can lead to cancer and liver cirrhosis if untreated. Aside from that fructose and sucrose are also preferred foods for bad gut bacteria and yeasts such as candida. You can read more about that here, here and here.

Sugar alcohols and health

Sugar alcohols don’t spike the insulin levels nearly as much as other sugars mainly because they are indigestible for the most part, this brings a few problems as well:

  • as they ferment in the gut by gut bacteria they can cause gas and  bloating.
  • Because the sugar alcohols attract water they can, in excessive doses, cause diarrhoea by pulling excess water into the gut.
  • Because of the previous point they could also lead dehydration.

On the positive side:

  • Sugar alcohols do not cause tooth decay as sugar, glucose, fructose and invert sugar would.
  • They do not spike insulin levels nearly as much.
  • There are indications that sugar alcohols act as a prebiotic.
  • They contain less calories, sorbitol only contains 2.5kcal per gram versus 4 kcal per gram for sugar or other carbohydrate (Glycerol however, also contains 4kcal per gram)

Putting it into context

Ok context is an important thing here, I am not against using invert sugar or glucose in your recipes. both have their place in balancing a ganache and I use them in most of my ganaches. The fat present in the chocolate (cocoa butter) will, to some extent, mitigate the high GI value of glucose and invert sugar. (it will not solve the fructose problem however) My main point here is that turning your back on sugar alcohols in favour or the more known sugars for health reasons is wrong, there is strong indication sugar alcohols are in many ways healthier than sugars. It is also very unlikely anyone would eat enough chocolate to really trigger the gastric issues discussed in the previous section with the exception of people who have pre-existing gastric issues or intolerances. I think the main problem with these sugar alcohol is that a lot of people are afraid of the names; They sound ‘chemical’, but let’ s not forget that food at any level is pure chemistry!  Sucrose is no less ‘chemical’ than sorbitol. It’s only more known to the broader public. Chocolate bonbons will never become a “healthy” product, it is a treat and my advice to any chocoholic is to enjoy a high quality artisan chocolate product once a week rather than a lower quality chocolate candy bar daily. [/av_textblock]