Taste Test: Sugar-Free Chocolate
Can sugar-free chocolate compare to the real thing?
"Sugar-free chocolate" sounds like an oxymoron, but it's a booming
product category -- in part because diabetes is one of the fastest-growing
chronic diseases in America. But do these products really taste like chocolate?
And just how healthful are they?
To get some answers, WebMD asked a panel of testers to sample several brands
of sugar-free chocolate. And we asked a couple of experts for details on how
sugar-free chocolates are made, and their potential benefits.
To sweeten "sugar-free" chocolate, most companies use maltitol, a
sugar alcohol that is 90% as sweet as sugar ("sugar alcohol" is a
somewhat misleading term, as these are neither sugar nor alcohol). This type of
sugar replacer (a group that also includes sorbitol, xylitol, mannitol, and
isomalt) is particularly helpful to people with diabetes, because only a
portion of it is digested and absorbed. And the part that is absorbed through
the intestinal tract is absorbed slowly, so there's a relatively little rise in
Kristen McNutt, PhD, JD, nutrition communications consultant to isomalt
maker Palatinit, says sugar alcohols give the taste of sugar with only half the
calories. Further, she says, they don’t cause cavities, and don’t cause your
blood glucose to go up as high as it would if you ate sugar.
"The technology has improved with these sugar replacers and now they
taste better, too," says McNutt.
'Sugar-Free' Doesn't Mean 'Fat-Free'
Its sweetness, however, is only one reason the taste of chocolate appeals to
so many of us. The other is cocoa butter. And because cocoa butter is rich in
saturated fat, so are many of these sugar-free products.
For example, if you enjoy half a sugar-free Yamate Chocolatier milk
chocolate bar, you’ll be getting 200 calories, 17 grams of fat, and 10 grams of
saturated fat. On the upside, though, you’ll get 4 grams of fiber and 0 grams
of sugars (15 grams of maltitol). Five pieces of Russell Stover Sugar Free
Chocolate Candy Miniatures add up to 190 calories, 14 grams of total fat, 9
grams of saturated fat, 2 grams of fiber, and 0 grams sugar (20 grams sugar
The lesson here: It's essential to watch your portions of these treats.
As for calories, the good news about sugar-free chocolate is that there are
calorie savings. The bad news is that it isn’t an impressive amount.
For example, a 40-gram serving of Dove sugar-free chocolate has 190
calories, while the same amount of regular milk chocolate totals around 210.
The difference – 20 calories -- doesn't sound like much. But if you replace the
regular candy with the sugar-free version every day, you could save 140
calories a week, and 560 per month.
Here's another reason to make sure you enjoy these sweets in moderation: In
fine print on most packages of sugar-free chocolate is a warning:
"Excessive consumption may cause a laxative effect."