I was in Trader Joe's yesterday picking up a few items. I only had chicken, egg whites and vegetables in my shopping cart, all and all a successful trip, but then I got to the register. The registers at Traders Joe's are always filled with sweets. I really feel like Trader Joe's should be considered a high end snack store not a health foods store...I don't mean that in a bad way it's just that they have a lot of snack foods there and let's face it... they're delicious. Anyway, I know a little dark chocolate every once in a while isn't a bad thing so I decided what the hell, why not grab a little treat for myself? I was drawn to this Simply Lite dark chocolate bar because the label claimed it to be sugar free, low calorie and low carb.
Sugar free and the words chocolate usually don't go hand in hand, unless it's bakers chocolate, so I was a little leery of that claim. The bar uses Malitol as a sweetener. I had never heard of that sweetener before, but I assumed it was similar to xylitol which is a natural sweetener not artificial like aspartame or sucralose.
Their label also claimed it was "Fine Chocolate for the Health and Calorie Conscious". Hey that's me! The nutrition label seemed to verify that it was indeed low sugar and low calorie, their packaging claimed the sweetener they used was low on the glycemic index so that it was a diabetic friendly product as well. So I bought the bar, and I ate a square...and OMG it was delicious! It totally satisfied my chocolate craving. I ended up eating two more squares because it was so good, then I put the bar away.
I looked all over the label wondering how in the world this could taste so good and be considered a diet friendly product. I wasn't finding the answers on the label so I started digging around on the internet.
The ingredients of the bar are as follows: Maltitol, Cocoa Mass, Cocoa Butter, Inulin (natural vegetable fiber), Soy Lecithin, Natural Vanilla, Cinnamon.
There are three ingredients on that list that are a little bit of a red flag for me, so I wanted to learn more about them.
1. Maltitol: is it good for me? It is a better alternative to sugar?
Maltitol is a sugar alcohol (a polyol) used as a sugar substitute. It has 75-90% of the sweetness of sucrose (table sugar) and nearly identical properties, except for browning. It is used to replace table sugar because it has fewer calories, does not promote tooth decay, and has a somewhat lesser effect on blood glucose.
ok, so far so good...slightly better for me than sugar, but let's not be fooled it's still sugar and my body will process it as such. Let's read on...
Ok, so maybe not?? To be fair the packaging on the chocolate bar does warn you that excess consumption can have a laxative effect. Seems to me that it's doubtful that one bar can cause that though.Maltitol is a disaccharide produced by Corn Products Specialty Ingredients (formerly SPI Polyols), Cargill, Roquette, and Mitsubishi Shoji Foodtech, among other companies. Maltitol is made by hydrogenation of maltose obtained from starch. Its high sweetness allows it to be used without being mixed with other sweeteners, and exhibits negligible cooling effect (positive heat of solution) in comparison with other sugar alcohols, and is very similar to the subtle cooling effect of sucrose. It is used especially in production of sweets: sugarless hard candies, chewing gum, chocolates, baked goods, and ice cream. The pharmaceutical industry uses maltitol as an excipient, where it is used as a low-calorie sweetening agent. Its similarity to sucrose allows it to be used in syrups with the advantage that crystallization (which may cause bottle caps to stick) is less likely. Maltitol may also be used as a plasticizer in gelatin capsules, as an emollient, and as a humectant.
Not unlike other sugar alcohols (with the exception of erythritol), maltitol (when consumed in large quantities or at a particularly high concentration) can have a laxative effect. (wikipedia)
2. Inulin?? What the heck is Inulin??
Inulins are a group of naturally occurring polysaccharides produced by many types of plants. They belong to a class of fibers known as fructans. Inulin is used by some plants as a means of storing energy and is typically found in roots or rhizomes. Most plants that synthesize and store inulin do not store other materials such as starch.
Inulin is increasingly used in processed foods because it has unusually adaptable characteristics. Its flavour ranges from bland to subtly sweet (approx. 10% sweetness of sugar/sucrose).It can be used to replace sugar, fat, and flour. This is particularly advantageous because inulin contains a quarter to a third of the food energy of sugar or other carbohydrates and a ninth to a sixth of the food energy of fat. While inulin is a versatile ingredient, it also has health benefits. Inulin increases calcium absorption and possibly magnesium absorption, while promoting the growth of intestinal bacteria. In terms of nutrition, it is considered a form of soluble fiber and is sometimes categorized as a prebiotic. Due to the body's limited ability to process polysaccharides, inulin has minimal increasing impact on blood sugar, and—unlike fructose—is not insulemic and does not raise triglycerides, making it considered suitable for diabetics and potentially helpful in managing blood sugar-related illnesses. The consumption of large quantities (in particular, by sensitive or unaccustomed individuals) can lead to gas and bloating, and products that contain inulin will sometimes include a warning to add it gradually to one's diet. (wikipedia)
Ok, so from what I'm reading one of the products in this bar is going to cause me to poop a lot, another is going to make me gassy and bloated.
3. Soy Lecithin. I see this added to a TON of products. But what exactly is it? As a general rule I keep my soy consumption to a minimum because it's not the best source of protein out there and because of research indicating that it can cause hormonal imbalances in women...but what is Lecithin?
Lecithin is a generic term to designate any group of yellow-brownish fatty substances occurring in animal and plant tissues, and in egg yolk, composed of phosphoric acid, choline, fatty acids, glycerol, glycolipids, triglycerides, and phospholipids.
Ok, so it's a fat derived from the soy bean. Why does my chocolate bar need that?
The non-toxicity of lecithin leads to its use with food, as an additive or in food preparation. It is used commercially in foods requiring a natural emulsifier or lubricant. In the food industry it has multiple uses: In confectionery it reduces viscosity, replaces more expensive ingredients, controls sugar crystallization and the flow properties of chocolate, helps in the homogeneous mixing of ingredients, improves shelf life for some products, and can be used as a coating. In emulsions and fat spreads it stabilizes emulsions, reduces spattering during frying, improves texture of spreads and flavour release. In doughs and bakery it reduces fat and egg requirements, helps even distribution of ingredients in dough, stabilizes fermentation, increases volume, protects yeast cells in dough when frozen, and acts as a releasing agent to prevent sticking and simplify cleaning. It improves wetting properties of hydrophilic powders (e.g., low-fat proteins) and lipophilic powders (e.g., cocoa powder), controls dust, and helps complete dispersion in water. It can be used as a component of cooking sprays to prevent sticking and as a releasing agent.
For example, lecithin is the emulsifier that keeps cocoa and cocoa butter in a candy bar from separating. In margarines, especially those containing high levels of fat (>75%), lecithin is added as an 'anti-spattering' agent for shallow frying.
It is approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration for human consumption with the status "Generally Recognized As Safe." Lecithin is admitted by the EU as a food additive, designated by E number E322. There are studies that show soy-derived lecithin has significant effects on lowering cholesterol and triglycerides, while increasing HDL ("good cholesterol") levels in the blood. However, studies on soy lecithin have been inconsistent and contradictory since the 1920s.
New study suggests gut bacteria metabolites of choline promote atherosclerosis in mice through TMAO production and "augmented macrophage cholesterol accumulation and foam cell formation". (wikipedia)
So really it's just an additive to make sure my chocolate bar maintains its shape. But other than that I'm doubtful that it has any health benefits.
I learned that I obviously did not find the holy grail of chocolate bars, but overall was my chocolate bar really that good for me? Well I guess it's a toss up. If I were a diabetic and really needed to watch my sugar levels then maybe it would be a good alternative. But for my purposes the use of inulin and matitol don't seem to have any added health benefits, and after reading about them I feel it would probably be safer to me to eat the real thing (sugar) instead of a "Lite" version with all these additives.
The most important thing to remember when picking out a treat to satisfy your cravings is that these are treats. Treats are special gifts for our enjoyment and gratification. If we treated our selves all the time they wouldn't be treats, so use the sweets sparingly.