Chocolate is seen by many as a guilty pleasure, but researchers think fruit juice could be the key to low-fat indulgence. But if the fat is replaced with something sugary, is the chocolate any healthier?
I am a total chocoholic, so when I read the news that researchers at Warwick University had found a way to replace up to half the fat in chocolate with fruit juice, I thought Christmas had come round again. Guilt-free chocolate!
Using fruit juice as a sweetener is not a new concept. There are already alternative sweet products on the market that use fruit juice instead of sugar. I always assumed that these products were healthier than those containing processed sugar, but recent research that we’ve carried out here at Which? made me think again.
Sussing out the sugar in smoothies
In January this year, we looked at the amount of sugar in fruit smoothies. We concluded that while smoothies do have more nutritional benefits overall, many contained more sugar than Coca-Cola per serving. This is because fruit contains natural sugar – but sugar is sugar to our bodies – and we need to be conscious of how much of it we are consuming. The recommended daily allowance is 90g for women and 120g for men (about 18 and 24 teaspoons respectively) – which already sounds like a lot to me!
We also know from research that we did last September, that low-fat foods are often created by replacing the fat with sugar. The science bods from Warwick are using fruit juice to replace the fatty cocoa butter. So it seems to me that although the fat will be removed, including saturated fat (which we should all be keeping an eye on), the new recipe will do little to reduce the overall calorie content of the chocolate. Sugar contains calories too.
The dangers of the ‘health halo’
They often say that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. The researchers at Warwick must have had lots of fun in the lab, but I do wonder whether or not companies will actually take up the expensive process of reformulating their recipes if there isn’t much to be gained.
A BBC documentary last year, ‘The Men Who Made us Fat‘, reported research carried out by marketing professor and visiting scholar at Harvard Business School, Pierre Chandon. He had discovered what he called the ‘health halo’ which makes people eat more of the food they think is healthy. So if we are presented with half-fat chocolate, we are just going to eat twice as much of it. By eating two bars of this new magic chocolate, we will be consuming the same amount of fat, but twice as much sugar, than if we ate one full-fat bar.
Putting fruit juice in chocolate is an interesting idea, but my personal lesson here is that we must not be fooled into thinking that we can enjoy guilty pleasures guiltlessly. Perhaps part of the fun of them is that they are a bit naughty and we should just enjoy them – in moderation.