As awareness around limiting added and free sugar intake increases, food manufacturers are innovating and testing alternatives to provide (what they believe to be) a better, yet still sweetly satisfying, option for consumers to delight in.
Nestlé has recently announced it will be using the white pulp of the cocoa pod — the fleshy part that surrounds the cocoa seeds or beans — in place of “refined sugar” in some confectionery products.
Sounds great, right?
Before we start reaching for these pulp-sweetened chocolates, let’s clear up the confusion around the term “refined sugars”.
In recent years, this term has been commonly used to differentiate between highly processed sugars, such as white table sugar, from those sugars or sweeteners some consider “healthier”, such as rice malt syrup or coconut sugar.
But to the body, freely available sugar will still be treated and processed as sugar. Sure, there are better versions than others, but let’s not trick ourselves into believing that because a sugar or syrup is considered less refined, we can glug back a tonne of it.
So, the removal of some “refined sugar” in a piece of Nestlé confectionery is irrelevant. It is what they replace it with we need to consider.
To our understanding, the cocoa pulp being used in place of stock standard sugar is processed into a dried fruit sugar product and may be classified as free sugar.
This is because the powder is not an intrinsic sugar, the type of sugar found incorporated within the structure of intact or whole fruit and vegetables, or sugars from milk.1 Intrinsic sugars we are not concerned with (we absolutely endorse eating whole veg and fruit); it is the added and free sugars we need to keep an eye out for.
The original cocoa pulp, which contains intrinsic sugar, is dried and made into a powdered sugar alternative via a patented technique. It this processing that sees the sugars fall under the definition of free sugars, which includes those originally and naturally present in fruit and veg but processed into a powder, juice, concentrate, purees, and extruded veg and fruit products.2
Nestlé has stated that by using the powdered pulp, overall sugar content is reduced by 40%. That is a plus, along with claims Nestlé is using the cocoa pulp, among other initiatives across their food manufacturing processes, in an attempt to reduce food waste.
This is great from an environmental and business perspective as currently, a fair proportion of the pulp is wasted in the chocolate-making process.
But this doesn’t make the chocolate they make a ‘health food’ at the end of the day, and if you are going to have some, such products should be treated as a once-in-a-while food. And as with all other free and added sugars, consumption should still be limited to 6 teaspoons (25g) per day.
By Angela Johnson (BHSc Nut. Med)
- World Health Organization 2015, Guideline: Sugars intake for adults and children, viewed 12 August 2019 <https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/149782/9789241549028_eng.pdf?sequence=1>
- Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition 2015, Carbohydrates and Health, viewed 12 August 2019, <http://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/445503/SACN_Carbohydrates_and_Health.pdf>