By: Dr Lindie Schloms
We all know that sugar is bad for our health. It increases the risk of diabetes, obesity and heart disease, it increases inflammation, reduces immune function, accelerates aging and causes tooth decay. While we are all familiar with these facts, chocolate remains the most craved food in the world and people will never stop buying chocolate, whether it contains sugar or not. While there are several no-added-sugar chocolates on the market to cater for health conscious consumers, diabetics and those following the ketogenic diet, most of the available options are not nearly as palatable as you would like, have a bitter aftertaste (eg. stevia), include ingredients other than sugar that still cause blood sugar and insulin levels to spike (eg. maltitol), or cause unwanted gastrointestinal side effects (eg. inulin). Since we did not want to settle for any of that, we have done extensive research to find the right combination of ingredients to use in our De Villiers Chocolate No-Added-Sugar chocolate range that tick all of the boxes without compromising on taste. The brand new De Villiers Chocolate No-Added-Sugar, Keto Certified, Vegan-friendly chocolate range is sweetened with a curated blend of erythritol, monk fruit and non-GMO soluble corn fibre - ingredients which have been carefully selected for their unique ability to mimic the sensory profile of sugar without causing any blood sugar and insulin spikes or unwanted gastrointestinal side effects.
Erythritol is a sugar alcohol (polyol) that occurs naturally in fruits such as melons, grapes and pears. It is 70% as sweet as sugar, contains almost no calories (0 - 0.24 kcal / g) and has a 0 glycemic index (GI). Erythritol is considered to be one of the best sugar substitutes for people with diabetes and those on the ketogenic diet since it does not increase blood glucose or insulin levels at doses of 20 - 64g (Livesey 2003, Noda 1994, Shin 2016). (De Villiers Chocolate No-Added-Sugar chocolates contain 16g erythritol / 80g bar). Erythritol is very well tolerated. It has the highest digestive tolerance of all the sugar alcohols and long term consumption of high amounts of erythritol has not been associated with any serious side effects (Munro 1998). Unlike other sugar alcohols which are fermented by bacteria in the colon (and produce gas as a by-product) ± 90% of ingested erythritol is absorbed into the blood before it reaches the colon. Since humans do not have the enzymes needed to break it down, erythritol cannot be metabolised and is excreted completely unchanged in the urine (Hiele 1993). The remaining 10% of erythritol which is not absorbed into the blood travels undigested and unfermented through the colon (Arrigoni 2005). A study in diabetic rats showed that erythritol acts as an antioxidant in vivo and may help reduce blood vessel damage caused by high blood sugar levels (den Hartog 2010). Another study in adults with type 2 diabetes found that taking 36 grams of erythritol daily for a month improved the function of their blood vessels, potentially reducing their risk of heart disease (Flint 2013). In addition, erythritol is tooth friendly and can help maintain and improve oral health. It has been shown to suppress harmful bacteria, reduce dental plaque and cavities (de Cock 2016). In an article by Livesey 2003, investigating the health potential of different sugar alcohols (polyols), erythritol was superior to all the other polyols for the following reasons:
1) Erythritol has a glycemic index (GI) of 0 and an insulinemic index (II) of 2 which means that it has no effect on blood sugar levels and negligible effects on insulin levels (Table 5, Livesey 2003). The only other sugar alcohol comparable to erythritol is mannitol, which has a GI of 0 and a II of 0. Most sugar free chocolates currently on the SA market contain maltitol (GI = 35 and II = 27) which causes much higher blood glucose and insulin spikes compared to erythritol and mannitol (Figure 1b vs 1a).
2) Erythritol has the fewest gastrointestinal side effects of all polyols due to minimal colonic fermentation.
90g / 100g of the ingested amount of erythritol is absorbed and excreted unchanged in the urine, with only 10% reaching the colon where sugars typically undergo bacterial fermentation (Table 3, Livesey 2003). However, in a study by Arrigoni 2005 it was shown that the human gut microbiota does not ferment erythritol. While mannitol might seem superior to erythritol due to its II being 0 instead of 2, only 25g / 100g of the mannitol ingested is absorbed, leaving 75g / 100g subject to fermentation in the colon, which leads to unwanted gastrointestinal side effects such as gas, bloating and diarrhea (Makinen 2016). The same goes for maltitol, where 60g / 100g ingested is fermented in the colon.
Monk fruit (Siraitia grosvenorii, Luo Han Guo or longevity fruit) is a natural, 0 calorie, 0 GI sweetener which does not raise blood glucose or insulin levels. In fact, studies in mice with diabetes showed that Monk fruit may even reduce blood sugar levels! Mice receiving monk fruit extract experienced lower oxidative stress and blood sugar levels, as well as increased HDL (good) cholesterol (Qi 2008, Qi 2006, Xu 2013). Monk fruit’s sweet taste is mainly attributed to antioxidants called mogrosides. Various studies have shown that monk fruit extracts and/or purified mogrosides have potent antidiabetic, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anticarcinogenic, antibacterial and antiallergic effects (Jin 2012, Di 2011). Monk fruit has no reported negative side effects and is generally regarded as safe for children, pregnant and breastfeeding women. Since Monk fruit is about 150 - 300x sweeter than sugar, it needs to be mixed with a bulking agent such as inulin / soluble corn fibre (SCF). After a lot of research into this topic, we decided on SCF as the bulking agent since it has a 2 - 3 fold higher digestive tolerance than inulin (Housez 2012) - which means you can enjoy more of your favourite De Villiers Chocolate without experiencing any unwanted gastrointestinal side effects.
Soluble corn fibre (SCF)
SCF is a prebiotic fibre (non-digestible carbohydrate) with multiple health benefits (Tate & Lyle PROMITOR SCF). PROMITOR SCF promotes gut health by stimulating the growth of beneficial bacteria and limiting the growth of less desirable bacteria. SCF has also been shown to stimulate the production of short chain fatty acids, which is the main source of energy for the cells living in your gut. (Vester Boler 2011, Maathuis 2009, Whisner 2014, Whisner 2016). Unlike inulin, which causes gastrointestinal upset at levels higher than 20g/day, PROMITOR SCF has a good digestive tolerance at much higher intake levels (40g/day in a single dose and 65g/day in multiple doses) (Housez 2012). SCF contains minimal calories (1.2 - 2kcal /g) and does not increase blood glucose or insulin levels significantly at a dose of 25g (Lowery 2018) (De Villiers Chocolate No-Added-Sugar chocolates contain 14 g SCF per 80g chocolate bar). Various studies have shown that SCF reduces postprandial (post meal) glucose and insulin responses (Konings 2013, Knapp 2010, Kendall 2008). Consumption of SCF can also help to support bone health as it increases calcium absorption and bone calcium retention (Weaver 2010, Whisner 2014, Whisner 2016, Jakeman 2016).
The effect of De Villiers Chocolate No-Added-Sugar chocolates on blood glucose levels
The experiment: To determine the effect of De Villiers Chocolate No-Added-Sugar chocolates on blood glucose levels
The participants: Lindie Schloms, a healthy 32 year old female, and Carel van Wyk, a healthy 34 year old male. Each participant consumed 40g De Villiers Chocolate No-Added-Sugar chocolate first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. About two hours later (the average time for a glucose response to return to baseline) they consumed 40g De Villiers brown sugar chocolate to see how the two glucose responses compare with each other.
The equipment: For this experiment we used the Dexcom G6 continuous glucose monitoring device - a non-invasive sensor mounted on your abdomen which measures glucose levels every 5 minutes over a period of 10 days. The sensor measures interstitial glucose levels through a small wire inserted just beneath the skin, which then sends a signal to the transmitter that is fastened on top of the sensor. The transmitter sends data wirelessly to your mobile phone, which enables you to see your glucose readings in real time. There is a ± 5 - 10 minute delay in interstitial glucose levels compared to blood glucose levels as it takes some time to diffuse from the blood to the interstitial fluid that surrounds the cells underneath the skin where the sensor is located.
The results: Normal fasting glucose levels are between 4 - 7 mmol/L (72 - 126 mg/dL) and after a meal, values can go up to 10 mmol/L (180 mg/dL) depending on the type and amount of carbohydrates ingested. In all of our experiments (6 individual data sets collected on 6 different days), the average glucose levels in response to sugar free chocolates were between 6.0 - 6.5 mmol/L (108 - 117 mg/dL). Following consumption of chocolates containing brown sugar, glucose levels increased rapidly and peaked between 7.7 - 8.3 mmol/L (139 - 150 mg/dL). When comparing the areas under the curves, chocolates containing sugar (DV sugar) resulted in a 2 - 6 fold bigger glucose response compared to DVs sugar free chocolates (DV 0%).
Conclusion: De Villiers Keto certified No-Added-Sugar vegan chocolate does not have a significant effect on blood glucose levels and is a safe option for people with diabetes, those on the ketogenic diet and anyone looking for a healthier chocolate alternative.