Nestlé has made a scientific discovery it says will drastically lower the amount of sugar in its chocolate.
The company calls the new discovery a “major breakthrough” in a press release issued Wednesday. “Using only natural ingredients, researchers have found a way to structure sugar differently,” the press release says. “Even when much less is used in chocolate, your tongue perceives an almost identical sweetness to before.” As a result, the company says it can significantly decrease the total amount of sugar in its products — by up to 40 percent — while keeping the taste the same.
Nestlé is patenting its findings and will start using new sugar, which also dissolves faster, across a variety of its sweets in 2018. The company also said it plans to provide more details about its first lower-sugar products sometime next year.
The new finding is part of Nestle’s public pledge to improve the nutritional profile of its products, including reducing the amount of sugar, salt, and saturated fat they contain, while increasing healthier nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and whole grains.
But … how is this even possible?
Gabriel Keith Harris, PhD, a professor of food, bioprocessing, and nutrition sciences at N.C. State University, tells Yahoo Beauty that Nestlé has found a way to produce hollow sugar crystals. “Typical sugar crystals are solid,” he says.
Sugar is only “sweet” when it’s fully dissolved on the tongue, Harris says. “It’s very possible solid sugar crystals never fully dissolve, and therefore you never get the full sweetness out of them before they are swallowed,” he says. “Hollow sugar crystals, on the other hand, should dissolve quickly and completely on the tongue, thus allowing for a dramatic reduction in sugar content without a reduction in sweetness.”
Felicia Wu, PhD, a professor in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Michigan State University, tells Yahoo Beauty that this is a great move on Nestlé’s part. “We eat far too much sugar in our society, and it is not good for our health,” she says.
However, experts say this won’t exactly make chocolate a health food. The change “does makes [the chocolate] slightly healthier but does not cause it to become something you can suddenly consume more often or in larger amounts,” Beth Warren, RDN, founder of Beth Warren Nutrition and author of Living a Real Life With Real Food, tells Yahoo Beauty.
Sugar currently accounts for about 45 percent of all the calories in milk chocolate products, Julie Upton, MS, RD, cofounder of nutrition website Appetite for Health, tells Yahoo Beauty. (Dark chocolates have less added sugar than milk chocolate, which is why they aren’t as sweet, she adds.) Currently, a Nestlé milk chocolate bar has 220 calories and 24 grams of sugar or about 100 calories from sugar, Upton points out. “With a sugar reduction of 40 percent, the new bar would have 14.5 grams of added sugar or 72 calories from added sugar,” she says. “If Nestlé can reformulate their favorite chocolates to have 40 percent less sugar, that means it will be easier to fit chocolate into a diet consistent with public health nutrition recommendations.”
While registered dietitian Sonya Angelone, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, tells Yahoo Beauty that this is “great news,” she’s concerned that some people may eat even more of the company’s chocolate if it has less sugar. “We saw this with foods claiming to be lower in calories or containing less fat,” she says. “People often eat more and end up eating more calories from less healthy foods.”
While experts agree that less sugar is better for overall health, they also note that there’s nothing wrong with eating a little chocolate right now — as is. “There is room for chocolate in an overall healthy diet, especially if it’s dark chocolate,” Angelone says.