Looking for Sugar-Free Chocolate? Here Are All Your Options!
If you are constantly on the hunt for chocolate low in sugar content, there is a plethora of claims that you have probably encountered on the packaging of many products.
If you are constantly on the hunt for chocolate low in sugar content, there is a plethora of claims that you have probably encountered on the packaging of many products. So let’s set the record straight from the beginning: there is a big difference between the sugar-free, low-sugar and no added sugars claims.
According to the FDA in the USA, a food is considered sugar-free if it contains less than 0,5 grams of sugar per serving. Also the EMA in Europe and the FSANZ in Australia follow the same line, just a little more specific: a claim that a food is sugars-free, and any claim likely to have the same meaning for the consumer, may only be made where the product contains no more than 0,5 g of sugars per 100 g.
“No added sugars” and “Without added sugars” are allowed instead if no sugar or sugar containing ingredient is added during processing. Lastly, low sugar has not been defined by the FDA yet, while the EMA and the FSANZ define it as a product containing no more than 5 g of sugars per 100 g.
Therefore, a chocolate product can be labeled as sugar free while still containing natural or artificial sweeteners, but that never surpass the amount allowed by the law. As always, only a look at the ingredients list and the Nutrition Facts table will let you know whether your chocolate is sugar-free, with no added sugars, or both.
Now we are finally ready to dive into the 3 main options you have when looking for sugar-free chocolate:
Don’t like long lists of ingredients with weird names and want to keep it simple? Your best option is 100% cacao bars.
This kind of chocolate is only made with cacao, and no sugar of any type is added. But remember that cacao naturally contains carbohydrates (together with proteins, fats, and minerals), and even in 100% cacao bars the sugars will be around 0,5 gr per 100 gr. Interestingly enough, this is not the lowest-sugar option among all the others, but it’s the most minimalist with only one ingredient.
Craft chocolate makers don’t even try to find a substitute for the sugar, but rely on the quality of their chosen cacao to offer a pleasant flavor profile even without the sweetness. The palate is delighted by tasting notes of fruits, flowers and spices, with some natural cacao flavors that can also be as sweet as vanilla, caramel and molasses.
Textured ingredients like cacao nibs are often added for a fun consistency. There is an endless choice of brands and cacao origins that you can choose from depending on your preference.
Not ready to give up the sweetness and want to get it only from natural ingredients? Your best option is chocolate with natural sweeteners. There are two main categories that you can choose from: liquid sweeteners and fruits.
Natural liquid sweeteners include agave nectar, maple syrup, honey and molasses. These all come from natural plant sources (except honey), are considered low-glycemic foods and come together with some nutrients too. However, these are highly concentrated, and don’t inherently create low-sugar alternatives. The chocolate maker has to be intentional in crafting a sugar-free product using these ingredients.
Fruits is also a popular alternative to sugar in chocolate. Dates, coconut, and monk fruit are common choices to keep an all-natural ingredients list. However, not all these bars will be low in sugar (with some reaching up to 25 gr x 100 gr), so checking the Nutrition Facts is a MUST even in this case.
Don’t really care about the naturality of the ingredients and only want the lowest amount of sugar possible? Your best option is chocolate with artificial sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners are synthetic sugar substitutes that are many times sweeter than sugar, but with virtually no calories for the amount that needs to be used.
Examples of artificial sweeteners are saccharin, acesulfame, aspartame, neotame, and sucralose, together with sugar alcohols (maltitol, xylitol, erythritol, sorbitol, etc.), while it’s still up for debate whether stevia should be included among natural (because it comes from a plant) or artificial (since it is extracted in a lab with ethanol) sweeteners.
The bittersweet deal with artificial sweeteners is that they keep the sugar content of a chocolate product at bay better than any other ingredient, but are not natural and could have unpleasant repercussions on the human body.
While 100% cacao bars and naturally sweetened chocolate come with no contraindications, artificial sweeteners have fired up a decade-long, passionate discussion. From distorting our “sense of sweet” to laxative effects, artificial sweeteners have built up their fair share of enemies.
Also the taste of chocolate made with artificial sweeteners is known to “not be the best”. However, the tiny amount present in a chocolate bar should arise no alarmism for your health, and the not-so-great flavor could be masked with low-sugar inclusions such as nuts and seeds.
To choose the best sugar-free chocolate option for you, all you need to do is to set your priorities straight. If you are a true cacao lover, you will enjoy 100% cacao bars. If you prefer a more natural sweetness, chocolate sweetened with fruits and natural syrups will be perfect for you. If all you care about is calories and sugar content, artificial sweeteners will definitely satisfy your need.
When it comes to sugar-free chocolate, are you a Minimalist, a Naturalist or a Pragmatic?
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