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The peak of monsoon in August marks the beginning of the festive season in India. It is also that time of the year when everybody indulges their sweet tooth. Diet goals go for a toss, and keeping one’s blood sugar level in check becomes difficult.

But many startups are now promising a guilt-free experience. A week before Raksha Bandhan, an Indian festival where siblings exchange gifts and sweets, social media platforms were flooded with ads of mithai (sweets) with ‘no added sugar’ by Mumbai-based dessert brand Noto. 

That gulab jamun, a deep-fried ball of milk solids soaked in a sugary syrup, can be available without added sugar is a little difficult to believe, isn’t it? Noto’s founder Varun Sheth told The Ken that it took him a year to closely mimic the taste of this famous Indian sweet by blending three kinds of sweeteners—lab-processed polyols polyols Polyols Polyols are a category of lab-processed chemicals derived from sugar compounds, sweet but with lower calorific values (maltitol, erythritol, isomalt), stevia, and fructooligosaccharides (FOS) fructooligosaccharides (FOS) FOS Fructooligosaccharides (FOS) are plant sugars that occur in many fruits and vegetables. They can also be made in a lab and are used as prebiotics. .

However tempting it may sound, lab-processed sweeteners have a bitter side of their own. Sample this: While a regular gulab jamun has nearly 20gm of sugar, a 32-gm piece of Noto’s gulab jamun has 27gm of lab-processed sweeteners.

And that’s a lot of sugar substitutes, especially when there’s no conclusive evidence on their health effects yet.

“Currently, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has no data on the long-term effects of foods that pack in a combination of the aforementioned polyols,” said a member of the Authority’s expert panel, requesting anonymity as they are not authorised to speak with the media. 

Precisely why startups like The Whole Truth Foods and Happy Jars, which make chocolate and nut butter, have steered clear of these additives. They use natural sweeteners such as dates and jaggery instead. 

Natural sweeteners too, however, add significantly to the total sugar content. The Whole Truth’s 55% dark chocolate with no added sugar still contains 34gm of sugar per 100gm. Interestingly, the bar’s packaging claims that using dates as a sweetener ensures “a chocolate without guilt (and the insulin spike)”. 

Ideally, The Whole Truth should have sought prior approval to make that claim.

AUTHOR

Maitri Porecha

Maitri writes about everything health for The Ken. For close to 10 years now, she has navigated hospital corridors in her search for a good story. In a past life, when she was not a journalist, she used to teach French at her neighbourhood school. Also an avid fan of forensics, she is always up for decoding mysteries in her free time.

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