A chocolate maker produces chocolate starting with the cocoa beans. Chocolate makers know how to bring out the best flavour of the beans in order to make a fine quality chocolate. The best chocolate makers will have direct relationships with their cocoa farmers. This enables them to invest time in educating farmers in how best to grow, harvest and ferment their beans. This in turn results in superior beans from which they make their chocolate.
Chocolatiers purchase their chocolate from chocolate makers. They then transform it into their creations. The chocolatier creates alchemy by taking the fine flavour of chocolate and using the art and science of confectionary and imagination to create wonderful chocolate products like pralines/bonbons, barks, hollow figures…
Chocolate is made from three ingredients derived from the cocoa bean (cocoa mass, cocoa butter and cocoa powder). To make chocolate, dried cocoa beans are first passed through a machine that crushes and splits the shells to expose the cocoa nibs. These nibs are then roasted and finely ground. These steps are essential in developing the chocolate flavour. This process results in what is referred to as cocoa mass, which is then pressed. It yields approximately 55% cocoa butter and 45% cocoa powder.
Real chocolate is made with cocoa mass. The only fat that can be added to it is cocoa butter (no vegetable fats can be added, except for a restricted list of fats, called Cocoa Butter Equivalents, which can be added to make up a maximum of 5% of the overall chocolate mixture):
Dark chocolate is made of cocoa mass + cocoa butter + sugar. It usually also contains vanilla and lecithin.
Milk chocolate is made of cocoa mass + cocoa butter + sugar + milk powder. It usually also contains vanilla and lecithin.
White chocolate is made of cocoa butter + sugar + milk powder. It usually also contains vanilla. The only fat it contains is derived from the cocoa bean.
All chocolates which contain types of fats other than cocoa butter or more than the maximum of 5% CBE’s are part of the Compound Chocolate group. There is no specific legislation on the composition of Compound Chocolate. The main difference in the recipe is the use of cocoa powder and vegetable fats instead of cocoa mass and cocoa butter. Couverture chocolate is a type of chocolate that is produced for different applications, such as enrobing and covering. It is mainly used in business-to-business markets, rather than in chocolate available in tablet form for consumers.
The grey streaks that sometimes appear on chocolate are caused by two different factors:
fat bloom and sugar bloom.
Fat bloom occurs when cocoa butter, which is a polymorphic fat (which means it can take various forms), crystallises. Cocoa butter can crystallise in six different ways, and each type of crystal has its own properties. If the cocoa butter is crystallised under an unstable form, it will tend to recrystallize into a more stable form. This recrystallization produces the thin white layer which forms at the chocolate’s surface. The main triggers of fat bloom are poor tempering, incorrect cooling of the chocolate, temperature fluctuations (during transportation, distribution and storage) and mixing the cocoa butter with incompatible fats.
Sugar bloom is caused by the formation of large sugar crystals on the chocolate’s surface and is caused by moisture exposure. It can also be caused by condensation on the chocolate’s surface or by storing the product in damp conditions.
To find out which of the two different phenomena has occurred, try touching the chocolate: the surface of chocolate with fat bloom will melt easily and be sticky and smooth. On the other hand, the surface of chocolate with sugar bloom will feel dry and coarse.
Real chocolate is made up of cocoa paste mass, cocoa butter, sugar, vanilla, and milk powder (depending on the variety). A very small quantity of lecithin is often also added. The gloss, hardness and true chocolate flavour result from the use of pure cocoa butter as the sole fatty ingredient. European legislation formerly allowed only the addition of butter fats to chocolate, but today the addition of 5% vegetable fats is permitted.
Belgian chocolate is known for its fineness and incredible texture and taste. Belgian chocolate is made unique by the selection of its ingredients and the traditional production process used to create it.
The delicious taste of Belcolade, the Real Belgian Chocolate, begins with the careful selection of ingredients. Only the finest quality cocoa beans from around the world are selected and expertly blended. The Belcolade team of experts ensures that only the best quality cocoa mass, cocoa butter and other ingredients are used. Naturally, they only use 100% cocoa butter and 100% natural vanilla. Refining or grinding takes place in two steps. First, all the cocoa particles are ground until they are of the same size (150 microns). Next, the chocolate is made even finer (around 20 microns) to ensure its smooth, creamy texture. It is now so fine that it is beyond the sensitivity level of the human tongue. After grinding, the chocolate is conched (see ‘What is conching?’) to ensure a perfectly even texture. Any remaining moisture and volatile aromas are evaporated during this stage. The desired flavour components are created through the close contact of sugar, milk powder and cocoa mass. This is a crucial step in creating the typical taste of Belcolade chocolate.
Compound chocolate contains vegetable fat instead of cocoa butter.
To produce good chocolate, the post-harvest process is key. Factors such as soil, climate and the genetic variety of the bean are also very important. As with wine-making, fermentation is essential in developing the flavour potential of each cocoa bean. Mastering this process ensures that only the highest quality beans become delicious chocolate.
Delicious chocolate begins with the careful selection of ingredients. The cocoa provides most of the chocolate’s flavour. Its amazing taste depends on the variety of cocoa tree that it comes from (Forastero, Trinitario or Criollo), the conditions in which the tree and the beans have been grown, and the way the beans have been fermented and dried. Fermentation is generally considered to account for one-third of the chocolate’s flavour.
Sugar can come from beet or cane. Its degree of purity, fineness and colour will have an impact on the taste and look of the final chocolate.
Milk powders also have a significant impact on the taste of milk chocolate. The time of the year (spring milk, summer milk), the cow’s feed and the type of process used to turn liquid milk into powder can all drastically change the taste of the milk powder and hence of the resulting chocolate.
All other ingredients play an important role in creating delicious chocolate, which is why we carefully select them for their outstanding quality.
The chocolate-making process also plays a very important role in the deliciousness of chocolate. The fineness of a chocolate can be varied by adapting the chocolate-making process. This grain size distribution, called granulometry, has a clear impact on the way the chocolate melts in your mouth and the way it releases all its flavour when eaten.
Moreover, the conching process (see ‘What is conching?’) develops the chocolate’s essential flavours. Through the mechanical shear in the conche and the heat that is generated, some unwanted flavours evaporate together with the small amount of water present, and some very desirable flavours are formed.
Finally, good tempering ensures the chocolate is snappy and shiny.
In conclusion, combining expertise in raw material selection and the chocolate-making process, we can produce a chocolate that upholds the Belgian tradition of chocolate excellence.
Cocoa beans are passed through a crusher that splits open the shell and separates it from the core of the cocoa bean, which is called the cocoa nib. Cocoa nibs contain around 52% cocoa butter.
The nibs are then roasted and ground – an essential step in ensuring the quality of the final chocolate. The product of this process is known as cocoa mass, which is subsequently pressed together to make cocoa butter and cocoa powder.
Recent studies and tests have demonstrated that chocolate and wine combinations offers great possibilities; for example Belcolade Origins chocolates pair well with different varieties of wine. The higher the quality of the chocolate or the more specific its origin, the wider the choice of wine that would complement it. When making a pairing, accents such as elegance and mineral content are given consideration.
Just like with wine, where one Chardonnay differs from another, this is also true of chocolate. The aspect of region, or ‘terroir’, is also a factor for wines as well as for chocolate.
Belcolade has integrated the principles of FoodPairing. This is a method for identifying what foods and drinks go well together. It is based on the concept that foods combine well with one another when they share key flavour components. FoodPairing inspires food professionals as they look to enhance flavours in traditional recipes. By combining Belcolade Origins with a variety of other foods or drinks, they also seek to create new and exciting applications and drinks.
A conche is a machine that is used when manufacturing chocolate to mix and smooth chocolate mass. The first conche resembled sea shells, which is where the name is derived from. Modern conches are heated, covered vessels that contain long, multi-armed mixer shafts that press the chocolate against the vessel’s sides. Conching is a critical process because it plays a large role in determining the chocolate’s quality. Conching has two main goals: to improve the consistency and flavour of the chocolate. Conching is a decisive step in creating the typical taste of Belcolade chocolate.
After grinding, the chocolate mass becomes a dry flaky powder. The conche is filled with this powdery mass. As the temperature and energy inside the machine increase, the flaky powder starts to disintegrate and release its fat. This creates a pasty mass. Liberated fat covers the sugar particles which gradually improves the chocolate’s flow. The rotating mixing blades within the conche mix, knead, shear and spread the chocolate mass, forcing air through it. This ensures a perfectly even texture. Any remaining moisture and volatile aromas are evaporated during this stage. The desired flavour components are created through the close contact of the sugar, milk powder and cocoa mass.
At the end of conching, the remaining fat and emulsifier are added. The mass then becomes liquid and any of the remaining flakes disintegrate. Any trapped air is released and the viscosity decreases dramatically. The final result is a liquid, pumpable mass.
The cocoa tree is cultivated in the narrow sub-tropical strip either side of the equator (more specifically in the zone between 23° North and 23° South). The two largest cocoa producing countries are Ivory Coast and Ghana. Although the cocoa tree likes the heat, it does not like full sun exposure. For this reason, it is grown in the shade of adjacent trees.
Cocoa butter is the fat that is naturally present in cocoa beans. It is separated when the cocoa mass is pressed. It is used in chocolate to enhance its feel in the mouth, and to adapt the consistency of the final chocolate according to its intended use.
Cocoa butter is often deodorised, This process makes it more versatile, enabling it to be used in different types of chocolate recipes. For specific chocolates, such as for example our Belcolade Origins Dominican Republic, non-deodorised cocoa butter is used to bring out the chocolate’s specific flavour notes of wood and olive.
Various types of cocoa beans are needed to meet the demands of the complex chocolate and cocoa-derived product market. Food safety, efficiency and cost effectiveness are key factors alongside consumer demands for taste and quality.
Today, three different types of trees are used in chocolate production:
The Criollo, the rarest species. It is extremely vulnerable to a variety of environmental threats.
The Forastero, the most commonly grown type of cocoa. It is much hardier and less susceptible to diseases.
The Trinitario, a natural biological hybrid resulting from cross-pollination of the Criollo and Forastero.
Around 80% of the world’s cocoa originates from the Forastero bean, 15% from Trinitario and the remaining 5% from Criollo.
The world cocoa market distinguishes between two broad cocoa bean categories:
‘Fine’ or ‘flavour’ cocoa beans
‘Bulk’ or ‘ordinary’ cocoa beans.
As a generalisation, fine or flavour cocoa beans are produced from Criollo or Trinitario cocoa tree varieties, while bulk cocoa beans come from Forastero trees. Exceptions to this generalisation are:
Nacional cocoa trees in Ecuador, which are considered to be Forastero type trees and produce fine or flavour cocoa beans
Cameroon cocoa beans, produced by Trinitario type trees and whose cocoa powder has a distinct and sought-after red colour; these are classified as bulk cocoa beans.
At Puratos, we believe that controlling the harvest and post-harvest process is essential to producing high quality cocoa beans. However, it also depends on the type of chocolate we are looking for.
The cocoa bean is believed to have first been discovered around 1000 B.C. by either the Olmec or the Maya in South America. Ground cocoa beans, vanilla beans and other spices were combined by the Mayans into a beverage that was shared during marriage ceremonies. Both the Aztecs and Mayans enjoyed this chocolate drink and also used cocoa beans as a form of currency.
The cacao percentage is the percentage of the ingredients that come from the cacao plant, including both the fat, i.e. cocoa butter, and the solids, i.e. cocoa mass and cocoa powder.
A chocolate with 60% cocoa refers to the sum of all the cocoa ingredients in the recipe (the amount of cocoa mass, cocoa butter and cocoa powder in the recipe).
For chocolate without any milk content, the remaining percentage represents mainly sugar.
As with wine, each cocoa bean is representative of its region, or terroir. Flavour depends on a variety of factors, including soil, variety and production processes. In any case, a good cocoa bean is a bean that has been carefully selected, fermented and dried.
During harvesting time, the cocoa pods are harvested and the beans removed from the pods. They are then laid out together and fermented for five to seven days in wooden boxes or under banana leaves. This step is vital for the development of the natural cocoa bean flavour; it accounts for one third of the chocolate’s final flavour.
To ensure a smooth drying process, the fermented beans are then dried using a solar drying system with a maximum 7% humidity level. In rainy conditions, hot air blowers can be used to artificially dry the beans.
To evaluate their quality we conduct a ‘cut test’, which involves analysing different quality parameters such as external appearance, moisture and internal appearance (level of fermentation, presence of defects, etc.).
The origin of chocolate extends back to the Mayans and Aztecs in South America. They were the first to brew a kind of chocolate drink, which they regarded as a divine beverage with mystical properties. The Spanish Conquistadors brought this chocolate drink to continental Europe and adapted it to their taste. It captured the hearts and palates of the Spanish and French royal courts. Before long, the rest of Europe also fell under the spell of chocolate. However, it was only much later that the first chocolate bar appeared. A key moment in the history of chocolate took place in 1674, when the London shop Coffee Mill & Tabasco Roll presented the first Spanish style ‘chocolate sausage’. In 1830, the Swiss Charles-Amédée Kohler mixed hazelnut with chocolate, still in the form of a drink, for the first time. Seventeen years later, the Bristol-based company Fry & Son produced England’s first chocolate bar. A second key moment took place in 1875 with the creation of milk chocolate. Henri Nestlé had just invented condensed milk, enabling Daniel Peter, a Swiss national like Kohler, to develop the recipe for milk chocolate.
At Puratos, we believe that sustainability is a win-win relationship for everybody in the cocoa supply chain, from the farmers to the consumers. That is why we created Next Generation Cacao, as part of our long-term sustainable cocoa vision.
We believe responsible sourcing is a key part of ethical trading. We also believe it is at the heart of public awareness. Since Ethics is at the centre of Puratos’ core values, we have made a commitment to Ethical Trading as outlined in our Ethical Trading Charter (available on our website).
Our different chocolate factories have been producing sustainable chocolate for several years. We began with organic chocolate, as well as the commonly used sustainable certifications: UTZ, Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance. In 2013, Puratos also launched its own sustainable programme and certification, Cacao-Trace.
In order to meet consumer market trends, the proportion of sustainable chocolate being produced and marketed is increasing year by year.
Palm kernel oil and palm oil and its derivatives, known as fractions, (solids for compounds, liquid for fillings) can be used in compound chocolate, as well as in cocoa and nut-based fillings. They are used for several reasons:
They provide a neutral taste and have good melting properties
The fractions which are solid at room temperature provide the right texture for compound chocolate, while the soft fractions are semi-solid to liquid, making them useful for chocolate fillings
The hard fats based on palm and palm kernel oil are useful when producing chocolates for warm countries, where cocoa butter would melt
In real chocolate, a maximum of 5% of cocoa butter-equivalent fats can be added; palm mid fraction is one of these fats
In compound chocolate, palm kernel-based fats offer the desired functionality
Ease of use: chocolate with palm kernel oil fractions does not need to be tempered before being used
Cacao-Trace® is the symbol of Puratos’ sustainable cocoa field programme and stakeholder certification. It requires annual audits to be undertaken by an independent third-party organisation. It also demands continuous improvement. The programme is currently active in Ivory Coast and Vietnam, and we have plans to expand our Cacao-Trace sourcing to more countries in South-East Asia, West Africa and Latin America.
Cacao-Trace® is a cocoa programme that encompasses all the standard elements of sustainable certification. It is also the ONLY one to include taste and quality within a sustainable programme (through fermentation mastering) and the ONLY one to feature an innovative remuneration scheme, which rebalances profit shares in the supply chain (through the ‘chocolate bonus’).
The holistic approach of Cacao-Trace® ensures that our five winning aspirations not only drive change but have a real impact for stakeholders:
An economically viable cocoa supply chain: being in direct contact with cocoa farmers enables us to provide them with the skills they need to better manage their plantations, increase their yields and make sure that cocoa farming is a viable long-term activity for them. In this way, Puratos secures and better manages the supply chains of its cocoa ingredients to the different factories across the world.
Environmental protection and fighting global warming are also key to safeguarding long-term cocoa production. We support farmers in implementing best practices and ‘agroforestry’ projects, which involve creating combined plantations of cocoa + wood + fruit trees that work in synergy together. These are also complementary ways to boost farm productivity and consequently the farmers’ income and health. The increased soil, flora and fauna biodiversity on the plantations increases their resilience to extreme weather conditions (such as drought and flooding). It also results in better, cleaner cocoa harvests.
Combining sustainability, superior taste and consistent quality is important to us, our customers and consumers. That is why we have invested in exclusive post-harvest centres where we collect, ferment and dry the cocoa beans ourselves. This unique approach has enabled us to master the fermentation process, a crucial step in ensuring high-quality cocoa that consistently meets our stringent quality standards. In return, farmers are rewarded with a better price for their better cocoa. They receive quality premiums linked to the quality of the cocoa they supply – a real incentive for continuous quality improvement.
Finally, we know that supporting farmers is also about helping them and their families to have a sustainable living. We believe the chocolate bonus is the tool that can rebalance the power relationship in the supply chains. Consumers and customers will be able to contribute towards lifting farmers and their communities out of poverty thanks to a fixed contribution that is part of the price of Cacao-Trace products. With full transparency, 100% of this consumer contribution is received by the farmers. In turn, it helps create communities that farmers and their children would want to live in, all while encouraging the next generation of cocoa farmers.
We also believe that children should never be harmed or exploited in cocoa farming, and that cocoa farming can – and must – play a positive role in farming communities. We plan to focus our action on child education and protection, at the same time as reducing the number of children exposed to unsafe activities.
Puratos is a member of the RSPO association. This means it can provide margarines, emulsifiers, compound chocolate, fillings and other products that are RSPO Segregated and/or RSPO Mass Balance certified. RSPO stands for the ‘Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil’; more information can be found on www.rspo.org
Palm oil is used because of its unique technical and sensory qualities. It is often criticised for its high saturated fat content compared to other vegetable oils. However, when consumed as part of a balanced diet, palm oil is not harmful to human health.
As stipulated by official health authorities, it is important to monitor your total saturated fat intake.
Palm oil has also enabled the food industry to significantly reduce trans fatty acids in foods, which are recognised as being the unhealthiest fat type.
Palm oil produces more than 5 to 10 times more oil per hectare than that of other oil seeds. Palm oil plants also need less water and fewer pesticides to grow. Palm oil production contributes significantly to the existence of indigenous populations as a significant proportion of palm oil is produced by indigenous smallholders. Moreover, as forest surfaces and other areas have already been converted for palm oil production, it’s better to continue to use these available areas.
To ensure that our palm oil is produced sustainably – with respect to both people and the environment – Puratos is RSPO certified.
Diabetics do not need to completely cut out chocolate from their diet. Chocolate can be eaten in moderate quantities by people with diabetes, as long as it is eaten as part of a healthy diet or combined with exercise. Chocolate does not trigger a high glycaemic response because the fat that it contains slows down its absorption. However, to avoid any risks, diabetic patients should discuss this question with their doctor.
Chocolate is, first and foremost, a food consumed for pleasure. It is high in energy, which means it should be consumed in moderation. However, chocolate is not like other treats: cocoa contains a number of compounds from the polyphenol family, including flavanols, which have beneficial effects in terms of heart health. It may also have positive effects on brain function (such as the memory).
Cacao also contains significant quantities of certain minerals, in particular magnesium, which aids muscle function and helps to counteract fatigue.
Dark chocolate contains more cacao (and thus more flavanols), and less sugar. White chocolate is made with sugar and cocoa butter. It does not contain the low-fat cocoa that contains the flavanols. Milk chocolate does contain cacao, but in lower proportions than dark chocolate.
Consuming 10 g of chocolate provides you with approximately 55 kcal, which can be easily accommodated by a balanced diet and a recommended daily intake of 2,000 kcal. There is no established link between chocolate consumption and weight gain. In fact, certain studies suggest chocolate may have some beneficial effects on health, especially heart health(1,2,3).
1. Katz DL et al. Cocoa and chocolate in human health and disease. Antiox Redox Signal 2011;15(10):2779-811.
2. Matsumoto C et al. Chocolate consumption and risk of diabetes mellitus in the Physicians'
3. Health Study. Am j Clin Nutr 2015;101(2):362-7. Belz GG, Mohr-Kahaly S. Cacoa and dark chocolate in cardiovascular prevention? Dtsch Med Wochenschr 2011;136(51-52):2657-63.
Chocolate as such does not contain gluten. However, ingredients that are commonly added to chocolate may contain gluten. It is therefore very important that people with coeliac disease/gluten intolerance should only eat chocolate that does not contain cereals, flour, malt syrup or other ingredients that could contain traces of gluten. Coeliacs must read the ingredients lists of chocolate products very carefully before eating them.
However, it is possible for chocolate products to contain traces of gluten, even when gluten-containing products are not added as an ingredient. This happens, for example, when chocolate is inadvertently contaminated because it is produced in a factory that also produces products that contain gluten. This is what is called ‘cross-contamination’. In case of any doubt, it is strongly recommended that anybody suffering from coeliac disease contact the food manufacturer for further information.
Cholesterol is mostly found in animal products. As a plant-based product, cocoa butter contains only a small amount of cholesterol. As a result, dark chocolate contains a very small amount of cholesterol (less than 5 mg/100 g). As milk chocolate and white chocolate contain milk powder they contain a bit more cholesterol, however those quantities remain small. Milk and white chocolate contain around 15 and 20 mg of cholesterol per 100 g respectively. As a comparison, the level of cholesterol in eggs is slightly less than 380 mg per 100 g(1).
Additionally, it is becoming increasingly accepted that dietary cholesterol has minimal influence on blood cholesterol². For instance, in the new American dietary guidelines, cholesterol is no longer considered a nutrient of concern(3).
1. CIQUAL. French food composition database. 2016 https://pro.anses.fr/TableCIQUAL/index.htm
2. The Role of Dietary Cholesterol in Lipoprotein Metabolism and Related Metabolic Abnormalities: A Mini-review. Kapourchali FR, Surendiran G, Goulet A, Moghadasian MH. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2016 Oct 25;56(14):2408-15. Review
3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015–2020 Dietary. Guidelines for Americans
Cocoa, which is primarily found in dark chocolate, contains various components that may have a psychological effect. One of which is tryptophan, a key component of serotonin – a neurotransmitter that affects our mood. However, no strong relationship has yet been demonstrated, probably because the quantities found in chocolate are too small for any real effect. Chocolate’s positive effect on our mood is probably mainly due to it being a tasty food which is very pleasant to eat. This is also why it is considered a stress reliever.
Chocolate also contains phenolics, such as flavanols, which promote healthy blood flow, including in the brain. Some studies have found that consuming chocolate has a positive effect on brain function, especially on short-term memory(1). Other studies suggest that chocolate can alleviate certain adverse effects (such as inflammation), which are caused by psychological stress(2).
1. Crichton G E et al. Appetite 2016 ;100 :126-132.
2. Kuebler U et al. Brain Behav Immun 2016;57:200-8.
Chocolate is an energy-rich food: on average, it contains 550 calories per 100 grams, which corresponds to 55 kcal per two small squares. This is partly because chocolate has a low level of moisture (less than 1%) and contains a significant amount of fat, i.e. cocoa butter (naturally present in cocoa beans). Fat is the most energy-dense macronutrient - it provides 9 kcal per gram, compared to 4 kcal per gram of carbohydrates and proteins. Therefore, chocolate is particularly appreciated by people who carry out strenuous physical activity, such as athletes.
Due to the high energy density and sugar content of chocolate, it is important to keep in mind that it is an indulgence product; as with all indulgence products, this means it should be eaten in moderation.
Every type of chocolate has a different sugar content. Dark chocolate, which is high in cocoa, contains much less sugar than milk or white chocolate. The following table shows the amount of sugars in 10 g of chocolate, i.e. a standard portion.
g of sugars in 10 g of chocolate (= 1 big square or 2 small squares)
Dark chocolate 70%
Dark chocolate 40%
One portion of dark chocolate contributes 4%, milk chocolate 10% and white chocolate 11% to the maximum amount of sugars recommended per day for an average person (strongly recommended by the World Health Organisation). Eating a reasonable quantity of chocolate every day can be part of a healthy diet. Remember that what matters is the total daily sugar intake. If you like the taste of dark chocolate and you want to limit your sugar intake, opt for dark chocolate with a high cocoa content.
No. No single food can be blamed for obesity. Obesity is a complex issue that is influenced by several factors such as food and physical activity, so the complete food diet and level of activity have to be taken into account. In addition, it is important to keep in mind that chocolate is an indulgence product; as with all indulgence products, this means it should be eaten in moderation.
True cocoa allergies (the main ingredient in chocolate) are rare(1). However, ingredients that contain allergens are often added to chocolate. For instance, milk and white chocolate contain milk powder which is a well-known cause of allergies. The use of soy lecithin in chocolate can also be problematic to people with soy allergies. Other examples of allergens that are sometimes added to chocolate are peanuts, nuts, berries and wheat.
In many countries, it is mandatory for food producers to clearly indicate allergenic substances in the ingredients list of their products. Therefore, it is highly recommended that people suffering from allergies carefully read all product labels.
In some cases, it is possible that traces of allergens may be present in a chocolate product even when they are not used as an ingredient. This could happen when a chocolate is produced using equipment that is also used to produce products that contain allergens. This is called ‘allergen cross-contamination’. Some food producers add the warning ‘may contain traces of [name of the allergen]’ to their product packaging when a product could be contaminated in this way. In case of any doubt, it is strongly recommended that anybody suffering from an allergy contact the food manufacturer for further information.
1. Hervé Robert (2015). Les vertus santé du chocolat. VRAI/FAUX sur cet aliment gourmand Edp Sciences
Chocolate itself comes from a plant and is therefore suitable for vegetarians and vegans. However, during the production process some additives or ingredients that are not suitable for these types of diets can be added to chocolate-based products. For example, milk chocolate is not suitable for vegans and certain vegetarians (ovo-vegetarians). It is therefore important that vegetarians and vegans read ingredients lists of products before eating them.
Dark chocolate is considered healthier because it contains less sugar than other types of chocolate (milk chocolate and white chocolate). Dark chocolate also contains a higher percentage of cocoa (solids). This means it contains many potentially interesting substances, especially polyphenols and other antioxidants. Studies mainly attribute the health benefits of chocolate to these components. Chocolate may also help prevent heart disease and improve brain function1. Some studies even suggest that eating chocolate may reverse the deterioration of brain functions with age2.
1. Latif R. Neth J Med 2013;71:68-68.
2. Moreira A et al J Alzheimers Dis 2016 ;53 :85-93.
Chocolate is an energy-dense food: on average, it contains 550 calories per 100 grams, which corresponds to 55 kcal per two small squares (10 g). This is partly because chocolate has a low level of water (between 1 and 5%) and contains a significant amount of fat, i.e. cocoa butter (naturally present in cocoa beans). Fat is the most energy-dense macronutrient - it provides 9 kcal per gram, compared to 4 kcal per gram for carbohydrates and proteins. Therefore, the more cocoa butter you eat, the more calories you consume. However, the difference between the different types of chocolate remains small (+/- 5% compared to the average). In addition, all types of chocolate are calorific and should be consumed in moderation.
Cocoa butter is the fat that is typically used in real chocolate. In some chocolates, a small part of cocoa butter is substituted by other specific fats. These fats are always non-hydrogenated and are not chemically modified. In other words, real chocolate contains no hydrogenated oils and virtually no trans-fats.
At Puratos, the only fat we use in our real chocolate is cocoa butter.
In contrast, chocolate compound coatings are made with vegetable fats other than cocoa butter. When the fat used is partially hydrogenated (a chemical process that involves turning unsaturated fats into partially or fully saturated fats) it can become a source of trans-fat. However, fat suppliers and the fat industry have worked hard to find a healthier alternative for these partially hydrogenated fats: non-hydrogenated fats or fully hydrogenated fats. While in most markets, trans-fats have been entirely removed from those products, trans-fat may still be present in a few markets.
Puratos has been working on this challenge and has almost reached its target of having no compound coatings that contain partially hydrogenated fats.
Although it is often believed that eating chocolate is a cause of migraines in some people, this belief lacks a reliable scientific basis1,2.
1. Lippi G, Mattiuzzi C, Cervellin G. “Chocolate and migraine: the history of an ambiguous association”. Acta Biomed. 2014 Dec 17;85(3):216-21. Review
2. Marcus DA, Scharff L, Turk D, Gourley LM. “A double-blind provocative study of chocolate as a trigger of headache”. Cephalalgia. 1997 Dec; 17(8):855-62; discussion 800.
Yes, chocolate contains caffeine but much less than coffee. For example, 20 g of chocolate contains 10 times less caffeine than a cup of coffee(1).
1. Hervé Robert (2015). Les vertus santé du chocolat. VRAI/FAUX sur cet aliment gourmand Edp Sciences
Scientific data on this topic is conflicting. However, recent clinical trials suggest that people who are sensitive, such as men who are prone to acne, can develop acne when eating a normal quantity of chocolate (1,2)
1. Vongraviopap S, Asawanonda P. “Dark chocolate exacerbates acne”. Int J Dermatol. 2016 May;55(5):587-91.
2. Caperton, Caroline et al. “Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study Assessing the Effect of Chocolate Consumption in Subjects with a History of Acne Vulgaris.” The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology 7.5 (2014): 19–23. Print.
Chocolate contains significant quantities of minerals such as magnesium, copper and manganese. It also contains vitamins such as vitamin B2 and B6. The chart below shows how different types of chocolate contribute to the recommended daily intake of vitamins and minerals (as defined by the (EU) No 1169/2011).
However, large amounts of chocolate should not be eaten with the aim of making it a viable source of vitamins and minerals in a diet, except for copper.
Based on data from the CIQUAL French food composition database 2016
All Belcolade chocolates are halal certified, as are all our raw materials.
Chocolate can be labelled organic chocolate when the raw materials used to make it (cocoa, sugar, vanilla, soy, milk, vegetable fat) have been grown and produced in accordance with organic certification:
Agricultural products are grown without the use of fertilizers or chemicals, thus respecting the environment
Milk powder is made from milk that only comes from animals fed with organic food and treated with homeopathy
The processes used during our chocolate production follow certain requirements such as cleaning procedures and natural methods (no irradiation, no genetic manipulation).
Organic certification ensures that the chocolate respects the soils, environment and the health of farmers, animals and consumers.
There are two types of certification, which customers and chocolate lovers can find on chocolate products:
The European standard
The USA NOP USDA standard
Founded in Guatemala in 2002, UTZ means ‘good’ in the Maya language. It is a non-profit programme and a label for sustainable farming. It features on more than 10,000 different product packages in over 116 countries. As of 2014, UTZ Certified is the world’s largest programme for sustainable coffee and cocoa farming. The UTZ Certified programme is concerned with good agricultural practices, farm management and the environment. Their vision is to achieve sustainable agriculture supply chains where:
Farmers are professionals, implementing good practices
Industry takes responsibility by demanding and rewarding sustainably grown products
Consumers can trust their brands and buy products which meet their expectations.
‘Bio’ and organic share the same meaning and provide the same guarantee for customers and chocolate lovers.
The shelf life of chocolate depends on a variety of factors such as the type of chocolate (dark, milk or white), the type of packaging and the storage conditions. Key factors to take into account are taste, texture and appearance.
In chocolate, the water activity (the amount of free water in a product which promotes microbial growth in the food) is low and ranges between 0.3 and 0.4. Consequently, the risk of microbiological growth in chocolate is very low. Only Salmonella can pose a risk in cocoa ingredients and in milk powders, which is why every delivery at Puratos is checked before being used in production.
Real dark chocolate, made with cocoa butter, has a very long shelf life; when stored in dry, cool conditions away from heat and sunlight, it can last for many years. Cocoa butter is a very stable fat and once chocolate is fully crystallised, it can resist bloom fairly well. Furthermore, the flavonoids in cocoa mass help to prevent oxidation. However, if fat bloom appears, dark chocolate becomes less visually attractive. This change in appearance often occurs together with a hardening in texture and a slower melting, which is caused by changes in the fat crystallisation. Note that even though fat bloom appears unattractive, the chocolate can still be used in recipes or melted down and re-tempered.
Real milk chocolate, which also contains milk solids and milk fat, will not last as long as real dark chocolate. However, it still has a long shelf life when stored under proper (cool, dry) conditions. The main reason milk chocolate has a shorter shelf life is because milk fat oxidizes and goes rancid faster than cocoa butter.
White chocolate consists of sugar, milk solids, milk fat and cocoa butter. Because of its lack of cocoa mass and therefore natural antioxidants, white chocolate oxidizes and goes rancid comparatively easily, especially when exposed to light. This type of chocolate has the lowest shelf life in comparison with dark and milk chocolate.
Because light and air cause chocolate to oxidise, good packaging is key to preventing light, air and moisture exposure.
It is best to store chocolate in a clean environment away from any foreign odours at temperatures of max 20°C and at a low relative humidity (max 60% relative humidity). Excessively high temperatures can result in fat bloom, while excessive humidity can cause sugar bloom.
Chocolate needs to be stored in a clean, dry (max 60% relative humidity) and cool (16-20°C) place, away from direct sunlight and foreign odours.
Yes, they can; it is even recommended as part of a healthy diet. Dietary recommendations for diabetic patients are the same as those for the general population, and include starchy carbohydrate food as an important part of the diet. This is exactly what bread is: a food rich in complex carbohydrates. Just like for the general population, it is recommended for diabetic patients to eat wholegrain breads. However, diabetic patients must control the amount of carbohydrates they consume per meal more closely, which is why the portion size is key for them.
For most people, there is no true health reason to avoid bread. The only health reasons to avoid bread are coeliac disease and a wheat allergy.
Coeliac disease is a health disorder in which the immune system reacts adversely to gluten. As gluten is present in grain flours (wheat, rye, barley, spelt) used to prepare standard bread, coeliac patients must strictly avoid consuming it. According to research(1), between 0.5 and 1% of the European population is affected by coeliac disease. These people have to follow a strict gluten-free diet throughout their entire life as even a very small amount of gluten can trigger digestive symptoms.
Besides coeliacs and people suffering from wheat allergies, it was recently shown that another small part of the population can experience some difficulties after consuming wheat-based products. Such people are not diagnosed with coeliac disease or a wheat allergy. Researchers call this newly-emerged condition ‘non-coeliac gluten sensitivity’ and estimate that around 5% to 10% of the population suffer from it(2).
1. EFSA, Scientific Opinion on the evaluation of allergenic foods and food ingredients for labelling purposes, EFSA Journal 2014; 12(11): 3894.
2. F; Brouns. Does wheat make us fat and sick? Journal of Cereal Science 58 (2013) 209e215.
Bread is especially rich in complex carbohydrates (55 g/100 g on average). It also contains protein, B-group vitamins and minerals such as phosphorus and zinc. In many countries, bread hardly contains any fats (except some sandwich breads, buns and other toasts). The fibre content varies (2.5 g to more than 10 g/100 g). The amount of fibre depends on how refined the flour is and on the presence of added fibres. Bread also contain salt.
It is often said that spelt is healthier than wheat. However, there is no scientific basis to validate this claim.
Coeliac disease is an autoimmune health disorder in which the immune system reacts to gluten. Gluten damages the lining of the small intestine of coeliac patients. In consequence, their ability to absorb nutrients is poor, increasing the risk of nutrient deficiencies, anaemia and osteoporosis. Symptoms of coeliac disease can vary from one patient to another. They include digestive complaints, growth troubles, tiredness and/or skin rashes. Coeliac patients have to follow a strict gluten-free diet throughout their entire life. According to research1, between 0.5 and 1% of the European population is affected by coeliac disease.
1. EFSA, Scientific Opinion on the evaluation of allergenic foods and food ingredients for labelling purposes, EFSA Journal 2014; 12(11): 3894.
Yes, all breads contain dietary fibre. In certain countries, bread is even the main source of fibre in the daily diet. These fibres mainly come from the grain-based products in bread, e.g. wheat flour. This means the fibre content of bread depends on the level of refined flour that is used: the less refined, the higher the fibre content. Bread fibre content can also be boosted by including fibre-rich wholegrains and seeds like flaxseed or whole rye grain.
White bread is generally less rich in fibre than brown and wholegrain bread. However, white bread can also be rich in dietary fibre thanks to the addition of natural fibres in the recipe.
In Europe for example, claims about fibre made on commercial foods are regulated: a claim that a food is a source of fibre (or any claim likely to have the same meaning for the consumer), may only be made where the product contains at least 3 grams of fibre per 100 grams of bread, or at least 1.5 grams of fibre per 100 kcal.
A claim that a food is high in fibre (or any claim likely to have the same meaning for the consumer) may only be made where the product contains at least 6 grams of fibre per 100 grams of bread, or at least 3 grams of fibre per 100 kcal.
The difference between wholemeal wheat bread and white wheat bread lies in the way wheat grains are processed. Wholemeal bread is made with wholemeal flour, which is milled to include the three different parts of the whole wheat grains (the fibre-rich bran, the endosperm and the nutrient-dense germ) in adequate proportions. In contrast, white wheat bread is made from refined flour which only contains the endosperm part.
As wholemeal breads contain all the nutritious parts of a grain they are much more nutritious than white breads.
In most countries, health and nutritional claims that are made to present or promote foods to consumers are strictly regulated.
In Europe for example a claim that a food is a source of fibre (or any claim likely to have the same meaning for the consumer) may only be made if the product contains at least 3 grams of fibre per 100 grams of bread, or at least 1.5 grams of fibre per 100 kcal. A claim that a food is high in fibre (or any claim likely to have the same meaning for the consumer) may only be made if the product contains at least 6 grams of fibre per 100 grams of bread, or at least 3 grams of fibre per 100 kcal.
It is important to note that all breads contribute toward daily fibre intake. In general, as they contain more than 3 grams of fibres per 100 grams of bread, brown breads and multi-cereals breads are sources of fibres. Wholegrain breads are rich in fibres as they contain more than 6 grams of fibres per 100 grams of bread.
The calorific content of bread depends on many factors, such as the type and levels of grains and seeds it contains, how refined the flour is, the quantity of water, and any added ingredients, such as nuts or dried fruits. In general, the calorie content of bread ranges between approximately 240 and 260 kcal per 100 grams of bread. This means, on average, there will be 70-80 kcal per one slice of bread (30 g).
Although all types of bread can be part of a healthy and balanced diet, the healthiest types of bread are 100% wholegrain or wholemeal. This is because they contain all the nutritive elements from the whole grain such as fibres, vitamins and minerals. Each type of grain has its own nutritional characteristics. For instance, ancient grains such as quinoa or amaranth contain more protein, while the traditional rye and wheat grains contain more fibre. The addition of seeds gives bread extra benefits because they are full of vitamins and minerals. They also contain good fats (such as omega 3) and are very rich in fibres.
Some types of bread have also been shown to have specific health benefits. Thanks to its high fibre content, wholegrain rye bread improves gut health and prevents constipation. Bread that contains a significant amount of oat beta-glucan, a specific type of fibre, can help reduce bad cholesterol, a well-known risk factor for heart disease.
Some studies also suggest that sourdough and sprouted bread allow us to benefit even more from all the goodness of wholegrains, thus positioning them as even healthier options. Finally, healthier breads should contain a reduced level of salt. The salt content can be checked on the label or by asking the baker.
To sum up, no single bread can be called the healthiest, but we can eat, and benefit from, a variety of healthy breads.
Current health recommendations highlight the importance of reducing salt intake. Although bread is part of the equation, it should not be avoided as such. Bread is a staple food and is part of a healthy diet.
Salt is a key ingredient of bread. It plays an important role in the fermentation process and greatly adds to the bread’s taste. It’s quite challenging to remove it but technical solutions can help. You can find out about Puratos’ solutions here.
Fibre content in bread depends on the level of refined flour it contains: the less refined, the darker the bread and the richer in fibres. Therefore, it could be said that the darker bread is, the more fibre it contains. However, nowadays, white breads can be fortified with natural, colourless fibres. These fibres do not change its appearance or colour. On the other hand, bread prepared with highly refined flours can be brown because of the use of malt flour, which is added to change the taste of bread but will not increase the fibre content.
Finally, breads containing seeds also have a higher content of fibres as seeds are generally very rich in fibres.
Therefore, it is important to read the ingredients list on the packaging or to ask the baker in order to find out about the bread’s fibre content.
Yes. In general, all types of bread can be part of a healthy diet: they are high in complex carbohydrates and low in lipids (see ‘What are lipids?’). It can be said that wholegrain bread is extra healthy because it contains all parts of the grain kernel:
The bran (the outer layer) which provides fibre, B vitamins, minerals, protein and other phytochemicals
The germ (inner part) which is packed with minerals, B vitamins, vitamin E and other phytochemicals
The endosperm (middle layer) which contains carbohydrates, proteins and small amounts of B vitamins.
Therefore, wholegrain bread is considered the healthiest bread.
Starchy foods are not inherently fattening. Weight gain typically results from eating more calories (from any source1) than your body uses. The origin of the calories can also play a role: calories from foods that are energy-dense (high in fat and sugars) and poor in micronutrients promote further weight gain2.
Starchy foods have an important role in a healthy and balanced diet: all food-based dietary guidelines recommend that our main source of energy comes from starchy foods. Preference should be given to wholegrain breads.
Wholegrain bread is a type of bread that is partly or entirely made with wholegrain flours. Flours are considered wholegrain if they contain the three different parts of a whole grain (the fibre-rich bran, the endosperm and the nutrient-dense germ) in adequate proportions. In some countries, for a bread to be called ‘wholegrain’, it must contain a minimum quantity of wholegrain flours. For example, in Germany a wholegrain wheat or rye bread must contain at least 90% wholegrains. In most countries, the use of the term ‘wholegrain bread’ is not regulated. There is also no global official definition. Therefore, it is important to read the ingredients list on the packaging or to ask the baker in order to find out about the bread’s wholegrain qualities.
‘Bio’ or ‘biological’ and organic share the same meaning. ‘Bio’ is a European term. ‘Organic’ is more commonly used in English-speaking countries.
Organic production refers to an overall farm management and food production system. This system combines best environmental practices, a high level of biodiversity, the preservation of natural resources, the application of high animal welfare standards, and a production method using natural substances and processes. Organic production never uses chemical fertilizers or pesticides.
As per EU legislation, foods may be labelled ‘organic’ only when at least 95% of their agricultural ingredients meet the necessary standards. The remaining 5% of non-organic ingredients should be part of a list that is approved by EU legislation.
Organic production outlaws the use of genetically modified organisms and derived products.
(EC) No 271/2010
Sourdough is a natural leavening agent for bread. It is made from three ingredients:
Water or other liquids such as juice, milk, yoghurt...
Two types of microorganisms: lactic acid bacteria and yeast. These are either airborne and/or present in the raw materials.
Using sourdough (as a leavening agent) gives bread a very distinctive taste. Depending on which sourdough is used, the result can be very different. This is because the taste and flavour of sourdough depends, among other things, on the microorganisms that are present. These can vary around the world.
While regular bread is fermented by a specific baker’s yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae), sourdough bread is fermented by a mix of lactic bacteria and yeast, which provides certain additional nutritional advantages.
Sourdough bread has a lower glycaemic index than regular bread(1,2). This means that it releases its energy more progressively over a longer period and requires less insulin. This effect produces a feeling of being full for longer, which makes it easier to avoid snacking between meals. Moreover, the vitamins and minerals in sourdough bread are more easily absorbed by the body, and the body can also make better use of them(3,4,5). The presence of microorganisms in sourdough suggests a beneficial influence on the intestinal flora (or microbiota), which results in some additional health benefits. It is often thought that sourdough bread is easier to digest, but this has not been clearly confirmed.
1. Adam et al, 2003. Les possibilités d'amélioration de la valeur nutritionnelle des pains. Cahiers de nutrition et de diététique, 38(5), 316-322.
2. Rizkalla et al., 2007. Effect of baking process on postprandial metabolic consequences - randomized trials in normal and type 2 diabetic subjects. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 61, 175–183
3. Lopez et al., 2000. Strains of LAB isolated from sourdough degrade phytic acid and improve calcium and magnesium solubility from whole wheat flour. Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry. 48, 2281-2285.
4. Lopez et al., 2001. Prolonged fermentation of whole wheat sourdough reduces phytate level and increases soluble magnesium. Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, 49, 2657-2662.
5. Lopez et al., 2003. Making bread with sourdough improves mineral bioavailability from reconstituted whole wheat flour in rats. Nutrition, 19, 524-530.
For 5000 years sourdough was used for all types of bread. But when baker’s yeast appeared in the bakery some 150 years ago, bakers started to forget how to make sourdough. This was because using yeast meant fermentation was quicker and more consistent.
Bakers who are still using sourdough today use it in rye bread. Rye bread needs a certain level of acidity in order to be create a decent loaf that slices well. In wheat breads, sourdough is mainly used to create typical sourdough breads or ‘Pain au levain’. These tend to be breads from a typical region or with a typical flavour.
Sourdough is the most traditional way of fermenting a dough to produce bread. It has been around for the last 5000 years. It involves fermenting flour with the natural flora present in the raw material or in the surrounding air. Natural flora typically consists of lactic acid bacteria, as found in yoghurts and wild type yeasts. This mixed fermentation has a huge effect on the complexity of the bread’s flavour. The main challenge with this traditional fermentation is the very long proofing time needed; it takes up to 24 hours to leaven the dough and develop the flavour. On the other hand, baker’s yeast was invented in the late 19th century through the work of Louis Pasteur. It allowed a very high gas-producing single cell baker’s yeast to be selected and grown on a sugar-containing substance (quite often molasses). At the end of this fermentation, the yeast was harvested and added at around 2-3% in the dough. This allowed the baker to gain a lot of time. It suddenly meant that dough could be leavened in less than two hours, and always in a uniform way. The short proofing times and high consistency led to the industrialisation of bread production. Unfortunately, the flavour development is less complex compared to traditional sourdough.
Historically, sourdough bread is important because it can be traced back to the ancient Egyptian civilisations of around 3000 BC. It is also important because sourdough bread is actually more nutritious than the grain from which it is made. This is because sourdough helps to release the nutrients and minerals present in the bread, making them easier to digest and more accessible for the body. Most of all though, sourdough improves the taste and flavour of bread.
Enzymes are naturally present in the human body – to date, we know there are at least 7000 active enzymes in our bodies. Enzymes help to transform food into small pieces that our body can digest. In bread making, the enzymes that are present drive the fermentation process, while the ones that are added guarantee a consistent quality. Without enzymes, you cannot make bread.
Additives are substances that are added to food products to perform certain functions (e.g. to change texture, increase the shelf life of a product or to add vitamins). In Europe, all food additives are identified by an E-number. They are always included in the ingredients list on product packaging. All the additives we use at Puratos have been thoroughly tested and approved by national and international food safety authorities.
Emulsifiers have been used for centuries and are a useful aid in our daily cooking. The effect of emulsifiers is comparable to using an egg when making mayonnaise; it makes it easier to blend all the ingredients into a smooth mixture. Emulsifiers affect the appearance, texture and structure of foods. They also help to maintain their quality and freshness. Emulsifiers have a positive effect on the crumb structure of bread, its softness and shelf life.
Bread is made of natural agricultural products such as wheat flour, yeast, water and some salt. A bread may also include an improver, which is a mix of enzymes, emulsifiers and other functional ingredients (see ‘What is an enzyme?’ and ‘What is an emulsifier?’). Each of these ingredients helps to improve certain features of the bread. Bakers use different types of improvers to make sure the end result is exactly what they had in mind.
Since bread making first took place, the quality of bread has been affected by several factors. These factors include the type and origin of the flour, weather conditions, etc. This means that the same mix of ingredients may make a great loaf of bread one day, but might be less successful the next day. Bread improver is a key ingredient that has been used in the bakery sector for years; it helps bakers make consistent, excellent-quality bread. We use bread improvers in our products to help bakers deliver great quality, taste and texture. Bread improvers also ensure that bread stays fresher for longer; a convenient factor that consumers appreciate more and more.
No, the fibres, vitamins, minerals and nutrients in bread do not change significantly as bread ages. However, its taste and appearance change.
Saturated fatty acids are found in animal-based foods like butter, cheese, fatty meat, meat products (e.g. sausages, hamburgers) and full-fat milk. They are also found in vegetable sources such as coconut oil and palm oil. They are solid at room temperature. Eating excessive amounts of saturated fatty acids can result in high levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol, a well-known risk factor in heart disease. The World Health Organisation recommends that SFA’s should not exceed 10% of our total energy intake.
Nutritionists group foods according to their main nutritional properties. Most industrialised countries make these classifications. They can also differ slightly between countries.
The main food groups are:
Fruit and vegetables
Starchy foods (breads, cereals and potatoes)
Protein-rich foods (meat, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds)
Fats: butter, oil, margarine
Water and unsweetened drinks such as tea, coffee, infusions.
Depending on the country, the visual presentation of these groups varies (pyramid, bowls, plates, etc.)
Lipids is a general term for components that are derived from fatty acids. It comprises fats, waxes, sterols (like cholesterol or plant-based phytosterol), fat-soluble vitamins and others.
The most common derivatives of fatty acids are triacylglycerols, which are the main component of fats. The other lipids are present in oils and fats as minor components.
The following foods can be included in a diet to help increase fibre levels:
Wholegrain foods (such as wholegrain bread and pasta)
Fresh fruits (including the skin and pulp)
Dried or stewed fruits (such as prunes, raisins and apricots)
Root vegetables (such as carrots, turnips and potatoes)
Dried peas and beans (e.g. kidney, lima beans, chick peas, lentils, soy beans and corn)
Raw and fresh vegetables
Trans fatty acids are mostly produced industrially by modifying the components of vegetable oils during a process called partial hydrogenation (a chemical process that involves turning unsaturated fats into partially or fully saturated fats). Trans fatty acids are also found in small amounts in animal products such as meat and butter.
They are considered the worst type of fat you can eat. They both raise bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol. They should not account for more than 1% of the daily energy intake.
Fortunately, improvements in the hydrogenation process and the use of different ingredients are reducing the amount of trans fatty acids in food.
Minerals are inorganic substances that have no energy value and that are needed by the body to function correctly. Some are required in large quantities, such as one or more grams per day (e.g. calcium). Others are required in lesser amounts, i.e. one or more micrograms or milligrams per day (e.g. iron); these are so-called oligo-elements or trace elements. Our body uses minerals for many different functions, such as keeping the bones, muscles, heart and brain working properly. Minerals are also important for making enzymes and hormones.
Because of their different nutritional composition, some foods are healthier than others. However, there is no reason to exclude a food or a food category from a diet except in the case of a special pathology (e.g. an allergy). The ‘demonization’ of a food has no real basis. Remember, it’s all about balance.
Nutrients are substances within food that the body absorbs and uses for growth and living. Nutrients are defined by their chemical nature and physiological role. They can be grouped according to the quantities needed by the body:
Macronutrients: proteins, carbohydrates, fats and fibres, which provide energy and water
Micronutrients: vitamins and minerals.
What nutrients does our body take from food?
Note: The energy value of nutrients used for labelling purposes are locally regulated; they can slightly differ depending on the country.
This term ‘fibre’ encompasses a variety of molecules (complex carbohydrates) that are neither digested nor absorbed in the small intestine. They are often divided into either soluble or insoluble fibres.
Soluble fibres are fermentable and absorb water. They can be associated with a feeling of fullness. Some soluble fibres such as beta-glucan, which is found in oat or barley1, can also improve blood sugar levels and lower blood cholesterol. Insoluble fibres such as wheat bran do not absorb water. They help to improve intestinal transit.
It is generally agreed that an adult should consume at least 25-30 grams of fibre per day2.
More and more studies show that a generous intake of dietary fibres reduces the risk of developing heart diseases3,4, diabetes, obesityand certain gastrointestinal disorders4.
1. European Commission. EU Register on nutrition and health claims. The claim may be used only for food which contains at least 1 g of beta-glucans from oats, oat bran, barley, barley bran, or from mixtures of these sources per quantified portion.
2. European Commission. EU Register on nutrition and health claims. These claims may be used only for food which is high in that fibre.
4. Slavin J. Whole grains and human health. Nutrition Research Review 2004;17:99110
Cholesterol is a lipid in our body that is produced by our liver. It circulates throughout the body via blood vessels. Cholesterol is a vital component of the body, forming the building blocks of cell membranes. It is also an essential component of many molecules, including hormones.
Blood cholesterol can be divided into two main types:
LDL cholesterol, which carries cholesterol from the liver to the cells. LDL is often called ‘bad’ cholesterol as it leads to fat build-up on the artery walls, which is the starting point for some heart and blood flow problems
HDL cholesterol, which carries excess cholesterol back to the liver. HDL is often called ‘good’ cholesterol as it helps to stop fat building up in the arteries.
A high level of (LDL) cholesterol in the blood is considered a risk factor for developing coronary heart disease.
Cholesterol is also found in animal-based foods. However, there is a growing consensus among nutrition scientists that the cholesterol found in food has little effect on the amount of cholesterol in the blood. On the contrary, an excess of saturated fat and trans-fat are well-known to increase levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol.
Proteins are large and complex molecules. They consist of amino acids. Proteins help to grow and renew our cells (e.g. muscles, bones). They are found in animal products such as red meat, white meat, dairy products, fish and eggs. They are also present in products derived from plants, such as grains and pulses (e.g. lentils, peas).
A balanced diet is obtained by varying the diet to provide the body with the energy and nutrients it needs to function correctly. It is about eating a variety of foods in the right proportions.
Many countries have developed their own food guides or tools to help consumers build a balanced diet. They all agree that a balanced diet should be composed of:
Fruit and vegetables
Starchy foods (breads, cereals and potatoes) with a focus on wholegrains
Protein-rich foods (meat, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds)
Fats: butter, oil, margarine
Water and unsweetened drinks such as tea, coffee, infusions.
It is also important to keep in mind that a balanced diet needs to be accompanied by regular physical activity.
Vitamins are organic substances that have no energy value and that are essential to the body as it cannot create them itself. Vitamins must therefore be supplied by the diet. There are two categories of vitamins: water-soluble vitamins (group B and C) and fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K). There are 13 vitamins in total.
Vitamins have diverse biochemical functions. Some help to regulate our metabolism and our cell and tissue growth. Others function as antioxidants. The largest number of vitamins are used to support enzymes that work as catalysts in metabolism.
- Vitamin B1 contributes to normal energy metabolism
- Vitamin E helps to protect cells from oxidative stress.
Fat is a key nutrient. It is an essential part of our diet as it plays a vital role in the body. It not only supplies us with energy that is necessary to our metabolism, but it also supports many key body functions. For example, it helps to transport fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, D, E and K. It also supports brain and heart function. Consuming fat also provides our body with fatty acids that it cannot produce by itself, such as omega 3 and omega 6. This is why those fatty acids are called ‘essential’ fatty acids.
Our body needs fat, but eating too much fat can have a negative health impact. It is important to recognise that it is not only the amount of fat that has an impact but also the type of fat, i.e. fat composition. The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that excessive fat intake strongly influences the risk of heart diseases such as coronary heart disease and stroke. This is because it affects blood lipids, thrombosis, blood pressure, arterial (endothelial) function, arrhythmogenesis and inflammation.
According to the World Health Organisation, no more than 30-35% of our daily energy intake should come from fat. Saturated fat should not represent more than 10%1.
1.Fats and fatty acids in human nutrition. Joint FAO/WHO expert consultation.2008
Saturated fats are fats found in animal-based foods such as butter, cheese, fatty meat, meat products (sausages, hamburgers) and full-fat milk. It is also found in vegetable sources such as coconut oil and palm oil, and hydrogenated vegetable oils. These oils are solid at room temperature. Saturated fats, when consumed in excess, can result in high levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol. The World Health Organisation recommends that they should not exceed 10% of our total energy intake. It recommends replacing them with polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Fat is found in a wide range of food groups, especially in:
Plant-based foods such as oils and seeds
Animal-based foods such as dairy products, oily fish and meat products
Baked goods such as rich breads and patisserie
Oils, or unsaturated fats, are a type of fat that is generally liquid at room temperature. This is because they are rich in unsaturated fatty acids.
Unsaturated fatty acids are divided into mono-unsaturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Depending on the fatty acid they contain, unsaturated fats are categorised as either mono-unsaturated fats or polyunsaturated fats.
Mono-unsaturated fats are fats which are rich in mono-unsaturated fatty acids. They are found in a variety of foods and are particularly abundant in oils such as olive oil and peanut oil.
Polyunsaturated fats are rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids and are found in oily fish such as salmon, herring and mackerel. They are also found in some oils such as soybean and rapeseed. Other sources include some nuts and seeds, including walnuts, sunflower seeds and chia seeds.
Consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids, like omega 3 and omega 6, is recommended; they do not increase ‘bad’ cholesterol and actually help to maintain ‘good’ cholesterol. These omega fatty acids are called essential fatty acids. The body cannot produce them by itself, meaning they have to be obtained from food.
Whole grain refers to an entire grain of cereal, also known as a kernel. The kernel consists of three elements:1
The bran: the fibre-rich outer layer of a kernel (12-17%)
The germ: the nutrient-dense inner part of a kernel (approx. 3%)
The endosperm: the central starchy part of a kernel (80- 85%).
To be defined as ‘whole grain’, a food product must retain the same relative proportions of its components (bran, germ and endosperm) as they exist in the intact grain.2
Fat itself is not bad for us. In fact, it is an important nutrient with a lot of important functions within the body (e.g. it contains essential fatty acids and carries fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K). What is bad for our health is eating too much of certain types of fats and not enough of others.
Most European guidelines suggest that overall fat intake should make up no more than 30-35% of the total calories. No more than 10% of calories should come from saturated fats. This means that the remaining 20-25% of fat-intake calories should come from mono- and polyunsaturated fats.
Mono-unsaturated fats are found in a variety of foods. Olives and peanuts are particularly rich in mono-unsaturated fats.
Polyunsaturated fats are found in oily fish such as salmon, herring and mackerel. They are also found in plant foods such as soybean or nuts and seeds (for example, walnuts, sunflower seeds and chia seeds).
To cut out every kind of fat from your diet is not healthy. By considering the different types of fat in the foods you eat, you will be able to choose a healthy balance of fats.
When choosing foods from the starchy food group, replace refined cereal foods, such as white bread, rice and pasta, with wholegrain varieties such as wholemeal bread, brown rice and whole wheat pasta. Wheat, oats, barley, rye and rice are all commonly available in their wholegrain form. It is important to replace the refined grain products in your diet with the wholegrain ones, rather than just add whole grain products to your existing diet.1
Gluten is a set of proteins that are naturally found in certain grains (wheat, rye, barley, spelt). Gluten creates the elasticity and structure of derived grain products. Wheat flour, the main ingredient in pasta, bread and pastry products, contains gluten. Gluten protein can also be added to all kinds of foods to affect the texture (texturing agent).
Fatty acids are the main components of fat in a diet. They largely determine its nutritional and technological properties.
Technically, fats which are liquid at room temperature are called ‘oils’. They are rich in unsaturated fatty acids, such as olive oil. Fats which are solid at room temperature are called ‘fats’. They are rich in saturated fatty acids. For practical reasons, in this Q&A the term ‘fats’ is used for both liquid (oil) and solid fats (fats).
Most of the population has no reason to avoid gluten-containing foods. There is no proof that a gluten-free diet has a positive effect on healthy people. On the contrary, whole grains, which contain gluten, are a good source of fibre, vitamins and minerals(1). Wholegrains are also associated with significant reductions in risk for type-2 diabetes and heart disease. They are also more favourable in long-term weight management. Gluten-free products are often made with refined grains, and are lower in nutrients. A medical professional should supervise gluten-free diets, as they can be deficient in fibre, iron, foliate, niacin, thiamine, calcium, vitamin B12, phosphorus and zinc.
However, for a small part of the population, i.e. people affected by gluten-related disorders, following a gluten-free diet is recommended if not essential. This is the case for people with coeliac disease, a genetic autoimmune disease in which the small bowel is inflamed and made leaky by gluten. Between 0.5 and 1% of the population in the western world(2) is affected by this disease.
Besides coeliacs and people suffering from wheat allergies, it was recently shown that another small part of the population can experience some difficulties after consuming wheat-based products. Such people are not diagnosed with coeliac disease or a wheat allergy. Researchers call this newly-emerged condition ‘non-coeliac gluten sensitivity’ and estimate that around 5% to 10% of the population suffer from it(3).
However, little is known about this disease: many aspects such as the exact causes (is it really gluten?) and the mechanism of action remain unknown.
1. ANSES, French food composition table, 2013.
2. EFSA, Scientific Opinion on the evaluation of allergenic foods and food ingredients for labelling purposes, EFSA Journal 2014; 12(11): 3894.
3. F; Brouns. Does wheat make us fat and sick? Journal of Cereal Science 58 (2013) 209e215.
Carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients in our diet (fat and protein being the others). They represent the most important source of energy for the body. Carbohydrates are vital for a varied and balanced diet.
Amongst the digestible carbohydrates, we distinguish between:
Sugars, which are also called ‘simple carbohydrates’ as they are composed of only one or two sugar units. They include glucose, fructose (from fruit), sucrose (table sugar) and lactose (from milk)
Starches, often called ‘complex carbohydrates’ as they are composed of many glucose units linked together. They are mainly found in grain foods such as bread, pasta and rice, and tuber vegetables such as potatoes.
Non-digestible carbohydrates are referred to fibres.
Note: In the US, the term ‘carbohydrates’ usually refers to both digestible and non-digestible carbohydrates (fibres) while in Europe the term only refers to digestible carbohydrates.