Anti-Science

I ate a bar of chocolate for skepticism

I had to. Skepticism made me. It came to me in the night and whispered into my gastrointestinal tract. Seductive words, about enquiry and the quest for truth. What skepchick wouldn’t succumb?

ChocolateThe chocolate is called Naturally Gorgeous. You can already see where this is going, can’t you? The claim on the packaging is that Naturally Gorgeous “keeps you fuller for longer”. So does that mean if you eat it, you will feel satiated and…er…won’t want to buy more? No, that’s not a great business model, it can’t be that. You snack on chocolate and that curbs your appetite so you don’t want any dinner? No, that’s not right either, cause that could be dangerous. Vitamins, kids.

Happily, the website sheds some light on their intentions: “Our aim was to create a gorgeous tasting chocolate which you didn’t need to feel guilty about eating.” and “it has allowed us to create the first ‘guilt-free’ chocolate.”

Guilt-free chocolate? How?

The packaging gives us a bit more of a clue:

“pine kernel oil contains essential fats which helps take away the need to be naughty keeping you fuller for longer”.

Next to that is a logo for something called PinnoThin. So what is it? Here we go!

“Specific hormones in our body send messages to our brain which trigger or reduce feelings of hunger. PinnoThinâ„¢ works by stimulating the release of two hunger-suppressing hormones, CCK (cholecystokinin) and GLP1 (glucagon-like peptide 1). CCKand GLP1 send signals of satiation to the brain (similar to saying ‘I am full’) – which reduces the urge to eat.

PinnoThin™ stimulates these hormone releases. PinnoThin™ comes from a natural plant source. It is based on pine nut oil derived from the nuts of the native Korean pine tree, which are especially rich in long chain fatty acids, such as pinolenic acid. The Korean pine tree contains more than 40 times as much pinolenic acid as other types of pine nuts. PinnoThin™ simply offers the highest concentration of this all-natural satiety and appetite suppressant. Its effectiveness has been scientifically proven.”

Ignoring that tasty and tempting last morsel of a sentence for a moment, what’s not clear is how much pine nut oil (or PinnoThin) is actually in there. The PinnoThin people are up-front about the fact that you need 3g of the stuff to have any alleged effect. The listed ingredients of Naturally Gorgeous are:

Dark chocolate (73%), cocoa solids 69% minimum (cane sugar 26.5%, cocoa butter 4%), Emulsifier: soya lecithin, pine nut oil, mint oil.

So, I called Naturally Gorgeous to ask. The woman I spoke to was very nice, and happily answered my questions. Yes, it’s PinnoThin that’s in the chocolate. And she informed me that there are “two to three grams” of it in a 35g bar. Well, that’s problematic. If there is less than 3g then their claims about fullness are untrue.

Now let’s go back to the wording on the packaging: “pine kernel oil contains essential fats which helps take away the need to be naughty keeping you fuller for longer”.

But if I’ve eaten the chocolate containing the oil, I’ve already been naughty. How is this anything but a major flaw in their argument?

Naturally Gorgeous contains nearly 10g of fat per 100g. That’s roughly 12 bananas worth of fat. If I ate 12 bananas I bet I wouldn’t want to eat again for…oh, at least an hour.

The brochure for PinnoThin shows a young woman saying ‘No’ to a slice of chocolate cake. This is where I get super confused. The implication of that picture is that consuming PinnoThin will stop you eating the stodgy chocolatey stuff that makes you fat. So…if you put the PinnoThin in the stodgy chocolatey stuff…

*brain asplodes*

Naturally Gorgeous call it “Guilt-Free Chocolate”. That makes me angry (pass the sugar). It has ten grams of fat in it, about the same as any other chocolate. It’s not guilt-free. It’s a bar of chocolate. If eating chocolate is meant to be a guilty pleasure, Naturally Gorgeous is no different, because it contains just as much fat. Whether or not it helps to stop you having another one in an hour’s time does not make it ‘guilt-free’.

And that’s before we get to the ‘scientifically proven’ claims of PinnoThin. You’re going to like this, I can tell. The National Advertising Division (NAD. Tee hee!) ruled on PinnoThin’s claims just a few weeks ago:

“The advertiser presented evidence that included two well-designed, placebo controlled clinical studies that were conducted on two variations of the advertised product, as well as a placebo.

Following its review of the evidence, NAD” (chortle) “determined that the advertiser did not have a reasonable basis for its claim that it has “clinically proven” that PinnoThin promotes the feeling of satiety, suppresses the desire to eat or provides control over one’s appetite. However, NAD” (snort!) “did determine that the advertiser could support a more limited claim that PinnoThin “may help to” promote a feeling of fullness, reduce prospective food intake, suppress the desire to eat, provide control over one’s appetite or increase the release of GLP-1.”

Zing! Dubious scientific claims akimbo. PinnoThin ‘may’ indeed help to promote a feeling of fullness. So may eating 12 bananas, or thinking about mashing those 12 bananas and smearing them over a naked Ron Jeremy. ‘May’ is the advertiser’s get-out-of-jail-free card. Anything may do anything else, given the right circumstances. And it’s certainly the case that eating something may make you feel full for a while. That’s kind of the point of food, in fact.

So what they mean is “if you’re going to eat a bar of chocolate, you might as well eat one that may make you feel fuller”. In which case, it needs to hold up in a taste test. Which is why I ate it. 35g of Naturally Gorgeous Dark Chocolate and Orange. I had a famous food blog, so I feel more than qualified to rate the bar.

It was average. Too bitter (chocolate has sugar and vanilla added for a reason, folks), and not a particularly satisfying orange tang compared to, say Green & Blacks, and with far too smooth a consistency for a dark chocolate, which may or may not be the pine nut oil. They make a deal of the ‘smoothness’ on their website, so they’re obviously aware that the mouthfeel is different to other chocolate.

My conclusion is this: if you are addicted to chocolate, then two bars of Naturally Gorgeous will give you enough PinnoThin to maybe put you off having another bar after Desperate Housewives has finished. For everyone else, I recommend a glass of pine nut oil followed by an entire box of handmade chocolates from my local artisan Chouchoute, the greatest chocolate-maker in the country. I just ate six of their truffles. For skepticism. Really.

Edited to add: Sorry I screwed up the quantities. I don’t think it affects my stellar argument, though, particularly the Ron Jeremy part. I’ve changed them for accuracy.

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21 Comments

  1. Well, I’VE just discovered that the image of a naked, banana-schmeared Ron Jeremy is more powerful than Extract of Ipecac.

    Randi’s silver beard! Will I ever be able to eat another banana in my lifetime?

    *shiver*

  2. I’d be interested in how a *component* of an ingredient in a chocolate bar can be ~5.5-8.5% by weight of the bar (2-3g out of 35g) when the ingredient it is a component of (pine nut oil) seems likely to be present in pretty small quantities.

    It looks like cocoa products and sugar make up ~99.5% of the chocolate bar, and pine nut oil isn’t even the next ingredient in the (presumably ordered) ingredient list. That would seem to put it at <0.25%, unless the makers are being uncommonly shy in their ingredient list.

    Even if the nut oil was 100% pinoleic acid (which seems unlikely), at a rather optimistic 0.25% of the overall composition, to consume 3g of pinoleic acid would seem likely to require eating 1.2kg of chocolate, and possibly many time that figure.

    I suspect that might be more than enough chocolate to curb the appetite of almost anyone.
    At the advertised price, 1.2kg would be over £40/$80, so eating that much would seem likely to leave little room in most people’s daily budget for any other food (unless they can manage to unwrap and eat 35 bars before the store staff realise).

    Is anyone up for a ‘Supersize Me’ experiment?

  3. PH, your question made me question my post, so I went and checked my sources and it turns out that there’s 10g of fat per 100g, not per 35g bar. Which is in TINY writing, hence I didn’t see it.

    So, that’s about 12 bananas worth, right?

    It’s still comparable with other chocolate like Cadbury’s though. Anyway, I’m going to edit the post to include the ‘per 100g’, but let this comment stand as a record of my ineptitude.

    This is weird, I’ve never made a mistake before! Hee hee.

  4. “Naturally Gorgeous contains nearly 10g of fat in total per 100g. That’s roughly 37 12 bananas worth of fat. If I ate 12 37 bananas I bet I wouldn’t want to eat again for…oh, at least an hour.”

    I think it’s meant to be 3712, not 1237. I’m also curious as to how that typo crept in.

  5. Augh!!! WordPress is mental. I edited it so the errors had strikethrough formatting. Today it’s not showing up.

    Well, I was going for transparency but I think I’ll just re-edit so it’s correct.

  6. Rereading my late-night post, I realised an error.
    Even though only some fraction of the nut oil will be the active ingredient, it appears the claim is that 3g of nut oil (not 3g of pinoleic acid) is the required dose, and the nut oil is 100% ‘Pinnothin’, since Pinnothin is just another name for nut oil.

    That’d still mean that, judging from the list of ingredients, you’d need to eat over a kilo of chocolate to get what they claim is an effective dose.

    I’d have thought that if there was a larger amount of pine nut oil in the chocolate than someone would think from looking at the ingredients, they’d have gone out of their way to make that clear. That they *don’t* do that would seem to be significant, especially given the nature of the rest of their blurb.

    For example, a casual reader could be deceived by:
    >>”The Korean pine tree contains more than 40 times as much pinolenic acid as other types of pine nuts. “
    Into thinking it meant
    >>”The Korean pine nut contains more than 40 times as much pinolenic acid as [all] other types of pine nut. “
    rather than the reality, which is:
    >>”The Korean pine nut contains more than 40 times as much pinolenic acid as [at least one] other type of pine nut. [In fact the Korean variety isn’t even the best one for pinoleic acid]”

    Or
    >>”PinnoThinâ„¢ simply offers the highest concentration of this all-natural satiety and appetite suppressant.”
    Which seems a hard statement to back up when it appears that Siberian pine nut oil has higher pinoleic acid levels than the Korean version.

  7. Hmm. I get the impression from the PinnoThin website that it’s concentrated pine nut oil. And the Naturually Gorgeous woman told me on the phone that there are 2-3g of PinnoThin in the 35g bar, so it must be true, right?

    Even though, at 10g of fat per 100g, 2-3g of PinnoThin would be pretty much the entire fat content of the bar. Maybe that’s why it tasted like chocolate oil.

  8. >>”And the Naturually Gorgeous woman told me on the phone that there are 2-3g of PinnoThin in the 35g bar, so it must be true, right?”

    For it to be true, they’d have to have ballsed-up their labelling. Labels are supposed to be in weight order of ingredients.
    If they had said:
    Ingredients: Chocolate (cocoa solids 69%, sugar 26.5%, cocoa butter 4%, lecithin), pine nut oil, mint oil.
    all you could conclude was that there was less pine nut oil than chocolate.

    If it’s an accurate description to say:
    Dark chocolate (73%), cocoa solids 69% minimum (cane sugar 26.5%, cocoa butter 4%), Emulsifier: soya lecithin, pine nut oil, mint oil.
    the conclusion would be that there’d be less pine nut oil than lecithin, and there probably wouldn’t be more than 0.5% lecithin in a dark chocolate.

  9. Green and Black is the best chocolate in the world. Or at least the best you can buy in your supermarket not at a fancy hand made chocolate shop.

    I’m partial to Valrhona, myself. You can buy their standard bars in some supermarkets. For the good stuff, though, I usually keep an eye out in the checkout line at Trader Joe’s.

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