Zero Calorie Sweeteners: No Bueno Say the Experts

Once again non-nutritive or “artificial” sweeteners are making the news. New evidence shows that there are negative biochemical changes in the body in response to these low-cal sugar replacers.1

We already know that sugar has detrimental effects on our blood sugar, insulin, and waistline. It is common knowledge nowadays that sweets consumption should be lowered and kept to a minimum. In came, subsequently, those nifty no-calorie sweeteners that promised a similar flavor without all the unhealthy side effects. While initially regarded as safe and approved by the FDA, for some time now research has hinted they are not as benign as touted Now we have even more evidence that they are doing more harm than good.

In this new study, researchers took several groups of rats and either fed them diets high in glucose, fructose, or artificial sweeteners (aspartame or acesulfame potassium). Acesulfame is sold in stores at Sunnett or Sweet One, and aspartame is sold as Equal or NutraSweet. Both are currently approved artificial sweeteners by the FDA.

Within three weeks the researchers found discernable differences between the groups per blood samples collected. They noted that the artificial sweeteners appeared to change the way their bodies processed fat and energy overall. They also noticed that the acesulfame potassium accumulated in the blood and had a negative impact on the cells lining the blood vessels.

Bottom line? Don’t think that switching to artificial sweeteners is the answer. For one, how many thin people do you see walking around drinking diet sodas all day? They don’t seem to work. This study helps us understand why. Also, continuing to drink sweet beverages hinders one’s ability to acclimate to lesser sweetened beverages and foods. It keeps the sweet desire active, per say, and doesn’t solve the problem of cravings. In fact, it can make things worse by initiating an insulin response but, with no actual sugar entering the body, you end up with lower blood sugar and a “crash,” so to speak. The craving cycle continues.

The article ends by trying to answer the question, which is better? Sugar or artificial sweeteners? How about neither? My advice is to ditch sweet-tasting beverages altogether and switch to good ol’ water, the way nature intended.

But you hate water you say? If that’s you, think about some simple flavorings such as lemon, lime or other fruits soaked in your H20. Maybe dilute a favorite beverage half and half and keep increasing the water until you desire the sweet taste less and less. Drink club soda and lime if fizzy is your thing. There are ways to make better choices to keep these harmful chemicals out of your bodies for good.

In the end, if weight loss, blood sugar control, and heart health are your goals, artificial sweeteners have to go. Period.

If this seems unthinkable to you (and I realize for many it is!) come talk to me! I know we can develop a plan to get you enjoying less sugar and more healthy foods and fluids. And, summer being right around the corner, NOW is the time to do it!


Is saturated fat good for you?

saturated-fatLikely by now you’ve heard the debate. Is fat, and in particular saturated fat, bad for you or not? In the 80’s and 90’s we made fat the villain and steered our entire country towards a low-fat mentality, but in recent years perceptions have evolved. Studies have come out to contradict previous research that found fat harmful to cardiovascular health. Even more recently we found that some studies were in fact manipulated to spin sugar in a more positive light and lay the health blame squarely on fat. Just a few months ago NPR reported that the sugar industry paid scientists to bias their research so that fat appeared to be the main concern in regards to heart health.1 So, what are we to believe?

Studies still go both ways, but we certainly have a growing collection of research to show that fat does not deserve to be treated as an evil part of our diet. Despite years of shunning fat in favor of carbs and protein, we appear to have reaped zero health benefits. We did not see heart disease risk decrease. We did not see waistlines slim down. Increased consumption of Snackwells and low-fat lattes did not result in the statistics health experts were hoping for.

Now, in fact, a recent Norwegian study suggests that fat, and again in particular saturated fat, is good for us.2 What? How could the research be so polar opposite to our previous understanding?

In the study, the researchers did not simply take subjects, put them on high-fat diets, and observe the results, as many previous studies have done. No, they put people on carefully crafted high fat diets that were rich in unprocessed or lowly processed choices, such as butter, cream and cold pressed oils. These were combined with a decent intake of vegetables and whole grains while simultaneously avoiding white flour and sugar. When compared against cohorts on a high carbohydrate diet, the high fat diet participants showed decreases in fat storage and disease risk, even when the subject’s overall energy intake increased when compared to their previous diet.

This study provides a perfect example of how the entire makeup of the diet, as well as other lifestyle factors, is paramount. Singling out a particular macronutrient to vilify, while newsworthy and income-generating for some, unfortunately, has not benefited public health.

Clearly, cholesterol numbers and other markers for cardiovascular disease are not independently influenced by fat intake. There are many other factors involved: sugar consumption, overall energy intake, genetics, and lifestyle factors (smoking, exercise, stress, etc). By singling out fats alone we miss the bigger picture, and in terms of public health, we put people’s lives at risk by giving them misleading information.

As with most things, the answer is actually very simple. Unfortunately, simple answers do not make great billboards and campaigns. But the truth is this: an overall healthy diet is paramount, NOT exclusion of all fat.

So the next time you think about avoiding that butter on your bread, think twice and reconsider the bread before you demonize the butter. Healthy fats are our friends.



The Horrors of Halloween Candy

Halloween candyIt’s that time of year again that I’ve come to dread: Halloween. It’s not so much that I mind the ghoulish decorations or creepy costumes. It’s mostly the colorful wrapped confections that put me on edge. All month long, for 31 exhausting days, I’m bombarded by two normally very sweet little boys whose sole mission is to find and consume candy. You just can’t avoid it. It’s in the stores, it’s at the dentist’s office, it’s at the school party …. the stuff is everywhere and every second it seems it’s all my kids can think about. Ok, I might be exaggerating slightly. They do think about other things, like TV shows and Legos, but it is amazing how much they love candy. So many tears when Mom has to say no, no, and no again. Like I said, exhausting.

You might now be thinking I’m pretty much the meanest mom on earth. Who would deny their kids a few harmless pieces of Halloween candy? Look, I do give in once in awhile, but I also say no a lot. The average American kid between the ages of 4 and 8 already consumes around 21 tsp of sugar a day. That is an insane amount, as in more than 2 cans of soda worth. Halloween isn’t necessarily to blame for this, but there’s no reason to add to our already sugar laden diets.

Apart from the sugar, the thing that really scares me about Halloween candy is the ingredients and additives. Yes, those pesky colors, dyes, preservatives, GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and even trans fats. They help make products tasty and eye-appealing, yes, but let’s face it, it’s not food.

Let’s look at a common Halloween favorite, candy corn. Brach’s candy corn, besides sugar, also contains corn syrup, dextrose (both likely GMO corn derived) as well as yellow #6, yellow #5, and red #3. Let’s not forget that candy corn is just gross. No personal bias there.

What about another all star favorite, Skittles? While these little sugar nuggets are quite tasty and addictive, they are also delivering sugar, corn syrup (GMO), hydrogenated palm kernel oil (trans fats!!), dextrin (GMO), modified food starch, corn starch (GMO), and an assortment of food dyes, including yellow 6 lake, red 40 lake, yellow 5 lake, blue 2 lake, yellow 5, red 40, yellow 6, blue 1 lake, and blue 1. Little bodies shouldn’t have to deal with this sugar and chemical assault.

I could go an on with these. You get the picture. Halloween candy is far from harmless. I cringe every time I give in. I get it that kids need to be kids, but when did that become letting them eat sugary confections loaded with food additives, GMOs, and trans fats?

My back up plan has been to get some tasty treats in the house that while still admittedly have sugar, at least they use natural food dyes and organic sugar cane (not saying its healthy, just less harmful). I also explain to them what is in typical candy and why it’s not good for them. I find that providing some context around my apparent meanness really helps. Then providing an alternative, albeit still carefully portion controlled, seems to keep tears at bay.

I challenge you to seek out some less chemical-laden options for the little ghosts and goblins that end up on your doorstep this year. Most of these will be found in the “natural” section of your local grocer. Better yet? Give out a small toy instead or include some dried fruit and nuts along with whatever candy you choose to dispense. Maybe, just maybe, someday our country will wake up and get over this insane sugar addiction that we inflict on ourselves and our young. Maybe?