This post is an elaboration and clarification of where I stand on the use of artificial sweeteners (also called sugar substitutes), “light” and “fat-free” foods. In my opinion, the greatest health misconceptions revolve around products that use these terms and these chemicals. Food manufacturers are telling us low-calorie and low-fat is good, while current research is telling us otherwise.
Do you think there might be a connection between this low-fat, sugar substitute craze and the rising rate of obesity? Doesn’t it make you wonder how foods that taste so sweet can have no negative effect on the body? Well, that might not be the case after all. Although these sweeteners don’t contribute calories, research is finding that they may interfere with metabolism—causing it to slow down. These substances may alter our metabolism and the way our bodies store fat.
I’ve always wondered why people aren’t losing weight by consuming these “calorie-free” products. I’ve had clients who normally drink a 12-pack of soda each day, make a complete switch to diet soda, yet don’t lose a single pound. There have been theories relating psychology, claiming that consuming foods said to be lower in calories subconsciously cause us to consume more of others later. I can see this: I mean, how can one ever be satisfied with a half cup serving of “fat-free” ice cream? Something about all of this never seemed to add up for me. This newer research suggesting that there may be more to metabolism than the calories in/calories out energy balance model seems to make sense. It also makes sense that ingesting chemical compounds interferes with your body’s metabolism, causing it to run slower than usual, which is why people aren’t losing weight like these products promise.
The original intent behind artificial sweeteners was that because your body doesn’t know how to metabolize them, they don’t contribute any calories. With this “magnificent” discovery, artificial sweeteners started being added to various foods (in place of sugar or fat) to reduce the caloric value. You can find them in products like diet soda, light yogurt, powdered drink mixes, canned fruit, ice cream, chewing gum and even multivitamins. They are usually in products that flaunt eye-catching terms like: sugar-free, light, lower calorie, diet, reduced sugar, or the one I dislike most: SKINNY. The only natural, non-chemical sweetener is Stevia (an herb). Give that one a try (it’s sweet so you don’t need more than a pinch!) and avoid sucralose (trade name: Splenda) aspartame (trade name: Equal) and saccharin (trade name: Sweet’N Low). (My clients and I love using Dynamic Greens, a stevia-based, whole-food powder that sweetens and adds nutritional value to foods like plain (full-fat) yogurt, cottage cheese and even coffee.)
So what should we do with the mix of information? Until we have definite answers about these additives, here are five of my top recommendations:
Think in a new way. Because we have been brainwashed by marketing campaigns for so many years, we need to change our mindsets and how we think about food. Start by remembering that your body was designed to metabolize food, not chemicals. It is better to eat a little bit of the real thing than a lot of the fake thing (chemicals). Think of eating as a way to give your body energy because that’s exactly what you are doing every time you eat. Choose to fuel with foods that are high in nutrients and low in additives and chemicals.
Choose “normal” foods and ditch your “skinny latté.” I’m suggesting you stop buying anything “light” or “lower” in fat or sugar. Buy full fat yogurt and cottage cheese. If you need to sweeten it, add some Stevia or Dynamic Fruits & Greens. If you want to have ice cream as a treat, eat a little bit of the real stuff. Research is also showing that we tend to actually eat more of the “light” stuff because it’s not as satisfying. If you need sweetener in your coffee, try Stevia or use real sugar (in moderation.) If I’m at a coffee shop and don’t have any Stevia packets on hand (you can pick these up in the natural section of the grocery store), I ask for ONE of the syrup pumps (“half pumps” is common coffee-shop lingo, but it’s still more sugar than I’d like in my coffee). Take control over what is being added to your beverages and what you are putting in your body.
Say “good riddance” to your soda. Or pop. Or cola. Regardless of what you call it, both regular and diet are toxic and should be avoided like the plague. Diet and regular sodas have both been linked to kidney damage, cancer, obesity, hypertension and countless other health risks. If you are the type of person who drinks either type of soda, one of the best choices you can make for your health is to give it up immediately. That being said, I’m going to answer the question a lot of you may be thinking: I am not by ANY means endorsing soda consumption, but if you choose to go against my advice and drink it anyway, regular is the lesser of the two evils (although it is evil, nevertheless!). The reason is because regular soda is made of real sugar, which your body knows how to metabolize. The catch is if you don’t immediately utilize the 67 grams of sugar in that 20 ounce bottle for energy, your body stores it as fat. To burn off 67 grams of sugar, you would have to walk at a moderate speed for about an hour—I’ll leave it to you to decide if it’s worth it. Sure, diet soda doesn’t have any calories (because your body doesn’t know how to digest it.) Instead, it contains loads of chemicals in the form of artificial sweeteners which are toxic to your body for reasons that go far beyond interfering with your metabolism. Your best choice is to stick with clean, pure water or for something with natural flavor, try seltzer with fruit or an herbal tea.
Lose weight in a healthy way. Instead of looking to products that promise fewer calories and fat, if you want to get to a healthy body weight, do it in a natural way. Cut back on your portions, increase your activity level (e.g. exercise!) and eat real, whole foods every few hours. Once you are in this pattern, your metabolism will heal and learn to run efficiently once again and your body will naturally try to get back to a healthy weight by shedding excessive pounds.
Keep it simple. As always, I like to end with saying this because it’s true. Don’t buy into the marketing tactics for “fake foods” that are low in fat and high in sugar and artificial substances. Eat the real stuff, and eat it in moderation.