Cutting Out the Sweet Stuff

Notice I didn’t say the “white” stuff. Yes, I’ve mentioned in the past how bad sugar is, but artificial sweeteners aren’t exactly splendid or all that equal to the task of weight loss (puns intended). There are two reasons why artificial sweeteners aren’t always all they’re cracked up to be. First, they often have a lot of side effects, some of which can be very troublesome. Recent research on Splenda definitely gave me pause about using it. Second, some researchers have noted that using artificial sweeteners may actually contribute to weight gain. Why? Probably because our bodies never get weaned off the taste for sweets and we are more likely to indulge it with actual sugar. Thus, I’ve decided to actually cut down on sweeteners in general. I drink my coffee now with just cream or occasionally stevia. I’ve tried to drink more water and fewer zero calorie drinks. I also use stevia when I do need some sweetening not anything artificial. It hasn’t been completely easy (especially with coffee), but I’m adjusting.

Reconsidering Splenda

Every Friday I go to Tim Horton’s for coffee. One week I drive, my buddy buys. The other week, he drives and I buy. I even jokingly refer to Fridays as “Saint Tim Horton’s Day.” Without hesitation, I order a large coffee, with cream, three Splendas, and a shot of Pumpkin Spice flavoring. I may have to reconsider the Splenda, because a new study shows that it may have problematic side effects.

Based on animal studies, Splenda reduces the amount of “good bacteria” in the gut by 50 percent, increases PH level in the intestine, and may even cause weight gain.

Personally, I try to balance my use of sweetners. I generally use Stevia at home, and Equal or Splenda at work. This way, I am not putting all of my eggs into one basket, in terms of bad side effects. Stevia seems to be the safest of the three.

Too Much of a Good Thing?

I am a big fan of stevia, the natural sweetener. I’ve always defended the taste and since it comes from a plant it also has some natural advantages over the artificial sweeteners. Yet, being natural doesn’t necessarily make it perfect. When my employer ran out of Splenda for a couple of days, I started using stevia at work (normally I use stevia at home and Splenda at work). Since I’m a pretty heavy coffee drinker, I started consuming a lot more stevia. I developed a strong metallic taste in my mouth that only went away in the morning. Since I consume a lot of supplements I started removing supplements from my diet to see the source. Sure enough it was from stevia. Does anyone else have this problem? With the upcoming marketing of stevia based drinks and the bad news on Splenda, this metallic taste is a pretty big bummer for me. Any suggestions?

How to Lose Weight: #9 Get Rid of the White Stuff

I am fond of calling sugar the “white stuff,” purposefully likening it to a certain hard drug that was snorted off mirrors in the eighties. Obviously it is nowhere near cocaine in its destructiveness, but evidence suggests that since high fructose corn syrup (basically sugar) became more readily available in soft drinks and other food items, America has gotten a lot fatter. So I have no qualms about saying clearly that excess sugar is bad. I try to avoid it as much as possible. I do allow myself sugary treats now and then, but I try to avoid a steady, high, everyday consumption of sugar and high sugar products.

Processed sugar is a modern marvel really. I just can’t imagine ancient man eating as much sugar as we do, since he wouldn’t have had the tools to extract large amounts of sugar from fruits and other sources (had you given ancient man a bushel of corn, I doubt he would have thought “hey, maybe there’s high fructose syrup in there!”). Fruits and fruit juices truly would have been ancient, pre-historic, desserts. At least these ancient treats were sugar surrounded by nutrients and fiber. Most sugary drinks consumed today are basically empty calories, or what I tend to call “pointless calories” (more on this in a sec). Have you ever looked at the ingredients in a bottle of pop? Its pretty much sugar (in the form of high fructose corn syrup), caramel coloring, some natural flavors, caffeine, and of course, carbonated water, and yet Coke has no problem charging you $4.50 for twelve cans of this. It doesn’t really fill you up, and if you drink it with a meal, you probably barely notice its there. But, if you manage to consume 3 large glasses at a meal, you consume 600 calories you probably won’t even notice. This is why I call them “pointless calories” because when you really look forward to a meal, or go to a restaurant to eat, you probably do so for a steak, pizza, General Tso’s Chicken, or whatever, and yet along with that you probably get 600 calories from your drink that, if consumed daily with one day break, will result in you gaining a pound for that week (600×6=3600 calories). You didn’t really notice it one way or the other, but it could be causing you serious weight gain.

Not only does excess sugar increase your calorie consumption, it raises your blood sugar levels, creating insulin resistance, making losing weight even more difficult. Excess sugar is bad news for dieters, really bad news, like learning the New Kids in the Block are reuniting this year (which they are).

Here is how I try to avoid sugar:

– Drink sugar-free drinks (like coffee, teas, etc)

– Don’t add sugar to naturally sweetened foods

– Don’t insist that every meal has to have a dessert.

– When you do eat something sweet, go for a lower sugar option (like “No Sugar Added” products). See substitutes below.

One problem is that getting a sweet taste without sugar requires artificial sweetners, which have their own problems. Some studies show that artificial sweetners cause people to gain weight, probably because the artificial sweetners don’t really satisfy our sweet cravings, but give us a taste for it, and most people just eat more to compensate.

The safest ones seem to be “sugar alcohols,” like sorbitol and mannitol, which have fewer calories per gram than sugar, and don’t raise blood sugar levels. They are also absorbed less easily than sugar, which means even fewer calories are available to our bodies, but they are still caloric. They can cause digestive disturbances in large amounts (eat two servings of “no sugar added” cobbler at Golden Corral to see what I mean), and are often present in candies and foods marked “no sugar added,” including sugarless gum. You really can’t buy these in powder form that I know of, except I have seen Xylitol powder available.

Saccharin (aka Sweet-N-Low) tastes bitter to me, and has an uneven safety record in animal studies. You would have to eat piles of it a day to equal the negative effects seen in animals (bladder cancer), but regardless, I don’t like the taste.

I like the taste of Aspartame (aka Equal), but it too has a sketchy safety record, and the manner in which it was approved is downright shady. Apparently the FDA gets more complaints about it than just about any other food product. Even though Aspartame is a combination of the amino acids Aspartic Acid and Phenylalanine, when heated it breaks down into formaldehyde, so it can’t be used in baking, although it could be used as an embalming agent I guess.

Splenda, i.e. sucralose, tastes good to me, but there are safety concerns with it as well, since it is made by chlorinization (adding chlorine to the sucrose molecule). You can bake with it, which makes it nice for a variety of recipes.

Stevia is probably my favorite option. It is a highly purified, super-sweet, herbal extract, with few side effects (the Japanese use it as their primary artificial sweetener). One problem is that if you use too much, it can be bitter, and a little goes a long way, so sometimes it is hard to figure out how much to use (25 mg is about the same as 17 grams of sugar). This stuff is super, super sweet. A little dusting is even overpoweringly sweet. Finally, since we are dealing with an herbal extract, different stevia products may taste different from each other, making cooking with it from recipes frustrating.

And you think our artificial sweeteners are a bit unsafe…the ancient Romans used lead acetate!

The bottom line is that sugar and high-sugar products are generally empty and pointless calories that cause you to gain weight very quickly. If you are addicted to the legal “white stuff” you may want to try to wean yourself off. Your body will thank you!