Artificial Sweeteners: Not so sweet after all

The next time you are about to tear open that yellow, blue, or pink packet or reach for a diet beverage, you may want to think twice. Throughout the 1900’s, artificial sweeteners seemed to be the miracle food – all the delicious sweetness people enjoy, without any of the sugar or calories. But now this “miracle food” might not be such a miracle after all. Recent research has been showing that these artificial sweeteners may be doing more harm than good!

One study of over 400,000 people found that, even though artificial sweeteners don’t have any calories, they did not help people lose weight. In fact, they found consuming more artificial sweeteners lead to weight gain and obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

How could this be possible? Less calories should mean more weight loss, right? Well, just because the sweeteners aren’t providing any calories, doesn’t mean we aren’t getting more calories elsewhere. One Harvard doctor explained that artificial sweetener consumption could cause overstimulation and desensitization of our sugar receptors, which causes people to crave sweeter and sweeter foods. It can also end up making un-sweet foods (such as vegetables) unpalatable. These sugar cravings and vegetable aversions lead to people eating more sugary and high calorie foods, which cancel out any reduction in calories from using artificial sweeteners.

Also, remember the gut microbiome I talked about in my post about Probiotics? Well, researchers found artificial sweeteners can change your gut bacteria…and not in a good way! The sweeteners increase the number of Bacteroides, an “energy hoarding” bacteria species that make it nearly impossible to lose weight. Other changes in the microbiome, caused by artificial sweeteners, make it more difficult for your body to breakdown sugar – leading glucose intolerance and diabetes.

If you are looking for any bright sides, using artificial sweeteners in place of sugar can decrease likelihood of cavities and tooth decay, and while there is a lot of hoopla around artificial sweeteners causing cancer, there haven’t been any concrete studies to prove this. But! We only have short-term studies…we don’t really know what the effects of long-term use are.

In the end, regardless of weight gain, cravings, and diabetes, artificial sweeteners are, well, artificial. I don’t know about you but I would rather avoid putting artificial chemicals in my body and stick with the real stuff (in moderation, of course) if I had the choice.

It Isn’t Only About Calories

What is the first thing you think about when it comes to health or weight loss? I am pretty sure I can guess that it is either diet or exercise. Did I guess correctly?

While diet and exercise both play very critical roles in health and body weight, there are many other things that people tend to forget about. Yep, it more than just calories in versus calories out than can impact how you feel or how much you weigh.

Here are some things to think about:

  1. Sleep –Not only can lack of sleep leave you with brain fog and feeling tired, it can also make it difficult to lose weight. Here’s why: lack of sleep increases a hormone in your body called ghrelin- your hunger hormones that tells your brain it is time to eat. Therefore, lack of sleep can cause you to eat more calories and have more cravings. Also, just like a lack of sleep makes your brain feel tired, it makes your metabolism feel tired too. That means your body doesn’t function as efficiently and you aren’t burning calories the same way as you would if you were well rested. Not to mention, it is difficult to get in a good workout in when you’re tired.
  2. Stress – When you are stressed, your body goes into the “fight or flight” response (also called “survival mode”). Just like the name, your body is doing everything it can to survive; your cortisol (stress hormone) levels increase and your body stops using your fat stores for energy. Why? Because your body thinks it needs to hold on to and use all of its energy to deal with the stress. Think about it…in evolutionary history, stress use to mean running from a dangerous situation, which does in fact require lots of energy, but now our stressors (like work and school) don’t require the same amount of energy as running from animals does. High stress and cortisol levels also cause you to crave energy dense/high calorie foods because, again, your body thinks it needs lots of energy to handle the stressor.
  3. Inflammation – Inflammation is a natural way the body protects and heals itself, but excess inflammation can cause weight gain and increased risk for chronic disease. Sugar, saturated fat, and trans fat are all pro-inflammatory foods (aka the bad guys), and more and more studies are showing dairy, artificial sweeteners, chemical food additives, and white flour are also culprits of inflammation. This means that even if you are only eating 800 calories per day worth of these foods, you are unlikely to lose weight (and you might also find yourself with headaches, fatigue, joint pain, and increased risk for heart disease and cancer).

While I am the nutrition guru and wish that all problems could be solved with nutrition, it is important to remember that there are other factors that control our weight and overall health. Try getting an extra hour or two of sleep, doing some relaxing activities (like yoga, reading, listening to some music, or taking a walk outdoors), and cutting out some of the pro-inflammatory foods and see how you feel. You might be surprised by the results after just one week!

My Experience on Whole30

Don’t mind me just sitting over here indulging in a big bowl of ice cream.

The cycle of restricting foods (and dieting) and then binging on “unhealthy” or “forbidden” foods has never been as clear to me as it is right now. That’s because I just completed day 30 (the last day) of the Whole30 diet.

After my experiment as a vegetarian for a month, I thought I would try out another diet. The lucky winner- Whole30. Whole30 is a diet designed to “end unhealthy cravings and habits, restore a healthy metabolism, heal your digestive tract, and balance your immune system”. Sounds great until you hear what is involved. On Whole30 you aren’t allowed ANY grains, legumes, sugar, sweetener (including things like honey), dairy, soy, or alcohol. What does that leave you ask? I have pretty much spent the last month eating only meat, fish, eggs, fruits, and vegetables. It got real boring, real fast to say the least.

If you catch my drift, it was not an enjoyable experience. If you have read many of my previous posts or know me well, you know that I am not one to cut any foods out of my diet – you name it, I’ll probably eat it (yes, even as a nutrition student and future dietitian I eat (and love) chocolate, ice cream, buttered popcorn, and even a loose with chili cheese fries from Detroit’s Lafayette Coney Island), so having to cut so many things out of my diet was a challenge.

In theory, sticking to a diet made up of whole foods is great, but not allowing any wiggle room leads to overeating all of the “forbidden foods” later on (aka the big bowl of ice cream I am having). Cutting out foods can create an unhealthy relationship with food, it is restrictive, not sustainable, and most of all, it isn’t fun.

So, how was Whole30?

Like I said before, it is really boring because there wasn’t a lot of variety. It was also very difficult to go to restaurants or gatherings with food since there were so many things that were off limits.

Do I feel better?

Honestly, I don’t feel any different – aside from the fact that all I want to do is eat dessert, bread, and a big chipotle burrito bowl. But also remember, my diet was pretty rich in fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins before. It wasn’t like I was starting out eating McDonald’s on the daily.

Would I recommend Whole30?

That would be a big fat NO! I see no reason why you have to cut out things like whole grain bread that is packed with fiber, beans that are a good source of plant based protein, and dairy products that are full of calcium and protein. I actually think you end up in an even worse situation after Whole30. Think about the restricting and binging cycle I mentioned — after 30 days of restricting, all you want to do is overeat/binge on the foods you avoided for a month. (It has even been difficult for me, someone who is very aware of these restrict and binge patterns, to resist eating an entire pint of ice cream and a loaf of bread right now.)

On the other hand, I do think the emphasis of fruits, vegetables, and lean protein is great! Everyone could benefit from eating a few more of these and a few less sugary and starchy foods (since they make up the majority of a standard American diet). Note that I said “a few less”, not “eliminate” the sugary and starchy foods. There is no reason why pizza and chocolate can’t make there way into a healthy, balanced diet.

I think this pretty much sums up my thoughts on Whole30. Have you done Whole30? If so, what are your thoughts?

“Should I be eating dairy?”

 

When people find out I am studying nutrition the questions immediately start pouring out, and the topic of dairy is one of the most popular. There is tons of research on both sides, so I’ll try to sum it up for you.

Evolution and Intolerance

The number 1 argument against dairy is that it isn’t “evolutionary” for humans to consume the milk made from other animals. While it is true that humans are the only species to do this, people have been consuming animal dairy products for hundreds of years, and some research shows that our genes have changed and adapted to accommodate the dairy products we consume.

While some genes may have changed, over 75% of the world’s population is still intolerant to the natural sugars in dairy (also known as lactose intolerance). This is likely due to reduction of lactase production (the enzyme used to digests those sugars) that naturally occurs as we age. Why does it decrease with age? Probably because in distant human history, people didn’t have much dairy in their diet after they stopped breast-feeding.

Calcium and Bones

Because dairy is the optimal food for growing animals, it is packed with beneficial nutrients like calcium, vitamin D, protein, phosphorus, and some B vitamins. Dairy products often get the spotlight for calcium content and bone health – which they should since it can be extremely difficult to meet our daily calcium needs from food without dairy. Several studies have shown that people who consume dairy have improved bone mineral density, and have lower risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures. But, other studies have shown that people who are lactose intolerant often have higher bone mineral density and lower risk of osteoporosis. Confusing, right?

More and more research is showing that we should really be focusing on vitamin D when it comes to bone health, but I’ll save that post for another day.

Healthy Fat

While the research on bone health is still “up in the air”, it is pretty well proven that dairy can provide a lot of healthy fats that can decrease heart disease and stroke risk. But there is a disclaimer that comes with this one. The nutrient composition of dairy can differ depending on what the dairy producing animals eat. We only see these healthy fats when dairy comes from animals that were grass fed or pasture raised. And don’t forget, you only get these healthy fats if you buy dairy products with fat in them – low fat and skim won’t have them.

Hormones and IGF-1

Finally, the infamous hormones that people are concerned about. Dairy has been shown to increase a hormone called insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1). IGF-1 is responsible for cell growth – which can be a good thing and a bad thing. It is great for healing damaged tissues and building muscle, but it also means it might help the growth of cancerous cells (that’s why so many people say that dairy causes cancer). While there are few and inconclusive studies showing dairy may increase prostate cancer risk, there are several studies showing dairy can decrease colorectal cancer risk.

In addition to cancer, IGF-1 is also the suspected hormonal link between dairy and acne, headaches, low energy, inhibited weight loss, and many more.

Conclusions

So back to the original question “Should I be eating dairy?”

Do you have digestive symptoms (like abdominal pain, flatulence, and diarrhea) after eating dairy? If you do, avoid it. You can try lactose-free dairy products be those can also cause trouble sometimes.

Do you have any symptoms of hormone imbalances (like acne, headaches, low energy, inhibited weight loss, or mood swings)? If you do, try eliminating dairy and see how you respond. Maybe it will help, maybe not, but it is worth a try.

Other than that, it is really personal preference. While there are some potential health risks, the evidence isn’t conclusive and none of the studies were gold-standard clinical trials. If you aren’t sure, maybe you try to eliminate it for a week or two to see if you feel any different and then make your decision. Remember, everyone is different so just because your neighbor won’t touch a piece of cheese doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have any either.

However, nutritionally, if you choose not to eat dairy, I would suggest a daily calcium + vitamin D supplement, especially if you are under the age of 30.

The Westside Market

IMG_9990Ever since my freshman year of undergrad, making a trip to the Westside market in Ohio City, Cleveland (a big market where you can find everything from fruits and vegetables to honey, meat, cheese, and bread) has always been an exciting adventure. A few times every year, my friends and I would wake up early on a Saturday morning and head over to the market to indulge in some fresh fruit that we could never find in the dining halls. Strangely enough, I have now lived just a 5-minute drive from the market for the past 2 months and haven’t had a chance to go yet.

Saturday morning I decided to change that. Last week in class we had a discussion about different cultural fruits and vegetables, which got me wanting to eat some exotic fruits that I wouldn’t buy on a regular basis. So, Saturday morning my alarm went off at 6:30am (yes, I love fruits and veggies that much) and headed to the market before it got too crowded and overwhelming.

I gave myself a $20 limit otherwise my entire paycheck could have quickly disappeared. With my 20, I got 2 mangos, 2 spaghetti squashes, strawberries, blackberries, bananas, a pomegranate, and a carton of eggs (and I had some change to spare). Not bad if you ask me.

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I found that not only is it a bit cheaper to get produce at the market, but it is also so much more exciting. Seeing all the bright colored fruits and vegetables lined up makes you want to buy all of them! So if you are having trouble motivating to buy (or eat) your fruits and veggies, maybe going to a farmers market can help. It creates a change of pace and scenery that can make you more excited about eating those fruits and veggies.

If farmers markets aren’t your thing, try going to a different grocery store than usual. We often get stuck in a routine of going to the same store, walking through it in the same direction, and buying the same products, but going to new places and seeing foods presented in different ways can change the way you think about them…hopefully for the better! Even if its not fruits and vegetables, changing up anything in your diet provides variety meaning different vitamins and minerals you maybe weren’t getting before. Win!

Summer Plans and Future Blogging

As promised, I am back with a summer plans update. (If you want to know what I have been up to the past 5 months, check out my last post.) Being that my Dietetic Internship (DI) starts August 7, my summer is cut a bit shorter than usual…and it is probably my last summer ever since my DI/grad school will run from August 2017-December 2018 without much of a break. That means I am planning to have a very exciting and busy summer, hopefully with some relaxation involved too!

If you know me, you know traveling is obviously #1 on my to do list. Here are the plans so far:

  • Two days after commencement, my family is going to Peru for 10 days of adventure
  • We have a long weekend in New Jersey for my cousin’s graduation
  • A girls, long weekend trip planned in Chicago with my mom and cousins
  • My grandma and I are spending a week in San Francisco and Napa in July
  • I have a trip to Boston in the works with a friend
  • And hopefully I will also be able to squeeze in a weekend visit to see my friends in Cleveland and Columbus

I’ll also be working and coaching gymnastics here and there, cooking up some new recipes in the kitchen (my goal is to make 1-2 new recipes each week, which I will share…if they turn out well, of course), trying new Detroit restaurants while I am home, and getting ready to move into my first solo apartment. I will be living in Downtown Cleveland for the duration of my 18-month program. I am excited to not only live downtown close to all the good restaurants (obviously food is #1) but also experience Cleveland from a new angle. Since I want to move to Downtown Detroit when I graduate, I think this will be a great way to make sure I enjoy living in a growing urban area.

This brings me to my plans for future blogging. Part of the reason I took a little break from blogging is that I started to run out of ideas. Between gathering images, information, and trying to figure out what the lesson from each post should be, it was just a little too time consuming and began to feel like a chore.

With that being said, I still love writing these posts and sharing my experiences with you. That means, I am still going to be posting (hopefully even more now!) but the posts won’t be so much about sharing information and research or trying to teach a lesson. I will probably be writing more about healthy (and yummy) new things I find at the grocery store, healthy and cool new restaurants I try, and my travel adventures (which obviously will include a lot of food). I’m sure there will still be tips for making healthy choices and probably some interesting food facts here and there, but those won’t be the focus of the posts.

Honestly, I’m not sure how it is going to work out so I guess we will find out together 😉

Dana

Trying New Foods

I love exploring and trying new things, especially when it comes to food. In some of my other posts I have talked about how I love going to the grocery store—it is so exciting for to see what new products I can find and new foods I can try. Going to restaurants is always a struggle because I always want to try everything on the menu.

When it comes to nutrition, trying new things is a good habit to have. Why? Here are some reasons:

  1. Adding variety increases the types of nutrients you get. Eating the same 5 fruits and vegetables isn’t bad, but it also means that you are missing out on the nutrients you can get from other kinds of fruits and veggies. Try eating a variety of different colors- different color fruits and veggies provide different types of vitamins and minerals. This goes for whole grains and low-fat dairy products as well.
  2. You might eventually learn to like something. We have all heard that you have to try a food 8-12 times before you know if you really dislike it. That’s because our natural instinct is to dislike unfamiliar foods. Our first impression is often wrong so try something at least a few times before you give it an official ruling.
  3. You might find something you didn’t know you liked. What do you have to lose? If you never try you will never know if you like it!
  4. For the world travelers like me, it makes traveling is easier. The more foods you like and the more you are willing to try, the easier it is to find things to eat in foreign countries. Plus you get to experience the local food culture instead of relying on a suitcase full of protein bars. (When I studied abroad, one of my friends was very picky so finding a place to eat was a big challenge and often took several hours of research.)
  5. It sets a good example for kids. If you spend any time around kids, you know that they want to follow your every move. If they see you eating all different kinds of foods, they are more likely to do the same.

If trying new foods is not your thing, start small. Instead of trying completely new foods, try preparing some of your favorites with new seasonings or toppings. Buying one new vegetable per week and adding it to your dinner is also a small, realistic step to expanding your palate.

While I am really good at spending hours in the grocery store finding new types of nut butter, fancy snack bars, and unique fruits and vegetables I have gotten pretty lazy about trying new recipes. So, my goal for the rest of the semester is to print off two new recipes to try each week. Hopefully I’ll make some yummy, new things to share with you!

What is your goal for trying new foods?