Tag Archives: food

Why Artificial Sweeteners Make You Fat: What Do We Do Now?

SodaWe’ve been hearing for years that artificial sweeteners are bad for you and can actually cause weight gain. This flies in the face of logic. After all, if you’re consuming fewer calories than you would if you were using sugar or honey, how could they encourage weight gain? And just how bad are they for you in other ways? We decided to stop asking ourselves these questions and get down to what appears to be the truth of the matter.

Artificial sweeteners have been around for more than 130 years; saccharin was developed in 1878 from coal tar derivatives (yum!). It didn’t enter widespread use until WWI, due to sugar shortages. But artificial sweeteners experienced a huge boost in popularity in the 1960s and 1970s, as new sweeteners were introduced to satisfy the sweet tooth (teeth?) of dieters.[1] The rising tide of American obesity increased in step with the increase in consumption of artificially sweetened products, particularly diet sodas.

Artificial sweeteners have been controversial and subject to scrutiny almost from their inception. The USDA began investigating saccharin in 1907, and then proceeded to flipflop, proclaiming it an adulterant in 1911, then stating in 1912 that saccharin was not harmful to human health.

Cyclamates underwent similar scrutiny by the FDA in the 1960s, and is still banned in the U.S., spurring the development of alternatives such as aspartame and sucralose. Artificial sweeteners are in widespread use today in sodas, candies and other processed foods, as well as available on (almost) every restaurant table in America. Some, like stevia, claim to be derived from natural sources, the implication being that they are better for you than completely laboratory-derived products. (Most stevia products are actually highly processed.)

The basis for the story that artificial sweeteners promote weight gain comes from a study at Purdue University.[2] Rats were fed yogurt sweetened with glucose (table sugar) and compared to a group of rats fed yogurt sweetened with zero-calorie saccharin. Three different experiments were conducted to see whether saccharin changed the rats’ ability to regulate intake of calories. The saccharin-fed rats later consumed more calories, gained more weight, put on more body fat and didn’t make up for it by cutting back on calories. This phenomenon occurred at statistically significant levels.

The researchers postulated that when the body detects sweetness, it gears up to consume a high-calorie food. When the false sweetness is not followed by the anticipated calories, it confuses the body’s connection between sweetness and calories. This leads to increased intake of calories and a blunted satiety response to overeating, leading to increased accumulation of fat.

Of course, these were rats, not people. Other studies have shown that at some level, the brain can distinguish between real and artificial sweeteners—but not, as it happens, if the person regularly consumes diet soft drinks. A diet soda drinker’s pleasure center in the brain will respond equally to either sucrose- or artificially sweetened sodas. Activity was diminished in an area of the brain called the caudate head in diet soda drinkers. Decreased activation of this area is associated with elevated risk of obesity.[3]

So far, we’ve learned that artificial sweeteners may blunt people’s satiety response, but that if they come in the form of diet soda, this effect may be worsened. Is there anything else out there to worry us about artificial sweeteners?

Although there have been many hoaxes perpetuated around artificial sweeteners and their alleged danger to human health, according to the FDA, all sweeteners currently on the market have been conclusively proven safe for human consumption.[4] There is no credible evidence that any of these sweeteners cause toxic reactions, cancer, seizures, or any of the other claims that have been lodged against them.

However, there is ample evidence they can make you fat. What more do we need to know? Artificial sweeteners are products that do the exact opposite of what they were intended to do.

So what alternatives do we have? We know that sugar isn’t good for us, and we know that high fructose corn syrup is worse. Sugar alcohols (which are not alcohols) can raise blood glucose levels, although not usually to the level of sugar. Sugar alcohols (including maltitol, sorbitol and xylitol) can also cause gastric symptoms, especially in children.[5] Honey is no better than sugar, healthwise, especially if processed (raw honey may confer some health benefits in the form of trace minerals, vitamins and phytochemicals).

Fortunately, there are a number of alternatives for sweetening the morning cup of tea or coffee. Which you choose depends on your personal taste, plus where it falls on the glycemic index. Diabetics in particular need to find a low-glycemic-index sweetener they can live with if they wish to avoid artificial sweeteners.

Brown rice syrup. This has a distinct malty or nutty flavor. It falls high on the glycemic index at 85, which makes it unsuitable for diabetics. It does contain minute traces of arsenic because brown rice contains minute traces of arsenic, but not enough to harm you unless you’re really chugging the stuff—in which case, you might have other worries.

Coconut palm sugar. This is a pale brown, granulated sugar made from the sap of coconut palms. It has a pleasant, light flavor and is relatively low on the glycemic index at 35.

Barley malt syrup. This is derived from malted (sprouted) barley that is cooked until the starch converts to sugar. It comes as a syrup or powder and is 42 on the glycemic index.

Agave nectar. Made from the juice of the blue agave plant (the same plant used to make tequila). It’s low on the glycemic index, between 15 and 30, depending on whether you are using raw or refined syrup. The raw syrup is darker and has more flavor, while the refined is a light color and has less flavor.

Stevia. Stevia is 0 on the glycemic index although it is 200-300 times sweeter than table sugar. It is touted as a natural product, but the white powder you put in your iced tea is in fact the product of an intensive refining process (and may also contain maltodextrin, which is highly processed and may elevate blood sugar[6]). There are liquid tinctures of stevia available that are not highly processed.

The sweeteners mentioned here are widely available, affordable, and palatable to most people (although some people react strongly to the taste of stevia). Find out more about sweeteners and where they fall on the glycemic scale at http://www.organiclifestylemagazine.com/healthy-sugar-alternatives/

Can We Fight Diabetic Neuropathy with Your Help?

Diabetic neuropathy is one of the most hideous symptoms of a devastating disease, and can result in loss of limbs and eyesight, debilitating pain—and even death. I’m about to ask a favor of anyone reading this who is diabetic, but first, a brief description of diabetic neuropathy for those who haven’t already learned about it.

There are various kinds of neuropathies, or damage to the nervous system, that can result from diabetes. In diabetes, neuropathies are believed to be caused by long-term exposure of the nerve cells to high blood glucose and possibly by low levels of insulin.[1] Symptoms of neuropathies depend on the type of nerve damage:

Peripheral neuropathies, the most common, cause pain or numbness in toes, feet, legs, hands, arms, or fingers.

Diabetic autonomic neuropathy  (DAN) affects the autonomic nervous system and may cause changes in digestion, bowel or bladder function, sexual response and perspiration.

Cardiovascular autonomic neuropathy (CAN), one of the most serious versions, damages the nerve fibers that control the heart and blood vessels, resulting in cardiovascular disease.[2]

Proximal neuropathy causes pain in the thighs, hips or buttocks and leads to weakness in the legs.

Focal neuropathy results in the sudden weakness of one nerve or group of nerves, causing pain or weakness in that area. While painful, focal neuropathy usually does not lead to more severe, long-term problems.[3]

The most insidious aspect of diabetic neuropathy is that by the time you experience symptoms, the nerve damage is already done. Various therapies are available for treating the symptoms and slowing nerve damage, but the best of all approaches is PREVENTION. The best prevention is keeping blood sugar under control, but as the nerve damage often takes place long before you notice symptoms, wouldn’t it be great if there were some way to detect the onset of neuropathy before damage has been done?

While neuropathy testing has been added to the treatment recommendations of the American Diabetes Association, testing for diabetic neuropathy is usually not a part of your annual or biannual visit to the doctor. (If it is, we applaud your physician!) Neuropathy is usually diagnosed after you have developed symptoms—by which time, it is too late to reverse the damage; it can only be managed.

There is, however, a way to test for diabetic neuropathy that is non-invasive, not painful, and easy. Heart rate variability (HRV) can be used to identify nerve damage in very early stages, which would allow diabetic patients to seek help from their physicians before greater damage has occurred. (For an explanation of HRV, download our whitepaper on HRV or see the article on HRV in Wikipedia.)

SweetWater Health is working on an iPhone app that would allow diabetics to test themselves at home as often as desired (though twice a year is usually sufficient). The app would require the purchase of a compatible heart rate monitor such as athletes use, usually priced under $100. You would perform three simple physical exercises while wearing the monitor and the app will tell you if you are experiencing damage to your nervous system.

Now for the favor. If you are diabetic and are interested in the development of such an app, please go to http://www.sweetwaterhrv.com/dan.php and let us know. Your input will help us by letting us know there is a genuine need and desire for such a product. You can also sign up for more information about the product and volunteer to be a beta tester if you want.

Sincere thanks for taking the time to help us help you!

[1] National Diabetes Clearinghouse, http://diabetes.niddk.nih.gov/dm/pubs/neuropathies/

[2] “Diabetic Cardiovascular Autonomic Neuropathy,” A. Vinik, MD, PhD, FCP, MACP; D. Ziegler, MD, PhD., FRCPE; Contemporary Reviews in Cardiovascular Medicine, Jan. 22, 2013.

Canola Oil: Why Not Just Drink Gasoline?

Fat, fat, fat, fat. So much controversy swirls around various forms of fat. First we’re told coconut oil is deadly—then it’s a healthy miracle food. Then we’re told butter is poison—but now, it, too, has assumed the virtuous glow of health. Margarine is the healthy butter substitute—but now we hear it clogs your arteries. Olive oil, once eschewed by American cooks because it added flavors to food, is now lauded by American cooks because it adds flavors to food (and it’s good for you).

So what about the humble kitchen standby for cooking, canola oil? It’s tasteless and it contains high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, so it should be good for you, right?

Well, apparently not so much. Canola oil is not only bad for you, it’s horrendously bad for you.

Let’s start at the beginning. Have you ever seen a canola plant? No, you haven’t, because there is no such thing. The word “canola” was made up. Originally, it stood for “Canadian oil low-acid.” This is because growers in Canada believed, with good reason, that Americans would not want to eat something called “rapeseed oil.” It also sounded like “granola,” so the producers reasoned it would be perceived as a healthy food.

Rape is a member of the mustard/cabbage family. It has pretty, bright yellow flowers. It’s grown for its seeds—but unprocessed rapeseed has never been used for food, as has mustard seed. That’s because the seeds contain as much as 45% erucic acid, which is a poison. Insects won’t eat the seeds, and natural, unprocessed rapeseed is poisonous to humans and other animals. It causes deposits of fatty acids in the heart and thickening of the cardiac walls, which can lead to valve dysfunction and heart failure. Erucic acid can cause these effects even in quantities as small as 2%, which is the percentage of erucic acid allowed in canola oil in the United States. Rapeseed also contains glycosides, which interfere with thyroid functioning.

Growers have genetically modified the rape plant to produce lower concentrations of erucic acid and glycosides, but the oil must still be processed before it meets the standards set for food-grade oil. Using heat and hexane (and other solvents) strips more of the erucic acid from the oil, but turns the omega-3 fatty acids rancid. These are solidified and removed by partially hydrogenating the oil, which produce free radicals and some trans-fatty acids (known to create fatty deposits on arterial walls).

When Canadian researchers fed formula containing canola oil to piglets, the piglets developed vitamin E deficiency, even though the formula contained sufficient vitamin E for their nutritional needs. Vitamin E deficiency can lead to a boatload of health problems including anemia, muscular weakness, increased risk of heart disease and cancer, and more.

So what has been marketed to the North American public as heart-healthy oil, high in omega-3 fatty acids, is actually an unhealthy, genetically modified trans-fat that can damage vital organs, deplete vitamin E and promote disease. And it’s everywhere. Even if you don’t use it for cooking, canola oil is in many thousands of processed foods such as salad oils, baby foods, sauces, marinades, canned foods, baked goods, and so on.

So I don’t know about you, but when I learned this, I went through every bottle, can and jar in my kitchen and read the ingredients. Anything that contained canola oil went into the trash, never to be purchased by me again. If you want more details, there’s an excellent article in the November-December 2012 issue of Wellbeing Journal entitled “Canola Oil: Is It Healthy?” by Brian Fife, ND. It’s a pretty scary article—and I bet you, too, will clean out your kitchen after reading it!

Five Things You Didn’t Know About Losing Weight

We have been told for decades that losing weight was simple: eat fewer calories and exercise more so that you burn more calories than you consume.


If losing weight (and keeping it off) was simple, don’t you think that we would all be slender? But those of us who have struggled with weight loss, those of us who have lost weight only to put it all back on again—sometimes with interest—have long suspected that weight loss and sustaining healthy weight is not so simple as we have been led to believe.

Recent research has shown that there is indeed more than meets the eye when it comes to losing weight. Here are a few of those recent findings:

1. The Role of Stress. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that stressed-out mice that had a history of quick weight loss due to dieting (imposed by the researchers, not by the mice) ate more high-fat foods than stressed mice that had not been made to diet. The study found that the stressed dieters had higher levels of the stress hormone corticosterone, and were more likely to exhibit “depressive” behavior than their non-dieting brethren. Even after the dieting mice were allowed to eat as much as they desired and had returned to normal weights, the changes in their brains respond to stress persisted.

Lesson Learned: while this study has not yet been tried on human subjects, it indicates there may be a link between quick weight-loss diets and a permanent change in the way the brain responds to stress. This may explain why so many people become “yo-yo” dieters, losing and gaining weight over and over again.

2.  Weight Loss Reduces Risk of Cancer. Moderate weight loss can reduce levels of inflammation that have been linked to the development of certain cancers, according to a study published in the May 1, 2012 issue of Cancer Research. The study was done on a group of post-menopausal women whose goal was to lose 10% of their body weight. During the one-year study, cancer-reactive protein levels dropped by about 36% in the women who only dieted, and about 42% in women who dieted and exercised. The researchers said that obesity drives inflammation, and inflammation drives the development of cancers, particularly cancers of the breast, lung, colon, and endometrial cancer.

Lesson Learned: Even modest weight loss will reduce the risk of some common cancers. Diet and exercise combined are the most effective ways to lose weight.

3.     Not All Calories Are Equal. A 2011 study at Harvard University showed that calories from potatoes (especially French fries, of course), red meat, and soda will cause more weight gain than the same number of calories consumed by eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, poultry or fish. The study followed 120,000 non-obese, healthy Americans for up to 20 years.

Lesson Learned: It’s not just how much you eat—it’s also what you eat. Potatoes, sugary drinks, red meats, and refined carbohydrates (such as sugar, corn syrup, and white flour) will put on more poundage than fish, fowl, fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

4.     Sleeping Helps Lose—or Gain—Weight. The same study from Harvard found that study participants who slept less than six hours or more than eight hours a night gained more weight during each study period than those sleeping around seven hours a night. According to Michael Breus, PhD, author of “Beauty Sleep,” sleep deprivation increases levels of the hormone ghrelin, which stimulates appetite, and reduces levels of leptin, which tells us when to stop eating.

Lesson Learned: Aim at getting about 7.5 hours of sleep a night to avoid creeping weight gain.

5.     You Can Predict When Willpower Is Low. Every dieter has experienced this scenario: You are invited to a party where you know there will be lots of yummy and fattening food. You talk to yourself firmly about sticking to the vegetable crudités. But when you get there, the food is so beautiful and delicious-looking, and all home-made, too—and you wind up eating your day’s allowance of points or calories long before it’s time to go home.

How do you know when your willpower is going to let you down? If you monitor your heart rate variability (HRV), you can predict when your willpower is strong—or weak. When HRV levels are high, so is your will to resist. When HRV is low, your willpower will be low, as well. So if you monitor your willpower before that party and see it’s down in the dumps, you can give it a helping hand. You could eat before you go to the party, for instance. Or you could decide to stay home and avoid temptation altogether. HRV can be measured easily at home or on the go with SweetBeat™, an iPhone app, plus a compatible heart monitor (widely available in sporting goods stores or at http://sweetwaterhrv.com/store.html).

Lesson Learned: Willpower and HRV are tightly coupled. When HRV is low, don’t put yourself in a position where you know you will be tempted to go off the diet. The more we learn about weight loss, the more likely it is that we will be successful at it. Losing weight is hard; make it a little easier by using real data to give yourself a break.