How serious is your (artificial) sweet tooth?

You’ve probably heard claims about how artificial sweeteners can e better for you than cane sugar but also that they might cause cancer and other serious diseases… yikes, how are you supposed to make a decision based on those claims? Having trouble fighting your love for soft drinks and can’t decide between regular Coke, Diet Coke, Coke Zero, and Coke Life? How serious is your (artificial) sweet tooth?

Artificial sugars are a low-calorie alternative to cane sugar, or sucrose, that is used in many products we are regularly exposed to. These products are marketed by brands as being better for your health, since we can no longer pretend that sugar is good for us in the doses we consume it in. Of course, our lives would be easier if soft drinks, packaged desserts, flavored yogurts, and the many more foods we love to eat were as healthy for us as veggies and hummus. Unfortunately they simply aren’t and we can’t drink Fanta as if it were freshly pressed orange juice. From one Fit Girl to another, I have done some reading and will attempt to clear things up about artificial sweeteners.

Types of artificial sweeteners

At present there are six different forms of artificial sweeteners approved by the FDA: saccharin, acesulfame, aspartame, neotame, sucralose and advantame. These substances are chemically produced and are also referred to as “nonnutritive”, meaning that they have no nutritional value or calories but are simply used to make your food taste sweeter. These sweeteners are often found in fruit juices, soft drinks, canned fruit, frozen deserts, and anything labelled as “diet”, “light”, or “sugar-free”. You will surely notice the difference in calories in the regular and “diet” versions of the same product- think of Coke Zero with less than one calorie per 330ml can. Yet, these products taste just as sweet as their sucrose-sweetened counterparts. This is because artificial sweeteners can be up to 13,000 times sweeter than cane sugar! How is that even possible?! Indeed, neotame can be anywhere between 7,000 and 13,000 times sweeter than plain old sugar, which means that you need a much smaller amount in your food to make it just as sweet (hence, way less calories).

While this may all seem too good to be true, don’t go grabbing packets of saccharin to sweeten your afternoon tea without reading about some of the effects these sweeteners can have on your body. The debate about artificial sweeteners is a hot one especially because the FDA and CSPI (Center for Science in the Public Interest) have approved these products as safe for consumption. Also a common element of recent attempts to make unhealthy habits healthier, long-term effects of these substances are simply not yet known since the products have not been in our diets for very long.

They probably don’t cause cancer

A few of the artificial sweeteners have been associated with cancers such as bladder cancer (saccharin) and brain cancer (aspartame) in the past. In fact the US Congress required that all foods containing saccharin mention, “Use of this product may be hazardous to your health” until 2000, when the sweetener was removed form the carcinogen list. Since the majority of tests on these artificial sweeteners are run on rats and not on Fit Girls, the substances have actually never been proven to cause cancer in humans. We all know that rats can’t do burpees so it makes sense that they might metabolize artificial sweeteners a bit differently than humans.

It seems that the sweeteners cannot be said to cause cancer, but that doesn’t mean that you should rush to the store and stock up on them. While cancer is extremely serious, many other conditions that greatly affect your life are more likely to develop with the consumption of artificial sweeteners.

But they’re not great for you either

Your body and brain are powerful and complex and so is their reaction to sugars and artificial sweeteners. We won’t go into the details, but this article gives a good description if you’re interested. Since the sweeteners are nonnutritive you are essentially consuming calorie-less food or drinks which might temporarily satisfy your sweet tooth but is likely to lead to increased cravings for sweet foods later on. This means that the artificial sweeteners cannot fool your brain! Instead, they might be priming your brain to want to consume more sugary foods as they are more satisfying for your brain, no matter how many times you tell yourself that you’ve had enough servings of your favorite soft drink.

The fact that artificial sweeteners are used in products advertised as better for you than their sugary counterparts might play another trick on you- it might prevent you from associating sweet food and drink with caloric intake, something that you should try to limit the consumption of. Don’t be fooled into choosing another artificially sweetened product over fresh, nutritious food, something that has been perceived as an issue with these items. Some studies have even revealed that artificial sweeteners could cause addiction, and being dependent on something like Diet Coke cannot be good for your health as much as we wish it could be.

Another issue with sweeteners is that our consumption of unhealthy foods, be it salty or sweet, is much higher than is healthy for us. The tests run on these artificial sweeteners were run with relatively small amounts of them, so it is unknown what a large amount of these chemical sweeteners will do to our bodies in the long run. The consumption of diet sodas was associated with significant increases in the risk for metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes, diseases which artificial sweeteners were designed to help prevent in the first place.

It appears that candies, drinks, and other foods labeled as “diet”, “light”, or with “sugar-free” may end up having harmful effects on your eating habits and eventually on your health after all.

Verdict: moderation is key

Like most things in life, artificial sweeteners are most likely safe to consume every once in a while in small amounts. They will not immediately make you inflate like a balloon or cause uncontrollable consumption, but you should not consider them as healthy for you either. These sweeteners are ideal if you are not able to consume cane sugar or if you are trying to change your diet to eventually cut out or decrease your intake of sweetened foods. They can serve as a useful tool to making positive changes to your lifestyle, but keep in mind that it can be harmful if you let yourself get carried away (yes, 5 packets of Splenda in your daily Matcha latte is too much).

If you feel like your sugar cravings are not satisfied, try eating a juicy mango or a bowl of fresh strawberries and remember how tasty (and nutritious) naturally sweet foods are! Just listen to your body and be mindful of what you choose to consume, because you deserve to have a body that is taken care of so that you can dance, squat, and laugh as much as possible and not be hindered by some silly chemicals.

Sources: www.health.com, www.esquire.com, www.health.harvard.edu

How to eat less sugar?

Last week we talked about how nowadays sugar is everywhere. When you walk through the supermarket and take some random products, there’s a very large chance that there’s sugar in it. Once, sugar was only used to sweeten food or drinks, but that’s no longer the case. Not eating sugar is a really big struggle for me. Especially since it’s in all of my favorite cheat snacks ;). But, I decided to eat clean, healthy and really decrease my sugar intake. In this article I will tell you all about sugar and give you tips on how to eat less of it.

What does sugar do to your brain?
When you eat sugar, your brains releases dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical which makes you feel really good. Your brain gets addicted to this feeling and tells you to take more sugar. Sugar stimulates the same part of the brain as several kinds of drugs. You can experience some real heavy withdrawal symptoms when you decrease your sugar intake. This proves that sugar does more to your body than you know. If you want to read more about how sugar affects your brain, read this article from Fit Girl Shelley or this article from Fit Girl Annegeke.

So how can you decrease your sugar intake? I’ve collected some great tips I want to share with you.

Beauty sleep
Taking enough sleep is one of the simplest and most important ways to decrease your hunger and cravings. Research shows that when you don’t get enough sleep, your body releases an appetite increasing hormone called ghrelin.

Replace sugar for other flavors
Experiment with some different flavors instead of sugar. For example:

  • Cinnamon
  • Vanilla
  • Orange
  • Coconut

Choose savory snacks
Savory snacks are better for your body than sweet ones, because these don’t have the same (addicting) effects. Some healthy examples include:

  • Hummus with cucumber and bell pepper
  • Carrot or celery with nut spread
  • A boiled egg

Choose naturally sweet foods like fruit
There are a lot of fruits that are good for your digestion and for burning fat. For example:

  • Strawberries
  • Apple
  • Kiwi
  • Berries like blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and mulberries

Read labels
Even products from which you don’t expect to contain sugar, contain it. (Such as crisps!) Sugar also has a lot of nicknames; here are some of them:

  • Dextrose
  • Caster sugar
  • HFCS
  • Fructose
  • Fructose syrup
  • Brown sugar
  • Glucose
  • Glucose syrup
  • Syrup
  • Invert
  • Granulated sugar
  • Molasses
  • Cane sugar

Drink unsweetened drinks
No soda and ‘fruit juices’ of course; freshly pressed juice is good for you every now and then, but most juice packs contain loads of sugar. Also, try to drink your coffee and tea without sugar or spice up your water with some fruit or fresh herbs.

Cook with fresh products
Cook with pots and pans and fresh products. Prepacked products probably contain sugars and often too much salt as well. Go back to basics and create your meal from scratch.

Resist the sugar replacers
Some sweeteners are really bad for your body. It’s better to use natural sweeteners like stevia. On our website you can find plenty delicious recipes without using artificial sugar.

Check out the recipe of this fingerlickin’ good cocochoco almond muffin!

Avoid sugar in your comfort food
If it is your cheatday, try to avoid eating everything sugary that comes along. It’s better for you to choose salty food instead of sugar or else you need to go cold turkey again when your cheatday is over. Believe me, you’ll really notice some serious sugar cravings after a wild party with Ben & Jerry!

80/20 rule
Have you heard of the 80/20 rule? This rule means that 80% of the time you’ll track what you eat, 20% of the time you can eat what you want. You can compare this rule with having a cheatday every week.

Don’t go shopping for groceries when you’re hungry
When you’re hungry you will for sure buy all the bad foods you’re craving for. If you shop when you’re full, you can think more logically and will probably only buy what’s on your list ;-).

Do it together
Find a buddy who is willing to change their lifestyle together with you. It’s always nice to have someone who supports you in your Fit Journey. You can work out together and keep each other motivated.

Are you going to apply any of these tips onto your lifestyle? Or did you already cut back on artificial sugars? Share your tips & tricks with us!

 

The 5 biggest fables about sugar

Some Fit chicks have completely renounced sugar. They start with a detox diet and then decide to never-ever eat a teaspoon of sugar again. I hear this too often. But should we believe all evil ‘facts’ about this delicious ingredient? I don’t think so

1. ‘SUGAR MAKES CHILDREN AND ADULTS HYPERACTIVE’

You can probably hear your mom/aunt/grandmother say: “No, don’t give them too many candies otherwise they will stay up the whole night”. In itself this is a nice assumption, but this was never proven.  In the 70s an American pediatrician claimed that the consumption of much sugar would lead to hyperactivity in children. In combination with his claim, he wrote a large number of diet books which were sold as fast as warm bread (without sugar). Without a doubt, this was a clever marketing stunt. However a large part of what he said was a lie.

 

2 ‘TOO MUCH SUGAR CAUSES DIABETES’

This is a misconception which still a lot of people think is a fact. Type 1 diabetes – the non-generic variant, is not caused by eating too much sugar. Type 2 diabetes can occur when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin. Or when the body no longer responds to insulin. This may be due to genetic predisposition, but also it may be due an unhealthy lifestyle. This is not necessarily because of eating too much sugar, but the result of eating too much candies and unhealthy things.  In fact, candies are often high in calories and fat. Excess calories causes weight gain and when someone gains a lot of weight, this can make them be in higher risk to develop diabetes. Keep that in mind!

3. ‘SUGAR FREE IS ALWAYS THE BEST OPTION’

Nope, this is not always the case. Candies (or sweets) without sugar are often sweetened with artificial sweetener. You can often taste the difference in  flavor when you compare it to a ‘real’ candy. People often think that if something doesn’t contain sugar, it is a license for them to eat all kinds of snacks in all kinds of amounts. Just as with sugar, other sweetening ingredients can also become addictive. Also, artificial sweeteners can cause stomach discomfort. Ehmm, sitting in the toilet hours straight because you let yourself go crazy with the ‘sugar-free’ candies doesn’t sound ideal, does it?

4. ‘SUGAR IS THE #1 REASON OF WEIGHT GAIN’

Sounds plausible, yet it is not. Weight gain is simply caused by consuming too much calories. Whether they come from sugar, or from fat doesn’t matter. Too many calories are too many calories. If you want to lose weight, it is of course a logical step to cut down on sugars, because there is normally a lot of sugar on products which do not make you feel full. So you could better replace your favorite muesli with chocolate with a homemade granola with fresh fruit.

5. ‘SUGAR IS POISON’

Yes, this is perhaps the most exaggerated comment I occasionally hear. The sugar industry is something completely different than the ingredient sugar itself. What people do with sugar is indeed not always good for you. S’mores, sodas, candies, cupcakes, just to mention some. If you ingest daily a normal amount of sugar, and not drown yourself in liters of cola, you have nothing to fear. You won’t get poisoned. Thank god!

Be honest, in which of this fables did you believe before reading this post?