Artificial vs. Natural Sweeteners

Have you ever read the back of a package of sweeteners found on the dining table in restaurants and coffee shops?  These are the little blue, pink and yellow packages?  Some of them have warning labels that say “This product contains 28% sodium cyclamate.  Cyclamates should be used only on the advice of a physician.”  Some others say “Use under medical supervision.”  Have you ever read that?  I have to wonder why they would put these warnings on the packages.  How do we know which sweeteners are safe and which ones aren’t?  People are often surprised at how often dangerous artificial sweeteners are included in prepared foods, medications and beverages.  Here are a few surprising examples of where to check for the dangerous sweeteners: chewing gum, cough syrup, no-calorie drinks, breakfast cereals, yogurt, frozen yogurt and other frozen deserts, candies, baked goods, toothpaste and mouthwash and medications, to name a few.  If you want to learn more about any one of these sweeteners, you will have to research them individually.  There are tons of information on each one listed below.  I will also help you decide which ones are the safest to take, in my humble opinion.  Let’s look at some of them briefly but before we do, know that there are plenty of natural, healthy sweeteners available that provide essential nutrients and taste great which I will also list below.

Aspartame:  Aspartame is currently used in more than 6,000 consumer foods and drinks, and over 500 prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications.  Some health professionals say this is the most dangerous sweetener on the market.  Some of the technical names for aspartame are NutraSweet and Equal.   Aspartame accounts for over 75% of the adverse reactions to food additives reported to the FDA.  Aspartame is comprised of approximately 50% phenylalanine, 40% aspartic acid, and 10% methanol.  Aspartic Acid (Aspartate) which acts as neurotransmitters in the brain by facilitating the transmission of information from neuron to neuron. Too much aspartate in the brain kills certain neurons by allowing the influx of too much calcium into the cells. This influx triggers excessive amounts of free radicals, which kill the cells. The neural cell damage that can be caused by excessive aspartate is why they are referred to as “excitotoxins.” They “excite” or stimulate the neural cells to death.  Some side effects of aspartame include headaches/migraines, anxiety, dizziness, rashes, heart palpitations, joint pain, vision problems, seizures and much more.

Acesulfame potassium (acesulfame-K):  This is a potassium salt containing methylene chloride, a known carcinogen. Long term exposure to methylene chloride can cause headaches, nausea, emotional imbalances, and damage to the liver and kidneys.  Acesulfame-K has been shown to produce breast tumors, lung tumors, and other types of tumors, leukemia, and chronic respiratory disease in rodents.

Saccharin (Sweet ‘N Low):  In the 1970s, saccharin and other sulfa-based sweeteners were believed to possibly cause bladder cancer, and it was required to carry the following warning label: “Use of this product may be hazardous to your health. This product contains saccharin, which has been determined to cause cancer in laboratory animals.”   The FDA removed this warning, but many studies continue to link saccharin to serious health conditions. Sadly, it’s the primary sweetener for children’s medications, including chewable aspirin, cough syrup, and other over-the-counter and prescription medications. It’s believed that saccharin contributes to photosensitivity, nausea, digestive upset, tachycardia and some types of cancer.

Sucralose (Splenda): Sucralose, derived from sugar, was originally introduced as a natural sugar substitute. However, in reality, it’s a chlorinated sucrose derivative. Yes, chlorine, one of the most toxic chemicals on the planet. Sucralose was originally found through the development of a new insecticide compound and wasn’t originally intended to be consumed.  It’s uncertain as to why the FDA approved sucralose knowing the nature of chlorine. You should know too that it was approved even though the pre-approval research revealed possible toxicity of the substance.  Some of the side effects some people experience with sucralose include migraines, intestinal cramping, rashes, dizziness, bloating, acne and chest pain to name a few.

Agave: Agave is a sweetener commercially produced from several species of the agave plant. This sweetener has more concentrated fructose than high fructose corn syrup and has been shown to alter liver function, promote obesity, and increase insulin resistance for both diabetics and non-diabetics.

There are many more sweeteners that are possibly dangerous…too many to mention but know that there are also some sweeteners that are ok to have.  Here are some of them:

Stevia:  Stevia is not an artificial sweetener but actually a plant which happens to taste 200-300 times sweeter than sugar.  It has been used for hundreds of years in South America to support healthy blood sugar levels and prompt weight loss.  Today, stevia is available in liquid drops, packets, dissolvable tablets and baking blends. It has zero calories, zero carbohydrates and none of the nasty side effects of artificial sweeteners, making it an ideal natural sweetener.  You can even buy diet pop which is sweetened with stevia called Zevia.  I buy it myself and they have some great flavors to choose from and taste great.

Raw Honey:  Raw honey is a true superfood.   It’s packed with enzymes, antioxidants, iron, zinc, potassium, calcium, phosphorous, vitamin B6, riboflavin and niacin. Together, these essential nutrients help to neutralize free radicals while promoting the growth of healthy bacteria in the digestive tract.

One tablespoon of raw honey has 64 calories and has less impact on the glycemic load than a single banana. It’s important to note that these are the benefits of raw honey. Once honey has been pasteurized, it loses the many of the health benefits that raw honey brings to the table.  Look for local raw honey at farmer markets and directly from local beekeepers.   Also, the darker the honey, the richer the flavor and the greater the health benefits.

Sugar alcohols:  Sugar alcohols like xylitol, erythritol, sorbitol and mannitol have been around for decades without safety problems. But some people do experience stomach discomfort or diarrhea after eating sugar alcohols. If they give you trouble, try sticking with only erythritol, which research shows is not fermented by gut bacteria, meaning it may cause fewer digestive woes.

Coconut Sugar:  Most people have heard about the benefits of coconut water, coconut oil, coconut milk, coconut flour and, of course, fresh coconut.  Now, more and more people are using coconut sugar as their natural sweetener of choice because of its low glycemic load and rich mineral content.  Packed with polyphenols, iron, zinc, calcium, potassium, antioxidants, phosphorous and other phytonutrients, coconut sugar is versatile and now readily available. Coconut sugar is extracted sap from the blooms of the coconut and then heated. Next, through evaporation, we get coconut sugar.

There are other natural sweeteners available but the ones listed above are my personal favorites.  Give some of them a try and see how you like them too!

What Happens When You Eat Too Much Sugar

Have you heard that sugar is bad for you?  There is a lot of science now to back up what happens when you have too much sugar.  Let’s start off by talking about how the body deals with sugar.

When I am referring to sugar, I am not just talking about the white powder so let’s define exactly what I am referring to.  Everything that you eat breaks down into glucose (sugar) with the exception of meat or fat.  This includes foods like baked goods, crackers, fruit and fruit juice, cereals, vegetables, bread and so on.  It’s quite surprising how much sugar is in some foods that you wouldn’t think is high sugar like BBQ sauce and ketchup.   Soda pop is a killer for sugar.  It is 95% sugar!  In fact, one can of pop has about 16 teaspoons of sugar in it!  Candy is pure sugar as is some dried fruit.  And don’t be fooled by fruit.  Yes it is healthy for you and has lots of great immune boosting properties but it is still sugar so this is a case where it is appropriate to say the phrase that ‘too much of a good thing is bad’.  Juice is worse.  How much juice do you get when you squeeze one orange?  Not much.  So a full glass of orange juice is not only pure sugar but because you aren’t eating the whole fruit, you are losing the fiber which makes it much higher on the glycemic index.  It gets absorbed immediately in the blood stream and spikes your insulin very quickly.

Glucose is the number one source of energy for our bodies however overconsumption of glucose can wreak havoc.  Your insulin spikes to regulate your blood sugar.  Once you eat glucose, your body releases insulin, a hormone from your pancreas.  The insulin’s job is to absorb the excess glucose in the blood and stabilize sugar levels.  Today on average people are eating around 32 teaspoons of sugar every day.  A little sugar in your coffee, cereal for breakfast with a glass of juice, a sandwich for lunch and potatoes for dinner and you have over consumed sugar for the day.  This doesn’t include the dessert you ate or the mid-day or evening snacks.  It’s really not that hard to do.  For one day, count how many grams of sugar you eat.  You will be surprised how much you eat because most of us don’t think of the bread or potatoes as sugar.

What’s even more disturbing is that people are consuming excessive sugar in the form of fructose or high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). This highly processed form of sugar is cheaper yet 20 percent sweeter than regular table sugar, which is why many food and beverage manufacturers decided to use it for their products, as it would allow them to save money in the long run.  The bad news is that the human body is not made to consume excessive amounts of sugar, especially in the form of fructose. In fact, your body metabolizes fructose differently than sugar. It is actually a “hepatotoxin” and is metabolized directly into fat!

Some other devastating effects of too much sugar, particularly fructose in your diet include: liver damage (more so than alcohol), fools your metabolism by turning off your body’s appetite-control system, causes metabolic dysfunction, increases uric acid levels, causes diabetes and heart issues.

Sugar is addicting too.  The more sugar you eat the more you crave.  It takes only 48-72 hours to eliminate your cravings for sugar once you cut it out and you will gain a huge amount of energy.  I strongly recommend that you follow my low carb regime and not only will you lose weight, you will protect yourself from all of the damage that excess sugar will cause and you will feel so much better.

Appetite Control and Leptin

Appetite Control and Leptin

Leptin, the “satiety hormone”, discovered in just 1994 is a hormone made by fat cells that helps to regulate hunger.  After you eat, leptin is released into the bloodstream where it travels to the brain telling you to stop eating because you’re full.  Without leptin we could continue to eat until we explode.  Some people have what’s called leptin resistance where the brain is unable to pick up its signals causing mindless eating and overeating.  It’s also a cycle where the more you eat, the more engorged your fat cells, and the greater the risk of worsening your leptin resistance because it is your fat cells that make this hormone.  The more you gain, the more sensitive your body becomes to leptin.  Leptin resistance is associated with certain other medical conditions, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, thyroid issues, and elevated triglycerides in the bloodstream.  Leptin’s main role is long-term regulation of energy balance… the amount of calories we eat and expend, and how much fat we store on our bodies

People with leptin resistance may find that they have frequent or even constant cravings or feelings of hunger. Researchers are still working to fully understand and develop effective treatments for leptin resistance, but for now, controlling cravings is the key to combating the effects of this condition.  If you’re eating lots of sugar/carbs, or if you’re very stressed or sleep deprived, you’re more likely to feel like you have an appetite you just can’t satisfy. To beat your cravings, protein and fiber are the keys as they both keep you very full for a long time.

Reversing Leptin Resistance:  How do you know if you’re leptin resistant?  There is no set blood test done to determine leptin levels. The best test to do to determine if you are leptin resistant is to look in the mirror.  If you have a lot of body fat, especially in the belly area then you are almost certainly leptin resistant.  Leptin resistance occurs years before insulin resistance and full blown diabetes.

So what can we do?  The low carb, gluten free diet will help you tremendously!

  • Cut out grains, refined sugars and processed foods and replace them with “slow burn” foods like protein and fats so you avoid leptin spikes that cause leptin resistance
  • Increase the good fats in your diet including avocados, coconut oil, MCT oil, fish oils, butter, ghee and olive oil. Take 2,000mg-3,000mg Omega 3 (fish oils)
  • Avoid processed foods
  • Increase fiber in your diet. I recommend taking fiber supplements 30 minutes before each meal
  • Always have protein with each meal
  • Eat 3 meals per day and not snacking all day stabilizes leptin levels and avoids spikes
  • Exercise like resistance training increases leptin sensitivity so the signals can reach your brain that you’re full
  • Reduce your stress levels and get plenty of sleep

So here is yet another reason to follow a low carb, gluten free lifestyle.  Eating real low carb/sugar food, exercising and sleeping well are all lifelong endeavours that require a shift in lifestyle.

Remedies for Blood Sugar Issues

Top Remedies for Blood Sugar Issues

Do you have blood sugar issues?  Hypoglycemia, Pre-diabetes or diabetes?  As you know by now I am a big advocate of the low carb lifestyle.  Why?  If we eat too much sugar or high-glycemic carbohydrates (white rice, cakes, crackers, bread, potatoes and cookies), we experience a rapid influx of blood sugar. Our body must rush in to compensate with a spike of insulin to take care of the sudden overabundance of glucose, leaving us tired and irritable from the yo-yo effect.   Keeping your blood sugars balanced is one of the most important steps you can take for overall health and vitality as well as weight control. Besides eating a wholesome diet rich in low-glycemic whole fruits, vegetables, protein, and complex carbohydrates, you can optimize your blood sugar levels by including supplements that promote glucose balance.

Check out the top remedies to help you control your blood sugar levels.

  1. Chromium: The best form of this trace mineral is chromium picolinate. Chromium can normalize blood sugar levels, improve blood sugar utilization and decrease insulin requirements in people with glucose intolerance and insulin resistance.
  2. Alpha-Lipoic Acid (ALA): Not only is ALA a very potent anti-oxidant, it enhances insulin sensitivity
  3. Banaba Leaf Extract: Banaba leaf contains corosolic acid that helps transport glucose from the blood into cells for use as energy
  4. Cinnamon: Cinnamon is a powerful antioxidant and works to improve blood glucose by slowing stomach emptying after meals and enhancing insulin sensitivity
  5. Fenugreek: Fenugreek supports balanced blood sugar levels by slowing digestion and carbohydrate absorption. Fenugreek may also stimulate insulin production due to an abundance of amino acids
  6. Gymnema Sylvestre: Gymnema Sylvestre normalizes blood sugar by increasing insulin levels, reducing glucose absorption, and improving sugar uptake
  7. Magnesium: Magnesium increases insulin sensitivity and supports healthy glucose levels

Low carb, low carb, low carb.  Sugar is clearly the culprit to blood sugar issues.  By following a low carb diet you will not have the blood sugar spikes that carbohydrates cause.  It’s really not hard.  It’s simply a matter of being a little creative with your diet and opting not to eat potatoes, pasta, rice and bread.  These are the biggest culprits to name a few.  As much as fruit is healthy for you, it is not good for blood sugars to limit fruit to no more than 1-2 per day and stick with the low glycemic choices like berries.

Alternatives to Sugary Foods/Drinks

Finding Alternates to Sugary Foods/Drinks:

If you’re addicted to sugar or carbs and want to reduce/eliminate them but don’t know how, here are some alternatives to some of them:

Soda pop:  One can of regular soda pop has at least 10 teaspoons of sugar in it.  Many of you drink more than one can per day.  Regular diet soda is typically sweetened with aspartame however you can buy pop that is sweetened with Stevia, it’s called Zevia and you can purchase it in many grocery stores or some health food stores.  You could also get a “Soda Stream” which carbonates water or other drinks.  You can then add some lemon or you can get water flavorings but be sure they are sweetened with stevia.  Or you can purchase different flavored stevia drops from nutrition house or other health food stores.

Juice:  If you took one orange and squeezed it, how much juice do you get out of it?  Not much.  Now imagine how many oranges it takes to fill an entire glass.  One medium orange has 12 NET carbs and 9 grams of sugar.  Also, when you are juicing the orange, you are eliminating all of the fiber.  Fiber helps to slow the absorption of sugar so you are losing this as well.

Fruit:  As much as fruit is good for you, it is very high in sugar and carbs.  You should not eat more than 2 fruits per day if you are trying to follow a low carb or low sugar diet.

Candy:  Candy is pure sugar…that’s it, pure sugar.  If you must have candy, you can buy sugar free candy but be sure it is sweetened with Stevia or Sugar Alcohols

Cereal:  Cereal is very high in carbohydrates and sugars.  On average a 30g serving has between 25-30g of sugar.  Keep in mind though we typically eat more than 30g at a time so you may double or triple that amount.  If you must have cereal, choose ones that have a lot of fiber in them.  All Bran with Psyllium has 22g total carbs, 11g fiber and 7g sugar.  Subtract the fiber from the total carbs and you have only 11 NET carbs (the absorbable carbs).  You can also use a vanilla protein shake mixed with water to use as a milk substitute.  It adds protein which slow down sugar absorption.  Keep in mind though that if you are following a gluten free diet, you will need to find gluten free cereals but all gluten free cereals re very high in carbs.  You’re best to give up cereal altogether.

Sugar is Everywhere! What Do I Do?

Eliminating Added Sugar

Sugar is hidden in many foods that we consume on a daily basis, such as sodas, fruit juices, candies, and ice cream. In fact, one can of soda has over 10 teaspoons of sugar in it!  It also lurks in almost all processed foods, including breads, meats, and even your favorite condiments like Worcestershire sauce and ketchup.  You add it to your morning cup of coffee or tea, bake it into pastries, cakes and cookies and even sprinkle it all over your breakfast cereal or on your oatmeal.  It seems impossible to avoid it altogether.

Sugar is one of the most damaging substances that you can eat and we are addicted to it. But how exactly does sugar work in our body, and what are the side effects of eating too much sugar on people’s health?  An average person consumes about 32 teaspoons of sugar per day, however newest studies show that the average person consumes close to 126 grams of sugar!  What’s even more disturbing is that people are consuming excessive sugar in the form of fructose or high-fructose corn syrup. This highly processed form of sugar is cheaper yet 20 percent sweeter than regular table sugar, which is why many food and beverage manufacturers decided to use it for their products, as it would allow them to save money in the long run.

The bad news is that the human body is not made to consume excessive amounts of sugar, especially in the form of fructose. In fact, your body metabolizes fructose differently than sugar.  It is actually metabolized directly into fat which can cause a whole host of problems that can have many negative effects on your health, including insulin resistance, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, obesity, liver damage (similar to the effects of alcohol), decreased HDL and increase LDL cholesterol, elevated triglycerides and high blood pressure, to name a few!

Excess sugar also increases your risk of other diseases such as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.  Your liver metabolizes alcohol the same way as sugar.  Some studies found that fructose is readily used by cancer cells to increase their growth which allows the cancer to spread faster.  Also, there is also a growing body of research that shows a strong connection a high fructose diet and the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease through the same pathway that causes type 2 diabetes. Alzheimer’s and other brain disorders may be caused by the constant burning of glucose for fuel by your brain.

Remember too that ALL food with the exception of meat and fat, are carbohydrates and ALL carbohydrates break down into sugar in your body, which increases your insulin levels and causes insulin resistance. Remember that artificial sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose are also a no-no, as they actually come with a whole new set of health problems that are much worse than what sugar or corn syrup can bring.

Step 1 of eliminating added sugars is understanding why excess sugar is bad for your health and will sabotage you in your weight loss efforts.  Learn to read labels so you can identify hidden sugars.