Nutrition 911, Part
Four by Steve
5 Ways to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth
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Welcome to Part IV of our oh-so-basic
nutrition class designed to give you an overview of basic nutrition and make
healthy eating much simpler. In
Part I, we addressed
the terms organic, grass-fed, free-range, and farm-raised.
analyzed the ever-popular "fat-free" and trendy "low-carb" slogans. In
Part III, we took
the CliffsNotes approach to reading food labels. Now it's time for dessert.
Let's discuss some options for giving in to your sweet tooth.
Today's lesson will be
broken into three parts. First, we'll look at sugar and why you want to limit
the amount you eat. Next, we'll quickly examine artificial sweeteners. Finally,
we'll talk about healthy ways to curb your cravings.
Remember, this class is the ultra basics,
so instead of using words like saccharide and galactose, let's just say that
sugar is the simplest form of carbohydrates. It's sweet, yummy, and easy to
crave. In nature, it's found in plants. As you recall from Part 1, plants have
fiber and this minimizes sugar's impact on your system by causing it to be
digested slowly. Carbohydrates, whether from potatoes, lettuce, or Oreos, all
break down into sugars in your body, and you use these sugars as fuel when you
do stuff. So, if done right, eating carbohydrates is a good thing, especially
when you're active.
Refined sugar, the
white grainy stuff you'll find in gummy bears, chocolate, Coke, and most
desserts, is sugar minus the fiber that surrounded it in nature. What you're
left with is a sweet but highly caloric food that your body absorbs very
rapidly, causing a "sugar rush." This "rush" is a temporary imbalance in your
system that your body tries to regulatea spike of energy followed by a
But your body hates the
lull, so to bring you back up, it'll crave, you guessed it, more sugar. It's an
ugly cycle considering refined sugar's only nutritional value is similar to a
nitrous injection in a race cara quick burst of energy that burns right out.
This might be a good thing if you're in a drag race (or, in human terms, if you
need an extra burst of energy in a workout), but it's a bad thing any other
time because if you don't put that excess sugar to use, it gets stored as
line: Refined sugar is okay for sports performance (while you are
skiing, bicycling, running, and so on), but bad at all other times. Therefore,
straight sugar consumption should be limited.
Now you're probably
wondering, "So the best time to eat gummy bears would be during a marathon
instead of at night in front of the TV?" The answer is yes, absolutely.
And now you're probably
thinking, "But I want dessert after dinner!"
Right, we all do.
Something sweet after a meal, while habitual, is pretty darn ingrained in our
society. So now that we understand that sugar should be limited, let's look at
some ways to do it.
Essentially, there are a bunch of different artificial
sweeteners to choose from. Most are made of various chemical reactions that
your taste buds think are sweet but aren't used by your body and, hence, have
There are also some,
called sugar alcohols, which have fewer calories than regular sugar because
they've been combined with an artificial fiber that you can't digest. These
have "tol" at the end of their names, like "xylitol."
One, Stevia or "sweet
leaf," is natural. It's basically a, well, sweet leaf that you can chew on or
that we can grind into a powder, like sugar.
Now you might be
thinking, "This all sounds great! What's the catch?"
The catch is that they
may not be safe. The FDA has approved somebut given their track record
lately (Vioxx, etc.), we can easilyand shouldbe a bit skeptical.
With a cursory search of the Internet, you can find both pro and con studies of
each alternative sweetener. The FDA is highly influenced by lobbyists and does
not accept all viable studies, meaning that you might want more than FDA
approval before blindly trusting what you put into your body.
So let's use some logic
to try to assess how best to choose a sweetener. By adding two and two
together, we should be able stack the odds in our favor.
Saccharin is the most maligned of this bunch, yet it's been around more than
100 years and is still on the market. Sure, there is some negative research out
there, but it can't be that bad! A lot of people consume a lot of
different artificial sweeteners. If people were dropping like flies, we'd
probably hear about it.
- Research. If one of these sweeteners were so good, why
would other people keep trying to come up with better ones? From this fact
alone, we know that at least some of those negative findings must have an
inkling of merit.
The influence of big business can keep need-to-know information from the public
(again, Vioxx, etc).
or natural? "Artificial" sounds bad, and "natural" sounds good. But just
because something is natural does not mean it's good. Tobacco and opium are
natural. So the claim that Stevia is good because "it's natural" bears little
relevance. Many very beneficial drugs are artificial. However, you generally
don't want to take them habitually, which is how some people use artificial
sweeteners. Artificial doesn't mean bad, but it should mean caution.
- Anecdotal. I'm going to share two quick stories:
- First, my sister is a sweet
leaf proponent. It's time honored and natural, but lacks FDA approval. She
lobbied Starbucks for a natural alternative to Splenda (chlorinated sugar). She
got a long line of positive responses up the chain of command until, finally,
they stopped returning her calls. A short time later, her local market (a chain
that she used as an example for Starbucks) was forced to stop offering sweet
leaf with their coffee and only sell it as a "supplement." Coincidence or a
blatant case of big business (Starbucks and/or the folks who bring you Splenda)
using strong-arm tactics against someone who truly cares about your health? In
the wake of the FDA scandal, it's hard not to at least harbor a little
- Next is a female athlete that I
trained who could not lose weight, despite being in great shape and eating a
strict diet. Her vice was about 100 ounces of no-cal soft drinks per day. She
would eye double Big Gulps like a junky does crack. When we were able to get
her off the stuffshe even drank some sugared soft drinks to do
soshe lost 15 pounds. Now, I'll say this had more to do with all the
phosphorus and her body's pH balance but, still, who really knows what all
those chemicals are doing in your system?
line: There is no hard evidence that any one sweetener is better
than the others. Most likely, this stuff won't kill you. But given we also know
it's not 100% safe, it would seem wise to limit your consumption as much as
Five favorite ways to cut down sugar
consumption without ruining all of your fun:
control. I recently saw a sign in a Denny's window saying "Remember, an
apple a day" on a dessert that was an apple surrounded by about 2,000 calories
of sugar and fat. Our society has gone crazy for "bigger is better." After
dinner, your body is not hungry. You don't need 2,000 extra calories. You don't
need 200! If you savor a square of chocolate or a tablespoon of Ben &
Jerry's slowly, it will curb your cravings without a noticeable effect on your
- Don't snack
on artificial sweeteners. Gum is probably the worst snack because it
creates a stimulus-response action that causes you to crave sweet stuff
- Add some fruit to your sugar or
artificial sweetener. Fruit is both sweet and good for you. However, I
realize an apple might not be enough all by itself to satiate your sweet tooth.
But you can dress up fruit with a very small amount of "real" dessert and make
it pretty darn decadent.
- Make sure
you have some complex carbs in your diet. This sounds boring but complex
carbs, like whole grains, sweet potatoes, rice, beans n' stuff, all slowly
break down into blood sugar. If your blood sugar is steady, you won't crave
sugar. You might still habitually crave it, but that's a ton better than a
sugar crash craving, which will likely lead to bingeing.
- The protein powder trick.
Most protein powders have a small amount of sugar, a touch of artificial
sweetener, and are 90% protein. If you can find one you like (ours is
fantastic, ahem, ahem), you might be able to curb your cravings with a
high-protein snack. Chalene Johnson, the creator of Turbo Jam", uses chocolate
protein powder as a base for pudding and Beachbody Advice Staff Denis Faye
sprinkles it on cereal. If you get creative, the possibilities may be
Next class is
The What, Why,
and When About What Goes into Your Mouth