Be Fit For Life

with Ellen Cohen-Kaplan

Is sugar (real or artificial) really that bad for you?

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artificial sweeteners

artificial sweeteners

maple syrupmaple syrup



Many of you likely join me in the dubious distinction of having a sweet tooth.  My favorite treats are chocolate chip cookies, rugelach, pie, frozen yogurt and…..-the list goes on. I don’t bake, don’t keep sweets in the house (except for an embarrassingly huge trove of girl scout cookies that made their way into our house through weak moments by my husband, son and myself). I have the mental will power to refuse dessert on a regular basis at restaurants and at events, but the constant exposure to sugar within my house is too much to resist.

Why bother worrying about this? A new study in JAMA online this week looks at the harmful effects of sugar. Sugar has a deleterious effect on so many systems, the net result leading to an increased chance of heart disease. New evidence suggests that sugar causes  inflammation in many tissues of the body, diminishing the immune response and causing pain in joints and muscles. Check out this article for more details.

Here are a few ways I avoid excess sugar in my diet.

  • I avoid eating any packaged food with high fructose corn syrup, a particularly pernicious and until recently almost omnipresent form of sugar.
  • I  keep very limited amounts of foods with processed sugar in my house
  • any sugary foods I do buy are ones that other family members like, but I can resist
  • when I have a sugar craving I turn to fruits that are very sweet like mango, pineapple,  melons and berries
  • when I’m in the mood for something sweet but am not hungry, I’ll brew some herbal tea and add some honey
  • I tell myself the vast majority of packaged sweet foods are “not my food” much the same way a person keeping kosher tells herself shellfish, pork, and other non-kosher foods are not “her foods”
  • I’m aware of calorie counts so it limits my intake of sugary foods when I do indulge- this goes a long way toward helping me keep my portions very small
  • I’m always on the prowl for recipes that are savory with low to moderate calorie counts that keep cravings at bay- often cravings occur because you haven’t taken in enough nutrients and your palate will be more satiated with wholesome, tasty foods. Examples of this are lentil soup and turkey chili- there’s plenty of variety in them, they contain protein and vegetables and have lots of spice and interesting flavors

“What about artificial sweeteners?”  you may ask.

Truvia and Stevia have been the sweethearts of the artificial sugar industry of late, and no negative effects are associated with their usage.  Also there’s been no definitive evidence  that saccharine (sweet and low) and sucralose (splenda) cause cancer, despite research (largely debunked) from decades ago that point to a link between them and cancer in laboratory mice.

This Mayo Clinic article was the most thorough and summarized the latest findings objectively. In a nutshell, artificial sugars are largely safe in small doses, should be limited in your diet, and as usual, whole foods with naturally occurring sugars are best for you.

So, once again, moderation is key, and wonderfully sweet foods can be found in abundance in nature. Think sweet potatoes, sautéed vidalia onions, carrots, and roasted root vegetables like beets. Most fruits are sweet, and I’m sure you have your favorites, so stock up and you’ll always have something available to satiate those cravings that have you feeling helpless in their wake!

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