Informative: Sucralose (Splenda)- Good or Bad?

sucraloseThe concerns about sucralose (Splenda) are very reminiscent of the concerns about aspartame several years back, most of which were not based on even anecdotal evidence, but completely made up:


See aspartame made up story 1 and aspartame made up story 2

Sucralose was supposed to be better for the body because it was ‘made from sugar.’ Now, a number of people who consider themselves experts believe that stevia is better than sucralose ‘because it’s natural.’ Yes, stevia is *naturally derived* and might turn out to be better for the body than sucralose but it is still processed and my guess is I will be posting to address concerns about potential dangers of stevia in 5 or 10 years. The fact of the matter is we just don’t yet know whether there are any long-term effects of any of these nonnutritive sweeteners.

We do, however, know that there are immediate harmful effects of sugar overconsumption and obesity, which is why I personally continue to use these (even Splenda) in moderation. I love sweet things but I know that sweet things are usually high in calories and if I ingest too many calories I will get fat. Period. Therefore, I make the conscious decision to accept whatever risk may or may not be associated with artificial sweeteners to avoid becoming obese (which has clear health effects) because I refuse to stop eating the foods I love to eat. To this point, however, everyone needs to make their own decision.

I have been reading the studies connecting sucralose to ill effects and am personally not yet convinced because, to my knowledge, there have been no high-quality (randomized placebo-controlled trials) or long-term studies published. The ‘evidence’ raised to this point has been largely anecdotal and correlational at best. Let me be very clear- that does not mean that sucralose (or any other nonnutritive sweetener) is necessarily safe; it just means that, in my opinion, there is not yet compelling evidence to suggest that it is not. Please please let me know if you know of any scientific study that is not just correlational (eg, there is a relationship between drinking diet soda and obesity- no kidding, there is a relationship between dieting and obesity- doesn’t mean that dieting causes obesity- likely the opposite).

In sum, you should be suspicious of anyone who says that sucralose (or any other FDA-approved nonnutritive sweetener) definitely does or does not have any long term effects because that data simply does not exist. Anyone who says it does, clearly does not know how to properly interpret the scientific literature so I would be very hesitant to buy anything they were selling.

I welcome and will try to respond to comments. Stay tuned and stay healthy!

Informative: New Nutrition Labels

Do you use nutrition labels?  You should!  And the FDA is finally making it easier to do.

Nutrition labels have been notoriously difficult to interpret and most individuals report not regularly checking nutrition labels when they purchase packaged foods.  However, this is changing and nutrition labels are changing.  The nation as a whole is becoming much more conscious about nutrition and what we put in our bodies.  This is a large reason why rates of obesity at least appear as though they are starting to level off for adults (and even declining in very young children).

With this comes the first significant change in nutrition labels in 20 years!

nutrition labels

There are 3 major changes, all of them good:

1. Serving sizes are going to be adjusted to reflect what people normally consume. So you’ll see nutrition info for a full 20oz bottle of soda instead of just 40% of it (note a few companies did this voluntarily already- good job) and a cup of ice cream instead of 1/2 cup.

2. Calories are being made much more prominent. Hands down the most important thing an individual can pay attention to with regard to diet is the number of calories consumed. That’s not to say that other things aren’t important but, plane and simple, calories determine our body weight.

3. ‘Added Sugars’ has been added. Therefore, manufacturers now need to report just how much (and it’s often an insane amount) of sugar they dump into your food and drinks. Hopefully this will not only help people to become aware of just how much added sugar they are ingesting (a can of soda has 8 teaspoons, while the RDA for women is only 6!!), but also get manufacturers to start lowering the amount of added sugars.

Several other minor changes have been proposed but those are the big ones.  These are GREAT changes, and the FDA should be commended.  But…  it’s still going to be a couple years till we actually see the new labels on food products on the shelves.

Click here to see Dr. Ochner talk about the new nutrition labels on ABC News Digital.

Informative: Is Obesity a Disease?

American Medical Association Classifies Obesity a Disease

Tobese manhe classification of obesity as a disease is well-justified, as we are finding out that obesity actually has more to do with hormone levels and neural responsivity than willpower. That is not to say that individual choice is not important or that people are not responsible for what they put into their bodies. However, it is much easier for some people than others to stay thin, based on both genetics and prior lifestyle. Once someone becomes obese, and is obese for some time, it is almost physically impossible for them to regain a normal body weight without surgery. The body adopts the obese weight as if it needed to be that weight to survive and enacts biological mechanisms that defend against any weight loss literally as if the person were starving to death. The fact that obesity is now officially recognized as a disease will allow for more research to be done to create treatments that circumvent the biological mechanisms that prevent weight loss. Up until now, these mechanisms have been largely ignored.

Some obese individuals are concerned that they’re being called “diseased.” However, this is a major step forward in the fight against obesity and win for obese people in general. Until the American Medical Association classifies something as a disease (or the American Psychiatric Association classifies it as a mental disorder), very few insurance companies will reimburse for its treatment. That means that, until now, only the wealthy (who have the lowest rates of obesity) have been able to afford obesity treatment, which is typically quite expensive. We now expect obesity treatments that have been proven to be effective to be reimbursed by insurance companies. These include commercial behavioral weight loss programs (such as Jenny Craig & Weight Watchers), meal replacement programs (such as Slim Fast, MediFast and Optifast) and weight loss counseling from qualified individuals practicing validated lifestyle change (cognitive behavioral therapy based) treatments. Further, we would expect more of these programs to be offered now that hospitals and treatment centers know that the people who really need them can actually afford them.

512px-PET-imageFinally, the classification may help reduce the false stigma that obese people are simply lazy and lack willpower. It will be interesting to see whether the American Psychiatric Association will look to include obesity as a mental disorder in the next iteration of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), as there is growing evidence that obesity may be causally related to maladaptive patterns of neural responsivity in the brain.

Summary: Treatment, access to treatment, and the stigma surrounding obesity will all be improved considerably by this commendable move by the AMA.

Informative: Not So Fun Facts About Obesity

Some Not So Fun Facts About Obesity:

  1. Today, the most commonly purchased fountain drink is 1 liter, which has 30 teaspoons full of sugar.
  2. It is now statistically normal to be overweight.
  3. Obesity costs the Unites States somewhere between $100 and $200 BILLION annually
  4. For 7 million years, we have been fighting starvation. In the last hundred years we obese factssucceeded in killing more people from too much than too little food.
  5. Worldwide, 2.8 million people die each year as a result of being overweight or obese.
  6. A child who is obese at age 11 has a 70% chance of being an obese adult.
  7. The average child spends more time per year watching television than attending school.
  8. One in three children born after the year 2000 will develop diabetes.
  9. Childhood obesity is strongly correlated with increased rates of premature death.
  10. Children today have a shorter life expectancy than their parents for the first time in 100 years.

Here’s another great one: we are the first generation not expected to live longer than our parents.  Anybody have a guess as to why that might be?

Informative: Arsenic in Apple Juice?

The truth about arsenic in apple juice…

Quick background on organic vs. inorganic arsenic: Organic arsenic is naturally occurring, almost unavoidable and relatively safe.  Inorganic arsenic, however, is quite dangerous- it’s the same chemical contained in pesticides and is associated with skin lesions, developmental problems, CVD, diabetes and even cancer.  So the new regulations are for inorganic arsenic.

New level is 10 parts per billion, which is the same standard for drinking water.

Consumer groups doing a good thing by pressuring the FDA to pay close attention to inorganic arsenic levels in food.  However, concern about arsenic in apple juice is actually a little bit of a red herring. Regulating dangerous chemicals is always a good thing but the vast majority of apple juices on the market contain levels well below even the new standard, which means below that in drinking water and even in most cases, what’s found in bottled water.

Check out this clip from ABC:arsenic


So for me, I don’t limit intake of apple juice.  What I am concerned about and where I do limit intake, however, is in rice and rice products, particularly brown rice from the southern central US.  Just for frame of reference, last year Consumer Reports tested 88 samples of apple juice and the average total arsenic was right around 5 ppb (standard for bottled water).  Later that year, they tested rice and rice products and found total arsenic in the hundreds (up to > 900 ppb) in only ¼ cup of rice and the average was more than half of total arsenic was inorganic.  If you do the math, it shouldn’t take long to realize that this is a MAJOR problem!  Thus, worrying about the arsenic in apple juice is like worrying about the fat content of skinless chicken breast and ignoring the 3 lbs of bacon you had a breakfast.

Informative: McDonald’s French Fries

McDonald’s French Fries not only unhealthy but not vegetarian!

FriesNUTRITION (large): 500 calories, 25 grams fat, 63 grams carbs, 350 milligrams sodium, 6 grams fiber, 6 grams protein

INGREDIENTS: Potatoes, vegetable oil (canola oil, hydrogenated soybean oil, natural beef flavor [wheat and milk derivatives]*, citric acid [preservative]), dextrose, sodium acid pyrophosphate (to maintain color), salt and dimethylpolysiloxane. The oil used for frying also mentions tertiary butylhydroquinone (TBHQ).

*Natural beef flavor contains hydrolyzed wheat and hydrolyzed milk as starting ingredients.

Some people claim that the beef flavor comes from the milk mentioned above.  When was the last time you had a glass of milk that tasted like beef?  There is beef extract (contains beef!) and wheat and milk in the beef flavoring added to the fries.  They specifically mention the wheat and milk for liability purposes, as these are common allergens.

For decades, McDonald’s fries were cooked in beef tallow (beef fat), which gave a slight beef flavor. When they were mandated by the government to switch to vegetable oil, they didn’t want to change flavor so they started adding beef flavor (beet extract). They are NOT vegetarian.  They had “natural flavor” in ingredient list before being sued in 2001, at which point they added “beef” to the ingredient list.  Yes, it’s a tiny amount but it is in there.

Otherwise, they contain a smorgasbord of chemicals and preservatives, but who doesn’t love a little tertiary butylhydroquinone every now and then?  As freaky as it is to know you’re consuming silicone and antifoaming agents when you eat fries, the reality is the nutritional value is so dung poor that you’re likely to die from diabetes long before the chemicals harm you.

Overall: starch, oil, sugar, preservatives, salt & silicone.  Fried.  What’s not to love?

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