The holidays are approaching, along with that spare tire that seems to appear around your waist this time of year. You've heard that sugar is the latest enemy in the war against weight gain, so maybe you're considering baking your holiday pies with Splenda or using Equal in your pumpkin latte to help avoid those extra seasonal pounds.
Want a nutritionist's perspective? Just use sugar.
No that's not a typo. If you're going to use a sweetener anyway, it's my professional opinion that you should just use regular. old-fashioned sugar.
"What?!" you may ask. "But how will I ever lose weight by using sugar?"
Well, to be fair, you won't. But you won't lose weight by using artificial sweeteners, either. There is no evidence that artificial sweeteners help anyone lose weight. In fact, they may increase weight!* Think about it: I bet you know plenty of overweight people who drink Diet Coke.
How do lower-calorie sweeteners cause weight gain? This excellent article suggests that they confuse your brain. Their sweet taste prepares your body for an insulin surge that never occurs, but your brain still craves that energy boost. You end up eating more carbohydrates to satisfy that craving - and you gain weight. According to the article's author, "In one study people who used artificial sweeteners ate up to three times the amount of calories as the control group." Perhaps that's why the obesity epidemic has perpetuated despite the plethora of diet foods on grocery shelves.
Worse still, artificial sweeteners may also pose serious health risks. Saccharin (Sweet'N Low) is carcinogenic. Splenda users have reported stomach pain, headaches and skin rashes. Aspartame (NutraSweet) affects mood and behavior, and may cause seizures, migraines, hives, and nerve disturbances* - not to mention it's link to diabetes**.
If artificial sweeteners aren't proven to make a difference in your waistline AND they're potentially toxic, then there is no reason to use them.
Don't mistake this for an endorsement of table sugar. Sugar isn't healthy - unless you're comparing it to artificial sweeteners. Sure, there are natural alternatives to sugar. You might try stevia, honey, or fruit to sweeten your holiday dishes and drinks. But the single best thing you can do to lose weight and maintain good health is to change your taste for sweets. Stop using sweeteners - even if they're natural. Once you retrain your taste buds, you'll find you don't need additives to satisfy your sweet tooth - and the pounds will begin to melt away.
It'll take timea and willpower - especially during the holidays - but breaking your dependence on sweet flavors could be the best thing you do for your health. And, it may be the only thing that makes a dent in that holiday spare tire.
-Emily Wade Adams, author of natal-nutrition.com
Sources: *Murray, M., Pizzorno, J & Pizzorno, L. (2005). The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods. Safe Eating. New York: Atria. **Ross, J. (2002). The Mood Cure. Out With the Bad-Mood Foods: Ridding your diet of emotionally hazardous edibles. New York: Penguin Books.