Artificial sweeteners-for example, Stevia and Splenda-are a wonderful blessing for some of us. We can enjoy a diet soda or sweeten our coffee without adding calories.
But artificial sweeteners have their critics. Some argue that the sweeteners are causing a host of serious health problems, including obesity. Another criticism is that the impact of long-term use has not been thoroughly researched, especially for children. Moreover, some people report a bitter aftertaste with some sweeteners. (I'm one of those people.) And some people report gas or cramps after consuming artificial sweeteners.
Dr. Andrew Weil, a leading proponent of holistic medicine, is one of the critics of artificial sweeteners. In the past, he has consistently argued against their use.
Imagine my surprise to learn of a relatively new product, Zsweet, which has Dr. Weil's stamp of approval. In the October 20, 2007 issue of Self Healing, Dr. Weil writes:
"This natural, calorie-free sweetener appears safe, and I think it's a better substitute for baking or flavoring than sucralose (Splenda) and other artificial sweeteners, which I don't recommend using.
Zsweet is a blend of erythritol (a sugar alcohol found in many fruits and fermented food like soy sauce, cheese, and wine) and other fruit extracts.
The crystalline white powder is about 70 percent as sweet as sugar, and lacks the bitter aftertaste of some artificial sweeteners.
Unlike table sugar, Zsweet is considered safe for teeth by the FDA and, unlike many artificial sweeteners, is unlikely to cause gas or cramps. It has no effect on blood sugar, so it's also safe for diabetics."
The product was introduced by Ventana Health, Inc., a small California-based company whose stated mission is to provide information and products that foster healthy lifestyles through intelligent food and supplements.
Zsweet was also favorably mentioned in the New York Times best-selling book The Perricone Weight-Loss Diet by Nicholas Perricone, MD. Dr. Perricone particularly likes the fact that Zsweet doesn't raise blood sugar levels. Since its introduction, Zsweet has been certified by the FDA as organic, is certified as kosher, and is sold at Whole Foods and other health food stores.
I value the opinions of medical professionals and researchers; however, at the same time, I value my own experience of a product. Consequently, I've ordered Zsweet from my local health food store and look forward to giving it my personal taste test.
When I quit the seven-day-a-week job that I had held for 21 years as manager of a retail operation, I decided to lose weight and get fit. In retrospect, I wonder if the stress of that unrelenting schedule contributed significantly to my obesity.
Perhaps so, because look at this article about a report that Zofia Zukowska of Georgetown University and her colleagues recently published in The Journal of Nature Medicine:
Some of us suspected it was true, but now the evidence is in. In a recent animal study, researchers uncovered a biological link between stress and obesity. They subjected mice to chronic stress-either standing in cold water an hour a day or being caged with a more aggressive alpha mouse for ten minutes a day. Then the researchers gave the mice their regular food or a high-fat, hight sugar diet (a.k.a. junk food).
According to the finding, published on-line in Nature Medicine, the stressed junk-food eaters gained a significant amount of weight after only two weeks (about twice as much as the more relaxed junk-food eaters). And the fat they gained was more likely to be the bad kind that leads to high blood pressure, early diabetes and high cholesterol.
More research on humans is needed, of course. But in the meantime, if you're trying to lose weight or keep from regaining, you might want to consider getting your stress level under control.
In the theater of life, there are three distinct roles: actor, reactor and detractor.
The actor stands on stage and creates a commanding presence. The audience is compelled, even thrilled, to observe and listen. Creating a mood and an irresistible reality, the actor draws the audience into the scene.
The reactor sits in the audience passively enjoying the performance, all the while admiring the skill and discipline of the scene-stealer. Perhaps the reactor has an impulse to get on stage and perform. But inertia or fear of leaving the comfortable seat and easygoing companions holds the reactor back.
The detractor refuses to applaud, refuses to laugh at the jokes and leaves at intermission.
Which one are you?
Do you get up each morning determined to take center stage in your life? To eat healthfully? To exercise the beautiful body you have been given stewardship of? To act in your own best interests, whether that means drinking plenty of water or flossing your teeth?
Or do you watch others move forward in their lives as they lose weight and gain a circle of new friends? Are you content to maintain the status quo even though you know the performance you are watching may draw to a close before you are ready?
Or are you the person who ridicules the "health nuts"? Are you the one who tells your doctor that since you've lived this long, you can do as you darn well please! And when the good doctor warns you about the impending consequences of your extra weight, poor eating habits and sedentary lifestyle, do you get up and walk out?
At different times, I've played all three roles. The detractor role is too negative for me to sustain long term- I'm essentially a happy person. The reactor role is one I'd love to adopt, but it isn't very satisfying, particularly when I see what is possible. In the end, I choose the stage, even if I fall flat on my face while performing.
Our choice of roles-actor, reactor or detractor-is revealed in each decision we make throughout the day. Embedded in our decisions are the consequences for our health and well-being today and all the tomorrows.
This self-awareness can be freeing. It can help us decide what to eat, whether to exercise and what kind of outlook to adopt. This same insight makes us keenly aware of the consequences that flow from each of our decisions.
Unfortunately, the choosing never ends. On a happier note, with practice and reinforcement, the positive choices get easier to make.
I'd guess that if you're reading this, you're definitely on stage with me. Let the performance begin.
Sugar comes in many forms and hides behind many names in the labels of processed and packaged foods. If you aren't familiar with its various forms, you may consume more sugar than you realize. The extra calories can trigger weight inflation on the bathroom scale. Even more seriously, for those people diagnosed with diabetes, extra sugar can raise blood-sugar levels and impact health and well-being.
Here's how to recognize sugar operating under one of its aliases:
High-fructose corn syrup
Check labels on processed foods for these names. By eliminating or reducing the sugar in your diet, you can more easily manage your weight, health and well-being. For more information, read "Sleuthing Out on Sugar" in the August 2007 issue of Better Nutrition, p.56.
Now never seems like a good time to begin to make the changes we need to make in our lives. Yet today is all we have. Yesterday is gone and tomorrow is a day away.
So what can you do TODAY?
T: Tell everyone you meet that you are going to lose weight and adopt a new, healthy lifestyle.
O: Organize a team of supporters. Enlist team members wherever you can find them. Consider your doctor, neighbors, colleagues, parents, spouse, children, grandchildren, cousins and friends.
D: Decide how much weight you need to lose, how many minutes each day you will exercise and how many calories you will consume each day. Write it down in a notebook and review it daily.
A: Act immediately. Begin today. Stick to your program no matter what. Make getting fit your first priority.
Y: Yield to your longing for a vital, trim, flexible and athletic body.
If you begin TODAY, you will quickly recover the zestful joy of living you knew as a child. A change of heart, nothing less and nothing more, will help you realize fitness beyond your wildest dreams. Begin TODAY!