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Unnatural Foods

Recent research once more confirms that dieting as a lifestyle is fruitless (no pun intended!) and that “normal” eating is the way to go. A study in Behavioral Neuroscience reports that low-calorie sweeteners can actually promote weight gain. The study focuses on one sweetener in particular, saccharin, and supports research on how “diet” foods (low/no sugar/fat) may actually be making us fatter. I’m no scientist, but these conclusions make sense to me. These days we’re messing around with everything: the environment, our bodies, our minds. Yet it seems that the more we do, the worse things get. We’ve been polluting our air and water and through artificial food, our appetite.

Without going on a rant, this shift away from what’s natural makes me wonder who benefits, especially related to food. Certainly not my clients or the people who read my blogs. Or the folks out there buying into the “chemicals are better than food” myth. Perhaps the producers of these products? At any rate, this new research is important because it points us back in the direction of real food and listening to our bodies to find out when, what and how much to eat.

The problem with low/no fat and sugar products is that they intervene in natural body mechanisms that regulate appetite. The body registers when it’s had enough fat by signaling satiation. It stands to reason that a person would have to eat more no/low fat food to reach a satiation level. Regarding saccharin, University of Minnesota rats were fed yogurt sweetened with either saccharin or glucose (similar to table sugar). The rats fed the saccharin-infused yogurt gained about 20% more weight than the glucose-infused group. The explanation: it takes energy to digest food and digesting real food raises body temperature. According to the study’s lead author, “…normally sweet tastes signal to the body that it is about to receive a large amount of calories, and the digestive system prepares to react.” In lay terms, it revs up. But when it revs up and fails to receive expected calories, it “…becomes conditioned against a strong response.” That response is what raises body temperature through digestion and burns calories.

This study is only on saccharin, but researchers believe that other sugar substitutes might well inhibit natural, beneficial digestive reactions as well. For us, the implication is clear: better to have a little sugar than to load up on sugar-free foods. The broader message is that we need to stop messing with our bodies because the cure is becoming far more dangerous than the disease. Think about that the next time you go for something low/no fat or sweet but sugar free. Instead, choose the real deal.


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