Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Fake Sweeteners and Food Substitutes

Skeptic RD, being a good skeptic,  subscribes to a lot of newsletters related to nutrition and research.  This morning this one popped up: Fake Sweeteners Might Help Keep Pounds Off

One of the first points that was made was essentially "Yes, using these as a way to reduce sugar can lead to weight loss, but not if you overeat somewhere else."  SkepticRD posted this article on Facebook with the requisite "I'll have a Supersize Fries with a Diet Coke" comment and hilarity ensued as all the skeptics made fun of people who rationalize their choice of a carbohydrate laden meal by drinking a diet soda.

But then I started thinking about how most of us who have had to change our diet for one reason or another have consciously or unconsciously played the rationalization game.  We've made statements like "as long as I find gluten free pasta to use" or "as long as my tortillas are low carbohydrate" or even the dreaded "I'll just exercise more after I eat this" only to find that we are not meeting our health and/or weight loss goals.  Now, why would otherwise intelligent, rational, skeptical people do such silly things when it comes to our health?  For some it's a time factor; it's simply easier to look at the surface than it is to scrutinize the label or it's easier to buy something pre-made than make the substitute yourself.  Other reasons we may look to the substitutes are far more complex and have to do with the fact that many of us associate certain foods with daily social or personal rituals that keep us connected to one another.  And for some people it's because they simply aren't sure where to look for good information (SkepticRD plans to do another blog post on how to sort through all the information out there in the future!)
If you are someone that has found yourself trying a lot of substitutes for foods you used to love and you are not meeting your health goals, it might be time to face up to the fact that there may not be legitimate substitutes and there may be some things that you have to give up or limit to very, very infrequent consumption.   You will have to decide what you can live with and without in order to achieve your health goals.  Here are some things to think about to help you make those decisions about what you may have to give up and what you can find substitutes for:

1) Is the substitute providing you with any actual health benefits?  Many of us who have had to go gluten free have had our fair share of gluten free bread, bagels, pasta, etc that didn't provide us with any protein, healthy fats, vitamins, or minerals.  In other words, you're eating foods devoid of nutrition that aren't going to help you feel any healthier, and in some cases contribute to a higher emptier calorie intake.

2) How much money are we actually talking about here?  If I have to spend $9.00 for a tiny little loaf of bread to make a sandwich that is gluten free and low carb, I personally would rather do without so I could spend that $9 somewhere else.

3) How much extra time am I going to be spending here?  I don't mind waiting all day to have those carnitas slow roasted in the crock pot.  I can wait to drink that wine that needs to "rest" after it ships from Napa Valley.  But make a noodle recipe from pork skins that requires me to make a trip to the butcher, slice things really fine, boil them a certain way?  Unfortunately, SkepticRD has other things she would rather be doing.

4) Does it really have a good flavor/texture?  Really?  Be honest now.  Yes, that rice pasta is gluten free, but it falls apart if you look at it funny.  Or that sugar-free dessert may leave you with a nasty taste in your mouth.  Sometimes Friends of SkepticRD have purchased gluten free dairy free cookies to help SkepticRD feel included, and SkepticRD eats them to be polite all the while wishing she just had a nice glass of wine.

5) Are there any other negative side affects to consuming this?  The negative side affects can be physical or behavioral.  For example, many "sugar-free" items use sugar alcohols (e.g. sorbitol) to sweeten and provide texture, but these sugar alcohols can have a powerful laxative effect.  I have taught a lot of classes to people with diabetes, and there is usually someone who has a story about discovering that side affect the hard way.  Some people also find that they have certain "trigger foods" that seem to trigger a week-end long binge and they wind up undoing all their hard work from the previous five days.

One final point I would like to make is this--you are making these decisions for yourself, not anyone else.  There are some people who will spend $9 for a loaf of gluten free low carb bread, and that is their business where they spend their money.  Some people love the challenge of making their own almond milk and the sense of accomplishment they get from creating something themselves, others would rather just buy it. And some people feel they can put up with the negative physical side affects in order to enjoy the taste of something (SkepticRD will still give you some good-natured ribbing over that one, but it is still your choice!).  And remember too, you will need to own up to the consequences of these choices too!

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