Archive for February, 2011

Sugar – The Newest Antioxidant on the Block?

“…sweeteners could increase antioxidant intake … similar to the amount found in one serving of berries or nuts.”

That was the conclusion of a recent study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. (Total Antioxidant Content of Alternatives to Refined Sugar, 2009, pgs 64-71).

Well, that conclusion is what I saw in one media report with the headline “is sugar the newest antioxidant?” 

We’ve talked about how sugar makes you gain ugly belly fat.  And recently we talked about artificial sweeteners.  But maybe there’s an update — let’s look at this study to get the truth.

The researchers compared the antioxidant content of unrefined sweeteners as alternatives to refined sugar.

Unrefined:  raw cane sugar, maple syrup, agave nectar, molasses, honey, and fruit sugars like date paste.

Refined: refined sugar (think white table sugar) and corn syrup
In the US, the average intake of added sugars is 130 g/day (or about 31 teaspoons per day).

Using that average intake (130 grams) as the “baseline” measurement, the researchers ranked the sweeteners below from highest to lowest levels of antioxidants:

1.    Blackstrap molasses (highest)
2.    Molasses, dark
3.    Date sugar
4.    Barley malt syrup
5.    Brown sugar, dark
6.    100% Maple syrup
7.    Brown sugar, light
8.    Brown rice syrup
9.    Honey
10.  Raw cane sugar
11.  Agave nectar
12.  White, refined table sugar (lowest)

Take home points:  When eating sugar, substitute those that are higher in antioxidants when possible. 

But of course the less of ALL sugars, the better.

Of course no sugar is a HEALTHY option or meant to replace other high antioxidant foods, like fruits.  

Read more about the dangers of added sugar

And these 3 pieces discuss artificial sweeteners

Are artificial sweeteners healthier than real sugar?

Is stevia a healthy alternative to sugar?

Is sucralose a healthy alternative to sugar?


7 Belly Fat Busting Strategies

Losing belly fat isn’t impossible.  But there surely are some "tricks" that can make it more simple.

The thought of dieting to lose belly fat is crazy — who wants to focus on everything you CAN’T eat?

Instead, these belly fat blasting tricks are focused on all the simple, positive things you CAN do to still lose belly fat FAST!


1.  Decrease the size of your plates — switch up your dinner plates for smaller, snack plates.  Same with your bowls.  Guaranteed you’ll eat less.

2.  Use smaller serving utensils and eating utensils.
  Ever tried eating with chopsticks?  You go much more slowly — same idea when your fork or spoon is smaller.  And when you can’t serve with a shovel, you’ll get "bored" more quickly and ultimately eat less.  

3.  Use candles
— heck, who doesn’t want a candelight dinner — particularly when doing so can help slash belly fat!  And it’s not because you’ll eat less to impress your date, it’s because research shows that those who eat in a nicer setting practice more portion control.

4.  Serve individual portions, not family style
— when you have the option to go back for seconds and thirds, you will (think Thanksgiving).  

5.  Brush your teeth — well, hopefully you’re doing that now — but do so immediately after each meal (and snack) to incinerate belly fat.  More food, or dessert, won’t sound so appealing with minty fresh breath (and your company will like it too).

6.  Eat with your non dominant hand
– seriously.  Go ahead and try.  It’s great for your mind, but will also slow down the speed you eat, which correlates to less belly fat in the long run.

7.  Surround yourself with positive, active, healthy people –  1 simple strategy is is sure to keep belly fat at bay.  Research shows WHO you spend time with will dictate fat loss success.

As you can see, these 7 simple belly fat breakthroughs couldn’t be easier.

These are each baby steps.  I didn’t say don’t eat X.  I didn’t say go out and start running now. When added together, these will all help you reach your ultimate goals … lose belly fat, maintain that healthy body, and have more energy than 6 year old child on a sugar high.

What do you have to add?  Share your belly fat busting secrets in the comment section!

Stevia — Hype or Hope?

Following up to the piece the other day about the safety of artificial sweeteners, time to cover another sweetener that comes from a plant and has made some serious waves in the nutrition market, as it’s commonly pitched as the "natural sweetener."  It’s Stevia.

Is IT the answer to shedding body fat healthfully?

Is it a safe alternative to Splenda and Equal?

OF COURSE — it’s natural!  

Hope you didn’t fall for that, did you? 

There a lot of "natural" herbs and other ingredients that we should probably stay away from.

Let’s find out the truth.

Stevia is a relatively new comer in terms of popularity, even though it’s been used for 100′s of years.  It’s exploded in the last few years as consumers are looking for a "natural" calorie free alternative to artificial sweeteners.

Stevia fits that bill.  Stevia’s real name is Stevia rebaudiana (Bertoni) and it is an herb native to Paraguay and Brazil.  

But, while it has been used for 100′s of year now, it has always been labeled a "dietary supplement" since it didn’t have the OK from the FDA as a food ingredient.

There were some concerns with Stevia after early studies suggested there may be some concern with its use with fertility and reproductive development and even genetic mutations!  Lo and behold, more recent data submitted to the FDA regarding the safety of a Stevia extract, known as Reb A, granted this particular extract GRAS status (generally recognized as safe).  This was in December 2008/

However, the FDA still maintained the position about calling Stevia at dietary supplement with this statement "Reb A is different than whole leaf stevia or other stevia extracts, which can only be sold as dietary supplements."  They continued "Nobody has provided the FDA with evidence that whole-leaf stevia is safe."

In fact, one consumer advocacy group, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) stands by their position that Reb A GRAS status was granted too early, suggesting not enough supportive safety data is available.

As usual, there are of course two sides to each story.  Let’s look at the pros and cons of this ingredient.


  • Stevia is about 250-300 times sweeter than sugar
  • Stevia is stable to heat, making it safe for cooking
  • Stevia is calorie free
  • Stevia doesn’t promote dental caries like sugar


  • It has a bitter taste that some may not enjoy, also making it difficult to include in large quantities (in baking, for example).
  • It’s more expensive than most other sweeteners
  • Data is mixed here – some show DNA damage with high doses of stevia intake, others show no effect at all.

From what we know now, the FDA considers Reb A safe…

If searching for this in the store, look for either "Truvia" and "PureVia" — the consumer names for the Stevia extract.

Or, you can maybe find a stevia plant, like I did, at our local farmers market. 

What do you think?  Is Stevia the next big thing in terms of sugar replacements?


Artificial Sweeteners Make You Fat

Late last year, I’m sitting in an office building with the agent of an NFL Player and the player himself.  We were working together to help the player lose weight.

While there was some initial success, he hit a little plateau.  His agent asked the player "what are you drinking?" 

"Crystal Light, diet soda, and water only.  Chris said no liquid calories."

And his agent blew through the roof — "NO WONDER HE ISN’T LOSING" he said to me, "I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU TOLD HIM HE CAN USE ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS.  Didn’t you see the report — artificial sweeteners cause you to GAIN weight more than regular sugar!!!"

And that’s when it got a little awkward in the room.

But that’s how the meeting started.  And I’m now put on defense to defend my position…in front of the player himself who I did in fact tell "no liquid calories" because soft drinks and slurpees were a regular addition to the daily diet.

In another post I talked about if you should use Stevia.  And just last week I talked about the new study suggesting artificial sweeteners cause heart disease.  But now we’re shifting our focus to cover some more specifics about sweeteners — and there are a bunch, like Acesulfame potassium (Ace-K), Sucralose, Saccharin,  and Aspartame. 

Are they a better option than calorie containing sugar options when trying to lose weight and burn belly fat?

Let’s delve into them a bit and discuss some of the realities and myths with calorie free sweeteners.

Each of the artificial sweeteners has an "acceptable daily intake" (ADI) — meaning according to the FDA, you should not consume MORE than the amounts listed below per day.

  • Aspartame (Nutrasweet, Equal) = 18-19 cans of diet cola
  • Saccharin (Sweet ‘N Low) = 9 to 12 packets
  • Acesulfame K (Sunett, Sweet One) = 30-32 cans diet lemon-lime soda
  • Sucralose (Splenda) = 6 cans diet cola

Fair enough?  Now depending on who you talk to, or what you read, you’ll hear all different opinions — "I only use sucralose, because xxxx" or "stevia is natural, so I use that…"

If you look at the values above, you may notice that according to the ADIs, the max for Splenda is just 6 cans of diet cola/day, whereas Equal is 18-19 cans.  Does that mean Splenda is more of a concern than Equal?  It might.

But as a side note, if you’re drinking THAT many diet colas/day, your diet needs an overhaul as there are absolutely zero positive qualities to diet colas (or any diet soda for that matter).

Let’s cover a few of these in more detail.  

Sucralose (Splenda):

While this one has received safety approval from the FDA, it’s surely not without controversy.  Picking sides with this is like jumping in to the Health Care Reform debate!

But I’m ready to go for it.

First, the upside of Sucralose:

  • it has virtually no aftertaste
  • it’s stable when heated so you can cook and bake with it
  • it’s stable at different acidities (pHs) so it can be added to things like lemon juice without affecting its sweetness
  • it has a proven track record of safety in many research studies.


  • anecdotally (meaning personal stories) have tied intake to migraine headaches
  • may affect healthy bacteria in the gut, according to animal data
  • it may cause weight gain? 

This last one is a bit more controversial.  In a nutshell, one study using rats fed them different quantities of sucralose.  At the end of the 24 week study, the rats consuming sucralose gained weight compared to the ones that didn’t take any in.  And that’s the study this players agent was referring to.

Weird.  Zero calories, how can it cause dangerous belly fat to creep up on us?

I will say at this time I’m not impressed with the data showing artificial sweeteners cause us to gain belly fat … I clearly need to see more research to support this theory. The thought was that while artificial sweeteners themselves don’t have calories, they "trick" the body into craving more sweet foods…

…voila, belly fat and overall weight gain is through the roof.  

It’s correlation data, but if I remember anything from statistics, it’s that correlation doesn’t mean causation.  In a nutshell, the correlation that those who used diet soda weighed more doesn’t mean the diet soda itself caused them to gain weight.  More research clearly needs to expore this.  Keep in mind, also, that the doses used in this particular study were very high if we tried to extrapolate these findings to humans.  At this point I just don’t buy into that conclusions of this data and am surely calling for more.  That’s what I said to this players agent.

Again, another red flag for me here is that the "maximum" recommendation is 6 cans of diet cola — for some, that’s a ton, but for others, that’s breakfast.  Regulate your intake!

By the way, the agent and I never did come to an agreement — I’m still 100% confident that to have a person switch from 1-2L of regular soda each day (what this player drank) to diet soda is a huge positive step.  Perfect?  Nope.  Better.  Absolutely. 

Aspartame (Nutrasweet, Equal):

You’ve seen the little pink packets … pink packets of poison, according to some.  Like the others, this has the stamp of approval from the FDA.  But opponents of this suggest it causes migraines, causes cancer,brain tumors, and evil belly fat.

Like the others, the research is mixed — some studies show a negative effect, others show a positive effect.  

I hate to give the "more research is necessary" answer, but, well, it’s the best answer to give.

I talked about my feelings on the weight gain and artificial sweeteners with sucralose.

As for cancer — it’s a hard one to pin down.  These data are all done in animals, usually given very high doses, to see what happens.  

For some reason the review boards look very unfavorably at loading up humans with artificial sweeteners and seeing if they cause cancer (please read that with the intended sarcasm); therefore, we’re reliant on animal data.  But even if there is that chance, that concerns me … stamp of approval or not!

Like I mentioned in another blog about sugar and high fructose corn syrup, I don’t like the idea of artificial … I don’t want artificial ingredients in my body and try to limit them as much as possible.  I do that by knowing what I’m eating, being able to pronounce all ingredients, and eating foods as close to the earth as possible. 

With that said, I AM supportive of making the transition to calorie free drinks if someone is a regular soft drink (or juice, or sweetened tea) drinker

But as a whole, artificial sweeteners aren’t a favorite.  

We also have yet to find one without an off flavor.  Call us crazy, but we want to eat a food that, well, tastes like food — not have some bitter aftertaste that’s CLOSE to being real, but not quite there.

I’d personally rather have a REAL sweetener, infrequently.  Moderation.  That’s a very unsexy word in marketing and the media, but it’s true. 

You want a cookie? 

Eat a cookie — occasionally. 

Is a fat free, sugar free, calorie free flavored chocolate chunk piece of cardboard REALLY going to help out your desire for a cookie? 

Not a chance. 

Eat the real thing, on occasion, then get over it.  Fair enough?

Eating real foods is what will help you live as healthfully as possible, burn belly fat, and look and feel great!


4 Ways to Speed Up a “Slow” Metabolism

I’m in a conversation with someone the other day who is trying to lose weight.

She admittedly wanted to lose just 15 lbs, so she was clearly not obese…but she’s struggled with that same 15 lbs for years.

Lose 10.  Gain 8. 

Lose that same 8.  Gain 12. 

And from what she said, this pattern has gone on since she had her first daughter, 10 years ago.

She was concerned that as she continued to get older, her metabolism would slow …

…and wanted to know how she can speed up a seemingly slow metabolism.

We hear this regularly – my metabolism is slooooooow, I eat virtually NOTHING all day, yet can’t lose a pound!

So how do you speed up a "slow" metabolism?

One, keep in mind that the larger a person is, with muscle OR fat, the higher their metabolism.  That being said, muscle does increase metabolism more than fat, but not by much. 

  1. Build muscle.  But, don’t get too excited about this — for every 1 lb of muscle, research shows there’s just about a 9 calorie/day increase in metabolism — that’s not much.  But that shouldn’t discourage you; the benefit comes from shaping those muscles as you’re losing fat through changing your diet.  Of course it all adds up, though, so while 1 lb of muscle doesn’t offer a huge calorie benefit, adding on more muscle than that does.  And there are a million other benefits to building muscle as well, so keep training!
  2. The other way to speed metabolism is to eat.  More.  When you eat, your metabolism increases to digest and use the food.  Particularly when you have some protein with each meal.  Protein does more to boost metabolism than either carbs or fat.  So make sure each meal includes a little protein — fish, eggs, chicken, turkey, nuts, beans, etc. 
  3. Eat breakfast.  Simple and it stokes your metabolism in the AM.  Combine this one with #2 (including protein) and you’ve got a win win.  In fact, there’s some solid data suggesting eating eggs in the morning boosts weight loss above and beyond choosing a bagel. 
  4. Increase the intensity of your workouts.  Long, slow cardio sessions do little to nothing when the workout is done.  On the other hand, shorter, harder intensity exercise bouts cause a much longer increase in metabolism, even hours after your workout is over!  In fact, a study out just this week showed a 14+ hour increase in metabolism after a high intensity bout of exercise.  This boost burned an additional 190 calories!  Now that will add up.  There’s a reason sprinters are in such fantastic shape!  They train properly!

There you have it — 4 simple strategies to boost a lagging metabolism!

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