Artificial Sweeteners Decoded

People ask me about artificial sweeteners all the time. It’s like I’ll be walking down the street and next thing I know I’m being harassed by some stranger about how many Splendas I have in my coffee. Or like on Thanksgiving, my aunt I hadn’t seen in a year didn’t even ask me how I was or how school was going, all she wanted to talk about were the health effects associated with acesulfame-K consumption.

Ok, so none of that ever happened, but I really do get a lot of questions about sweeteners, their safety, if I use them, and how much. Let’s start this post with complete transparency: Yes, I use artificial sweeteners. Specifically, I use Splenda because I like the way it tastes and I know its level of sweetness (yeah, sweeteners have varying levels of sweetness compared to sugar). I put Splenda in my coffee, Fage 0% Greek yogurt, my oatmeal, and I bake with the granulated version.

Enough about me, let me sweet talk you.

If you read The Slender Student then you’re obviously beautiful, charming, patient, charismatic, caring, well-rounded, and interested in health. Since you’re interested in health, you’ve probably seen some studies that conclude with sweetener consumption causing cancer (or Alzheimers, or multiple sclerosis, or high blood pressure, or male pattern baldness). Let me tell you three things about these studies: 1) they’re outdated; 2) they were performed on rats; 3) said rats were consuming multiple times their body weight in sweetener.

More recent studies have revealed less alarming results and have led the FDA to set an acceptable daily measure, or ADI, for the accepted sweeteners. See in the graphic above. These limits have an added safety net in that they’re actually set to 100 times below the amount it’d take for one to be harmed.

In the first talk I gave at a sorority house, I was asked if I knew anything about the consumption of artificial sweeteners causing increased sugar cravings. I told her I’d never experienced such a thing, but that I’d look into it. In some studies, there has been no increase in body weight associated with an increase in sweetener consumption. In another study, body weight of obese individuals did increase with artificial sweetener consumption. However this relationship is believed to be a correlation, not causation. This could mean a couple of things. First of all, the study was performed on obese people, meaning that these subjects already exhibited behaviors or other factors that lead to weight gain. I mean, they could’ve already been on the weight gaining track without any change in their sweets. Secondly, individuals might use their switch to sweeteners to justify other poor health choices: “Well since I didn’t pour three spoonfuls of sugar in my coffee, I can have this Big Gulp of Dr. Pepper!” See what I mean? I basically always want a Snickers bar, whether I’ve sweetened my oatmeal with sugar or Splenda. It’s mind over matter in either case.

In an unsurprising conclusion, my approach to sweeteners is much like my approach to health in general: enjoy in moderation. I don’t like drinking my calories, so being able to have a cup of coffee (or multiple cups of coffee) without thinking about my caloric intake is great for me. And I’m probably always going to drink diet sodas over regular sodas, but I’m steadily decreasing the amount of soda I drink. Do what works for you, your health, and your journey to slenderhood.

sources: onetwothreefour

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Fat Decoded

Let’s talk about fat. Not what’s in between your thighs (though I’m sure there’s not much, slender) but what you eat. Whether it comes from a cheeseburger, peanut butter, salmon, or mayonnaise, it’s important to know what you’re doing to your body when you put these foods in your mouth.

It’s recommended that not more than 30% of your calories come from fat. Say your daily goal is 1,400 calories. Since fat has 9 calories/gram (this is what makes foods with high fat content very high in calories as well), you’ll be allowed about 45 grams of fat per day.

Now that you know how much you should be having, let’s break things down into the two major categories of fat– saturated or unsaturated.

Saturated: this is the type of fat that’s solid at room temperature. It mostly comes from animal sources like dairy, cheese, and meat. Some oils (coconut, palm, cocoa butter) also contribute to your saturated fat intake. Alarms should go off when you encounter a food with a high saturated fat content, as there is a strong, positive correlation between saturated fat consumption and high cholesterol levels. It’s one thing to let boys mess with your heart, but bacon and chocolate? Come on now, you’re better than that. Limit your intake to about 14-18 grams per day.

Trans: these fats are the black sheep of the bunch. They don’t quite fit into either of the main categories because they’ve been fiddled with by the hands of man. Trans fats are those that have been treated by the process of hydrogenation, creating a vegetable fat that will have a longer shelf-life. This makes for a desirable texture and flavor in processed foods like chips, crackers, and pastries, but it does absolutely nothing positive for your health. In fact, they hurt your body by decreasing the levels of good cholesterol in your body. Take home message? Avoid at all costs.

Unsaturated: unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature. This should make sense to you if you’ve witnessed the glorification of plant oils like olive oil, sesame oil, corn oil, etc. The health properties of these types of fat will actually improve your cholesterol levels. Who knew?
Monounsaturated: these are also known as omega-9 fatty acids. Some of the best sources include olives, avocados, peanut butter, and halibut.
Polyunsaturated: you know what these are, but you might not know that you know what these are. Heard of our healthy friends omega-3 and omega-6? Well, they’re polyunsaturated. Get your 3s from seafood (salmon is the most well-known source), soybean oil, flaxseed, walnuts, Brussels sprouts, kale, and spinach. Chances are you’re probably getting your fill of 6s from vegetable oils which are used for frying many foods.

Like getting a background check on the nutrients in your food? Check out carbohydrates and fiber decoded.

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Fiber Decoded

Fiber is something that might not be on your nutritional radar but I promise you that by the end of this post, it will be.

Fiber is the part of plant food that your body can’t digest (read: calorie free!). It comes in two categories– soluble and insoluble. Insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve in water so it doesn’t change much during digestion, keeping you, ahem, regular. Soluble fiber forms a gel in water, which slows down stomach emptying. The soluble fiber in whole wheat bread is what makes it more satisfying than regular ol’ white bread.

Some other health benefits of dietary consumption include lowering risk for heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and high cholesterol. Your post-grad old person body will thank you for making a point to consume fiber as a Slender Student.

Both types of fiber can be found in whole grains and whole grain products, vegetables, fruits, beans, and nuts. See? Plant food.

So, how much fiber should you be getting per day? The Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for those under 50 years old is 38 grams for men and 25 grams for women. Big problem: most studies of college students reveal that both guys and girls aren’t consuming enough fiber.

Where does this Slender Student find her daily fiber? Here are my top five picks:

What are your favorite fibrous finds? Leave a comment!

sources: one, two, three

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Carbs Decoded

According to the first QOTW, you guys want some answers about carbohydrates! Here’s what you should know, so you can carb decode before your next carbo load. Also, don’t forget to answer the new QOTW!

What are carbohydrates and why do we need them?

Carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients (along with protein and fat), meaning they provide our bodies with energy in the form of calories. Each gram of carbohydrate provides your body with 4 calories. You can see how many calories you’re getting strictly from carbohydrates if you look at the nutrition label on an item and multiply the grams of carbohydrate per serving times 4.

Carbs have gotten a bad rap through the rise in popularity of diets like Atkins and South Beach, but our bodies do need them. During digestion, carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, which is the brain’s source of energy, as well as the primary fuel for many other tissues and organs. While the alternative state our body goes into (it’s called ketosis, but don’t worry about this now) under a carbohydrate restricted diet is not necessarily dangerous, I’m of the opinion that if it’s glucose my body wants, it’s glucose my body is going to get. I just don’t like the idea of cutting out a food group from my diet (especially one that includes bread and pasta), so it’s important to know what and how much to consume to stay healthy…and slender.

How much do we need?

Recommendations vary widely depending on where you look and what your goals are. I, and many institutions far more renowned than The Slender Student, say to aim for about 45-65% of your daily calorie intake to come from carbohydrate. Try and make half of those whole grains. What are whole grains? Hold your dang horses, I’m getting to it!

Where do we find them?

I’m not saying this to scare you, but carbs are in just about everything we eat. Of course there are the obvious things like bread, pasta, rice, and chips, but they’re also in vegetables (especially starchy ones like corn and potatoes) and fruit. Even dairy items consist of a combination of carbohydrates, protein, and fat. What’s important for health and potential weight loss is the type of carb you’re choosing.

What’s all this about good and bad carbs?

Bad news first: a lot of stuff you probably really like would be considered a “bad” carb. This includes refined (read: white) foods like white bread, white rice, and white pasta. Refined grains have been stripped of the parts that naturally contain fiber, iron, and B & E vitamins, essentially making them nutritional zeroes. Brown power. The bad carb list aaaaalso includes things with lots of added sugar like granola, cereal, juices, dressings, and ice cream. Carbohydrates are, after all, sugar chains. Get it?  Anyway, these all suck because when you eat bad carbs, a somewhat complicated hormonal mechanism occurs that, in simple terms, involves a quick spike in blood glucose, followed by a surge of insulin, then a rapid drop in blood glucose, and before you know it you’re standing in your pantry again, elbow deep in a bag of Kettle Chips. Hitting you where it hurts? Sorry.

Alright, time to take it to a more positive place. In terms of grains, the good guys are those that are unrefined, or whole grains. Have you ever sat in the grocery aisle with two loaves of bread in hand, one whole grain and one whole wheat, confused about which to choose? The deal is, “grain” is an umbrella term for lots of things– wheat, brown rice, oats, bulgur, barley, half of the stuff you find in the bulk section at Whole Foods. So, choose whichever one has prettier packaging, pat yourself on the back for being slender, and move on. Fresh fruits and vegetables also provide your body with the good carbs it needs because, like whole grains, they provide your body with vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

Fiber?

Ugh, I love fiber. It’s what keeps you full when you eat foods that are high in unrefined carbohydrates but maybe low in protein. Fiber is found in plant food sources but our bodies can’t digest it, meaning it doesn’t provide us with any energy (calories). So, that kinda rocks. What also rocks is how it slows down our digestion of carbs, causing less of a blood glucose/insulin reaction, thereby keeping us fuller for longer. Remember, though, refined carbs have been stripped of all their fiber, so you can only count on whole grains, fruits, and vegetables for all these sweet fiber perks.

CliffNotes?

– Carbohydrates fuel your body with glucose. Your brain needs glucose. Without glucose, your brain will make bad decisions, and then you will get pregnant and die. (Mean Girls?)
– About half of your calories should come from carbohydrates and half of that should come from whole grains
– Carbs are in breads, pastas, rice, dairy, vegetables, fruit…just about everything but meat.
– Bad carbs = refined (white) products and foods with lots of added sugar (anything not naturally occurring)
– Good carbs = unrefined grains, fresh fruits, and fresh vegetables (this includes beans)
– Whole grain is an umbrella term for all grains– wheat, oats, bulgur, barley, quinoa, etc.
– Fiber is found in whole grain products, fruits, and vegetables. It’s awesome and will keep you full.

Please let me know if I left anything out or if you have any further questions! Your blood glucose has probably dropped in the process of reading this marathon-length post, so grab yourself some popcorn (it’s a whole grain)!

Sources: 1, 2

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