Pop Goes the Diet—The Worst Food in the World

Soda
Since all great things come in threes (or is it celebrity deaths?), we’re going to complete our sugar trilogy with a look at the worst food in the world: soda pop. Forget about brands; whether it’s Coke, Dr. Pepper, or even Hansen’s Natural, it’s all junk. There are different degrees of “junkiness,” but this is Nutrition 911, so we’re sticking with the bird’s-eye perspective. The taste might make you happy, but from a nutritional point of view, soda’s only place in the world is to make people fat, sick, and unhappy.

Alarming statistics
In America, we drink a lot of cola (or “un-cola”). A lot. On average, we each drank 52.4 gallons in 2005, and this figure includes infants, healthy folks, prisoners, etc., meaning that the average soda drinker actually gulps (their word) more than this. Carbonated soft drinks are the biggest single caloric source in the American diet. Teenagers in particular are hooked on the stuff and get an average of 13 percent of their daily calories from “pop.” If this doesn’t scare you, it should. In terms of sheer amount, these statistics could be alarming if it were any one food. A proper diet should have some balance and diversity. And soda pop is the antithesis of “any food.” It’s bad food.

“Empty calories”
We use the term “empty calories” for foods like soda that have no place in a nutritious diet. This term is ridiculously misleading. The calories in soda are far from empty. Most of them come from sugar. In the U.S., it’s nearly always high fructose corn syrup, the cheapest, most processed sugar on the market. Other ingredients include caffeine, various phosphates and acids, and artificial colorings. We’ll get to their effects on the human body in a minute, but first, let’s stick to the simple stuff. Per day, the average teenager consumes between 10 and 15 teaspoons of refined sugar via soda—which, according to government standards, is about their daily requirement for all foods. This means that for the average teenager, his or her soda consumption virtually eliminates his or her chances of eating a balanced diet. There’s nothing empty about that.

Weird science
The soda companies are a marketing juggernaut. They spend roughly $700 million a year on media advertising alone—not to mention hundreds of millions more sponsoring events, athletes, musicians, and such. This volume of cash makes it difficult for consumers to avoid them, by design. To avoid the temptation to drink Coke, you’ve got to be highly principled or living in the middle of the jungle. And even then, well, I once happened upon a soda vending machine halfway up Mount Yarigatake in the Japanese Alps, and a friend traveling in Guatemala found Coke in a rural area that didn’t have running water. Let’s just say that soda companies are going to continue making it easy for you to find the stuff. This type of marketing machine won’t go away quietly. With the stats listed above, you could certainly put two and two together and link soda companies to the childhood (and adult) obesity epidemic that is arguably the world’s most serious health crisis. Yet, while researching this article, I came across a widely published “study” stating that “soft drink consumption has no effect on childhood obesity.” Suspicious from the get-go (the word “no” being a huge red flag), it didn’t take me long to find this statement: “The research paper was supported by an unrestricted gift from the American Beverage Association.” Bingo. Remember those Philip Morris tobacco “studies” that promised a long and healthy life from chain smoking?

What makes it so bad?
Besides the simple caloric trade-off, sodas are formulated to give you a rush. The sugar is mixed with phosphates designed to speed it into your system. It’s so good, in fact, that many cyclists prefer Coca-Cola to specific sports food when they need a sugar rush near the end of races. And while a sugar rush is a good thing when you’re trying to exceed your anaerobic threshold and you’re out of blood glycogen (never mind if you don’t know what this is), it’s a bad thing whenever you’re not, which even for a competitive cyclist is 99.9 percent of the time.

Beyond the simple sugar rush, these acids and phosphates alter your body’s pH levels and inhibit the absorption of other nutrients. Then there are the effects of certain artificial coloring agents. For example, yellow #5, commonly used in soft drinks, has been linked to attention deficit disorder, hives, asthma, and other allergic reactions in some children.

Then there is the nutrient trade-off to consider. A person who drinks one Big Gulp per day must go to great lengths to maintain a balanced diet. Otherwise, he or she will almost certainly be deficient in numerous vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber, and essential fatty or amino acids—none of which is found in soda. For this reason, soda is often linked to type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, dental erosion, and a higher risk of kidney stones and heart disease. And that’s just a start. There’s plenty of less scientific data linking soda to poor scholastic habits, which we’ll get to in a later class.

Diet sodas and juices
In an attempt to become thought of as healthier, soda companies have diversified into non-carbonated beverages and diet sodas. While these are an improvement in some ways, they are hardly a solution to the problem. First off, most juices and other caloric non-soda alternatives are mainly just sugar and water without the carbonation. A quick label comparison between a commercial orange juice and a Mountain Dew would show a similar “bottom line” with regards to calories and sugar. The only improvement would be the lack of the non-caloric offenders. But that’s no small matter, as the true effects of these ingredients have not been thoroughly studied. Despite their no-calorie status, diet sodas have been linked to assorted illnesses. Recent studies have backed up my more anecdotal evidence that I’ve yet to have a client not lose weight by kicking diet soda. Granted, all of my clients drank an excessive amount, but regardless, there is little doubt that the pH balance of diet sodas hinders the body’s ability to absorb nutrients, and that just may be the tip of the non-caloric iceberg.

A large-scale study in 2007 showed that men and women who had more than one diet soda a day were 31 percent more likely to be obese and 25 percent more likely to have both high triglycerides and blood sugar, and they had a 50 percent greater risk of developing metabolic syndrome. Never mind if you don’t know what metabolic syndrome is. Just trust me when I tell you that you don’t want it.

How can you help?
In my world, soft drinks would come with the same type of regulatory language as cigarettes and booze, at least. Actually, in my world, we’d all be educated and wouldn’t require this language at all, but that’s Politics 911, not Nutrition 911. Anyway, here are five ways you can help educate the public about the dangers of soda, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Contact your local government officials and/or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and suggest that:
1. National and local governments should require chain restaurants to declare the calorie content of soft drinks and all other items on menus and menu boards.
2. The FDA should require labels on non-diet soft drinks to state that frequent consumption of those drinks promotes obesity, diabetes, tooth decay, osteoporosis, and other health problems.
3. Local, state, and federal governments should provide water fountains in schools, government buildings, parks, and other public spaces.
4. School systems and other organizations catering to children should stop selling soft drinks (as well as candy and other junk foods) in hallways, shops, and cafeterias.
5. State and local governments should consider levying small taxes on soft drinks, with the revenues earmarked for promoting health and fitness. A national 2-cent tax on a can of soda pop would raise $3 billion annually.

Are you scared yet? You should be. Or you could just stop drinking soda. Sounds so simple, doesn’t it?

Spice it up to lose weight

Spice it up to lose weightSpices are a great way to add flavor to recipes and meals without added calories or salt. Some spices have a thermogenic effect, which means eating them boosts metabolism so you actually burn some extra calories eating certain spicy dishes. Try experimenting with these:

Cinnamon

Cinnamon is a delicious way to add sweetness to a dish without having to use sugar. It is also a great spice to cook with and can add a lightly spicy taste to savory dishes. Several studies, including one published in the Diabetes Care Journal, have shown that cinnamon can boost weight loss. The weight loss properties of cinnamon stem from the ability to help keep blood sugar levels under control, therefore decreasing the amount of insulin produced after a meal. Higher levels of unnecessary insulin result in the production of excess fat. Cinnamon has also been found to slow down gastric emptying, making you feel full longer.

Cayenne

This piquant spice contains capsaicin, which has long been regarded for its fat burning ability. Cayenne has thermogenic properties that increase calorie burning. It also helps with weight loss simply because the spicier a food is, the less you eat and slower you eat – so you feel full on less food. If you don’t care for spicy pepper, evidence has shown that even sweet peppers have a thermogenic effect, boosting calorie burning in the body. Cayenne also increases fat oxidation, helping you shed unwanted body fat.

Black Pepper

A staple in any cooks’ kitchen, not only jazzes up a recipe, but it helps boost metabolism by as much as 8 percent because of the compound, piperine, found in black pepper. This spice has been shown to aid in digestion and nutrient absorption. To maximize the results, use fresh black pepper instead of ground pepper.

Mustard Seed

Just like the hot spice cayenne – mustard seed also has a thermogenic effect on the body. According to a Canadian study, eating spicy foods such as mustard seed can burn an extra 1,000 calories a day, with one tea spoon potentially boosting your metabolism by 25 percent.

Ginger

Not only is ginger delicious with just about everything, it also has been found to help with weight loss and satiety. According to a study at Columbia University and the New York Obesity Research Center, adding one teaspoon of dried ground ginger to a meal or having a cup of ginger tea with breakfast resulted in 43 more calories burned after eating.

Beachbody Grows Exponentially Thanks To Network Marketing

Shaun T. Insanity
There are not many companies these days that can do $400 million in sales and remain relatively anonymous.

Yet Beachbody, a private company, grossed nearly as much as Groupon did last year and very few people talk about the robust engine that is behind exercise workout programs like P90X, INSANITY and Turbo Jam.

Under the leadership of co-founder Jon Congdon and Carl Daikeler, the company has developed a business model that seems to be Teflon, turning successful converts of its programs into network marketers who ensure that the brands flourish.

Many multi-level marketing companies are based on building a network of sellers and distributors getting rewarded based on the size of their network.

Most often, the people who have gotten in on the ground floor reap the greatest benefits while those late to the game struggle to make money.

What makes Beachbody’s network of distributors, called coaches, so successful is that these people have done the programs and are often in incredible shape. Their testimonial and therefore their business relies on how good they look, not whether they tell friends that a certain superfruit drink helps them have more energy or cures their stomach problems.

It seems like, more often than not, network marketing thrives on results which can’t be verified, but if my fat friend shows up with a six-pack, I’ll be more likely to believe he was doing an intense workout program.

Since starting the network marketing program three and half years ago, Beachbody now has 51,000 coaches who take a cut of videos and nutritional products they sell. Beachbody coaches sell $1 million worth of nutritional shakes under the brand’s Shakeology name a week. And it’s not cheap at around $120 for a month worth of servings.

“We could have built this company’s sales a lot faster at retail by selling at Walmart and Target,” Daikeler said. “But selling it through direct television (infomercials) and through our network works better for us.”

Daikeler says that his coaches serve as walking billboards and salespeople who want to help their family and friends by helping them lose weight through the company’s exercise programs. This is unlike many other multi-level marketing companies that solely rely on building a network to make more money.

And Daikeler doesn’t have to pay for testimonials, a common practice in the infomercial business space he plays in.

“The standard network marketing doesn’t work with our model,” Daikeler said. “This is not a ponzi scheme where if you’re the last one in, you don’t have a chance to do well.”

While the average lifespan of a multi-level marketer is three months, Daikeler says his coaches remain in the system an average of 18 months. It’s why he’s confident that by the end of 2011, there will be 150,000 coaches.

“We don’t promise it will replace your every day job,” Daikeler said. “That has been the case with about 1,000 of our coaches. But what it does for others is it keeps them in shape. In order to continue to have credibility selling, you need to continue to keep up. And so, it allows the people who want to fight obesity, to be motivated by the fact that they have skin in the game.”

By continuing to have more and more videos – P90X led to a harder workout, INSANITY, and that program is leading to The Asylum, which will come out in a few weeks – I don’t see Beachbody slowing down any time soon. And the non-traditional, more patient route of using those converted to the brand by really using it is a smart approach that I think will pay off nicely down the road.

What and When You Should Eat

Clock
It’s not just what you eat but when you eat that matters. The perfect food for one situation may be horrible for another. Nutrient timing is a science that athletes use to try to get the most out of every calorie they consume. Not everyone needs an athlete’s level of efficiency, but all of us will benefit from a basic understanding of nutrient timing.

This is 911, need-to-know info only. To keep you focused on the big picture, I’ll begin with an example at the extreme end of nutrient timing. If the average Joe followed the same diet as an Ironman triathlete, he’d likely have type 2 diabetes in a matter of months. Conversely, if someone tried to complete an Ironman on even the healthiest version of a low-carb diet, that person would either be forced to quit or die. This is not just because either diet would mean eating too much food or too little food. Different foods cause the body’s metabolic process to react in different ways; and various activities should be fueled using various means.

Let’s begin by looking at our possible fuel sources:
Carbohydrates
Are fuel only. They aren’t stored in body tissue, only in the blood and liver as glycogen, which needs to be burnt off. They are essential for high-level functioning like running fast, lifting heavy things, and thinking. They are digested and put to use by your body very quickly. If you eat more than you burn, your body will convert them to be stored in adipose (fat) tissue.

Proteins
Called the body’s building blocks. Hence, you need them to rebuild tissue that breaks down daily. You digest proteins slowly, and at a certain point, your body just can’t assimilate them. Therefore, it’s important that throughout the day you eat foods that are high in protein.

Fats
Help regulate all of your bodily functions. They are dense and contain over twice the calories of proteins and carbohydrates. While they are vital for our health, it’s easy to eat too much of them, which will result in unwanted fat tissue on your body. You digest fats slowly, and fats will also help slow the digestion of anything else you eat. Fats are also your backup fuel source, though they can’t be put to use right away the way carbs can.

Fiber
Categorized as a carbohydrate, it is not a source of fuel as it has no calories. It’s the indigestible part of a plant and is of vital importance in your diet because it regulates the absorption of the foods you eat. It also helps us feel full. Most of us don’t eat enough fiber, and that’s a big part of the obesity problem.

Alcohol
Not really a food source but something we tend to consume. It has nearly twice the calories of proteins and carbs (though it lacks fuel) and digests rapidly. Its only healthy function is that it seems to make us happy. Studies indicate this is a good thing, as those who consume alcohol generally live longer than those who don’t, but from a purely nutritional standpoint, it’s not so hot because you’re getting calories without any upside. Its use should be strategic and regulated for best results.

Now let’s look at the various situations we face daily, at least on most days—hopefully.

Relaxing
This is when we’re sedentary both physically and mentally. In a relaxed state, you burn very few calories because your body is engaged as little as possible, hence the relaxing.

Sedentary work
When we’re at work or school. Our bodies aren’t moving, but our brains are engaged. The brain runs on glycogen, which is blood sugar fueled by carbohydrates.

Low-level exercise
Like mowing the lawn, cleaning the house, or going for a walk. This breaks down body tissue, so you’re burning calories, but it’s not intense work. Therefore, it can be fueled by your stored body fat. Your body tries to fuel its low-level outputs by mobilizing fat stores because this saves its limited glycogen for emergency situations.

High-level exercise
Fueled by glycogen. When you really have to get after it, all sorts of hormones go to work, and your body burns its blood sugar. Body-tissue breakdown is rapid, and your stored blood sugar (glycogen) won’t last much more than an hour.

Sleep
A very active time. Deep sleep is where your body works the hardest to repair itself. You need nutrients to make these repairs, but it’s better if you aren’t mucking up the process with digestion. This is why you hear that you shouldn’t eat too much at night. It’s best to eat early to allow most of the digestion to happen while you’re awake, thus allowing your body to use all its energy for recovery during sleep. It is worth noting here that it’s better to eat before bed if you need the nutrients—don’t skip them. Your body can’t repair itself without nutrients, and recovery from breakdown is why we eat in the first place. Next, let’s take a look at an important word you need to know: insulin.

Insulin
Wikipedia tells us that insulin “is a hormone that has extensive effects on metabolism and other body functions, such as vascular compliance. Insulin causes cells in the liver, muscle, and fat tissue to take up glucose from the blood, storing it as glycogen in the liver and muscle, and stopping use of fat as an energy source.” Okay, that’s a little scientific, but look at all the things we’ve already referenced: hormone, glycogen, metabolism, and fat as an energy source. Even if you don’t fully comprehend “vascular compliance,” you can tell that insulin is something important in today’s discussion.

Sure enough, it’s the only hundred-dollar word we need to know today. Your body’s insulin response is the main reason you want to eat certain foods at certain times, to do certain things.

Putting it all together
Now let’s take what we’ve just learned and put it to use. For most of us, nutrient timing is pretty simple. The next thing to consider is what you’re going to be doing or what you just did. As I said before, what you eat should be based on this. You’ve probably heard about the evils of sugar, or maybe even the glycemic index. Using the science of nutrient timing, you can turn sugar into something healthy because it’s the only thing that transports nutrients into your blood quickly enough to be of service during and after hard exercise.

Essentially, sugar or other easily digested carbs (the less fiber the better) promote an insulin release. This speeds the transformation of carbohydrates into glucose in your blood. As your glycogen stores are depleted during exercise, recharging them with sugar minimizes the damage done by the breakdown of tissue during exercise. Therefore, sugar, the oft-vilified ingredient, is actually your body’s preferred nutrient during times of excessive stress and tissue breakdown.

Pretty cool, huh? The bad news is that this miracle nutrient is not good for you when you’re not doing intense exercise, which for almost all of us is most of the time. In fact, sugar’s very bad for you because the insulin response that was so fabulous for you when you were bonking (glycogen depleted) is not so fabulous for you when you’re sitting in front of the boob tube.

Remember this from the Wikipedia definition of insulin, “stopping use of fat as an energy source”? That’s bad when you’re sitting around. Remember how one of dietary fat’s responsibilities is to fuel you during low-intensity exercise? Well, when sugar causes your insulin to spike, it cuts off that process. Now not only are you not burning body fat for low-level outputs, you’re trying to force your body to use its glycogen. Double bad.

Unless you’re exercising, sugar intake should be minimized. During these times—which is most of the time—your diet should consist of a mixture of proteins, fats, and complex carbohydrates. The latter are natural sources of carbohydrates that generally come with fiber, which regulates the insulin response. Whole fruit, a simple carbohydrate by definition because it contains fructose (a sugar), always contains fiber and, thus, can be treated as a complex carb. Fruit juice, and other such stuff, is processed; it, along with processed complex carbohydrates like white rice, can cause an insulin response, so these types of foods should be used more like sports foods than staples.

It’s also important to note that combining all these different nutrients slows sugar’s ability to incite insulin into action. Therefore, a little sugar like a dessert after a well-rounded meal is buffered by the meal. The calories and lack of decent nutrients (processed sugar is devoid of most nutrients, except for energy) still count toward your overall diet, but at least you don’t have to worry about an insulin spike.

So the main point of this article is very simple. You should eat small, well-rounded meals most of the time. These should include some proteins, some fats, some fiber, and some carbs. During (only if it’s a long workout) and after hard workouts, you should supplement your diet with sugar or simple carbohydrates. After this, you should go back to eating well-rounded meals again.

Sports nutrition has evolved this process even further. In nature, foods are generally slow to digest. Nature’s great sports foods are things such as bananas and figs. These are sugary but still contain fiber and other nutrients. Science has found ways to make foods that are even more efficient during sports. These basically manipulate pH levels and process the sugars to speed them into your system. Outstanding when you need it. Terrible when you don’t.

They’ve even taken this a step further by finding a ratio of other nonsugary nutrients (like protein) that can be transported by the sugar to give you a further benefit. Beachbody’s Results and Recovery Formula uses this science. When you’re bonking during a hard workout, it speeds nutrients that are essential for quick recovery into your system as quickly as possible.

I can’t stress how important it is that sports fuels be used for sports performance only. Gatorade, soda, and all sugar candies (hey, no fat!) all function as the poor man’s sports foods. Unfortunately, those perusing the Quick Stop generally aren’t trying to fuel up after doing Plyo X, and therein may lay our obesity trend.

In case the topic is still a bit fuzzy, let’s use the above logic on the examples in the intro: An Ironman athlete is doing intense exercise for 10 to 12 hours or more. During this time, that athlete is mainly burning glycogen, which is gone after an hour or so. The athlete burns stored fat, too, but this is limited in its effectiveness. To race, the athlete must replenish with sports foods because they contain the only nutrients that the athlete will digest fast enough to help. To complete an Ironman, especially at your physical limit, it may take 5,000 calories coming mainly from sugar.

This is a sports-specific diet only. Someone trying to eat that way during a viewing of the Lord of the Rings trilogy would be lucky to stay out of the emergency room. Conversely, if you tried to maintain a 25-mph speed for 8 hours on your bike while munching on raw spinach and lean steak, you’d bonk so hard you’d be praying to get yanked from the race at the first checkpoint. That should cover your 911 on nutrient timing. Next time, we’ll move on to the topic of supplements. Are they magic pills, overhyped placebos, or something in between?

Sugar vs. Fat: Which Is Worse?

Sugar
Ladies and gentlemen, tonight we bring you The Thriller in Vanilla, the long-awaited fight to crown the World Obesity Federation’s heavyweight champion. It’s the battle to decide, once and for all, which contender is most responsible for making us fat. In one corner, we have our long-reigning champion, The Heartbreak Hammer, Fat! In the other corner, we have the up-and-coming challenger everyone’s been talking about, The Soda Pop Kid, Sugar!

As the undisputed nutrient kings of our fast food world, this is the bout that everyone’s been waiting for. Fat has been the people’s champion for a long time. Sugar, on the other hand, has only been around as long as humans have been altering foods from natural sources. Lately, a lot of money and science have changed our challenger’s traditional fighting style, leading to a string of TKOs (technical knockouts) en route to its shot at the title. Going into tonight’s fight, however, the experts still favor The Champion by 2-to-1 odds.

The tale of the tape
Sugar—Weighing in at 4 calories per gram, the challenger is slight in stature compared to our champion and will look to speed to gain an advantage. Sugar is a carbohydrate, but the form we consume it in is much different than how we find it in nature, where’s it’s surrounded by a fruit, grain, or other plants. The Soda Pop Kid is synthetic crystalline sugar—the kind that goes into soda, candy, and many convenience foods. Its main weapon is the speed with which it rushes into your system.

Fat—At 9 calories per gram, Fat outweighs its challenger by more than double. Unlike Sugar, Fat is its own food group and an essential part of our diets, just like carbohydrates and protein. It’s easily found in nature in many forms and doesn’t need to be processed. This, of course, doesn’t mean we don’t process it when it’s convenient or cost-effective. As opposed to Sugar, Fat moves into your system slowly. Then it remains there for as long as it can. In abundance, it clogs things up. Its main weapon being bulk, its goal is to wear you down.
As you can see, we’ve got a classic tortoise-vs.-hare matchup between these two heavyweights.

A brief history
Sugar—Since all carbohydrates are broken down into sugars in our blood, it’s always been a part of our diets. However, when eaten as a complex carbohydrate or encased in fiber (as in fruit), it affects our bodies differently than it does as processed sugar. Bees were the first sugar producers, and humans have been eating honey for about as long as bees have been making it. However, it didn’t become a major part of our diets until thousands of years later. Westerners began the production of sugar around 1500 BC. Originally made from sugarcane and sugar beets, it’s now manufactured from other crops, like corn and wheat, which makes up the bulk of the sugar consumed in the U.S.

Modern technology has enabled us to tamper further with natural sugar. Traditional sugar, like honey, had a much lower glycemic index (GI) than many modern variations. Since the higher the GI number, the quicker the sugar rushes into your system, we are now essentially able to have sugars affect the body like a drug, creating exaggerated hormonal responses, particularly the hormone insulin. You may have heard of insulin because, when we have trouble producing it, we have a disease called diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is the result of eating poorly. It’s also the fastest-growing disease in the world, which, in Sugar’s camp, means they think it’s time for a shot at the title.

Fat—Like we stated earlier, fat is dense—it has a lot of calories for its size. It’s also an essential nutrient and helps us feel satiated or full. Therefore, when we’re hungry, we tend to crave it. And since we don’t really need much of it, it’s very easy to overeat. When we eat more food than we can put to good use, our bodies store it in adipose tissue. We call this tissue fat, or fat tissue. But it’s not really fat, as in the kind we eat. It’s something else. Well, it’s adipose tissue, but we’ve always called it fat. Anyway, the point is that we call it fat whether we get it from eating too much fat, too much protein, too much sugar, or too many carbs, or by drinking too much alcohol. And because of this, Fat gets a worse rap than it deserves.

But make no mistake, fat is formidable. We like fat. We like it a lot. Many fat-laden foods are considered delicacies. And we like fat so much that we’ve found ways to consume just the bad parts of fat that serve little to no dietary purpose. Stuff like butter, margarine, lard, and trans fats are completely unnecessary for our survival. Yet, somehow, our culture has taught us to crave such things. And these cravings have led to heart disease becoming the planet’s most popular way to kill people. Fat has been the undisputed champion of the obesity world for a long, long time. It’s not going to relinquish this title easily.

So let’s get ready to rumble!
Round 1: Smaller but faster, Sugar comes out in a rush and pummels Fat mercilessly. Because of The Kid’s smaller stature, Sugar’s punches seem to have little effect on The Champ. But Fat hardly lands a punch himself and is looking old and slow. Could The Hammer’s reign be over?

Round 2: The Sugar rush comes to a quick crash. The Champ, in no rush himself, seizes control of the pace and takes the round.

Round 3: All of our sponsors are major lobbyists on the side of Sugar. The Kid replenishes with some Gatorade and responds in another flurry of activity. The Champ is back on his heels, waiting for The Kid’s next inevitable crash.

Round 4: The Kid jabs, moves, and controls the pace, but The Champ seems unfazed. Fat knows that Sugar is only an effective nutrient during and immediately after activity, when blood sugar is being used up. So Sugar must keep moving, otherwise it has no nutrient value. The Hammer, being experienced, is willing to bide his time and wait for an opening.

Round 5: Sugar bobs and weaves, employing a psychological game that confounds The Champ. Complex carbohydrates and the simple carbs in fruit break down slowly and provide sustained energy during performance. This gives Sugar an advantage of public misconception because the junk food sugar can be lumped together with healthy carbohydrates. This underhanded attack is clearly something Fat hadn’t counted on. It seems to anger The Hammer.

Round 6: The Champ counters, big time. Two can play the public misconception card, and Fat uses its adipose tissue to absorb all of The Kid’s body blows. The statement that size matters seems to be holding true. In spite of nearly unending corporate support, Sugar seems to be tiring and its punches are growing less and less effective.

Round 7: Fat is now clearly in control of the bout and uses a cholesterol combo to further weaken The Kid. The Hammer’s corner men, Meat and Dairy, are loaded with it, and too much cholesterol is a major cause of heart disease. Could this spell the end for the gallant challenger?

Round 8: A savvy move saves The Kid, who notes that cholesterol is a necessary part of a healthy diet, and that with a proper ratio of fiber and complex carbs, it will have little negative effect. It’s a beautiful defensive move, but how long can it work? The Hammer just seems to be warming up his arsenal.

Round 9: Offended by The Kid’s trickery, Fat comes out smokin’ and unloads an entire 7-Eleven of chips, whipped cream, hot dogs, margarine, and even “vegetable” oils at The Kid. Since they all lead to heart disease, now the leading cause of death in the world, Sugar’s only defense is the rope-a-dope. He’s clearly in serious trouble.

Round 10: Down goes Sugar! The Champ plants a trans fat to the head and levels the challenger. This could be it, folks. The Kid staggers to his feet, but the referee has stepped in. He seems to be holding up a can of Crisco to see if Sugar can identify what hit him. If not, he’s going to stop it. Oh, but wait a minute! The Kid seems to be okay, and even looks to be smiling. The ref flashes a thumbs-up and the fight continues. Sugar dances away from a series of haymakers. The Hammer obviously wants to end the contest right now. But he can’t connect. The Kid survives! In his corner, he’s given a Coke.

Round 11: His face is bloodied, but The Kid is back at work. The Champ’s attack has been slowed with the news that the Food and Drug Administration has required that trans fat be listed on the side of every food label, while sugar, sugar alcohols, artificial sweeteners, and glucose syrups can be used with virtually no regulation. This tactic has clearly befuddled The Hammer, whose punches are beginning to miss more often than they connect.

Round 12: Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve got a new fight! Left for dead just a few rounds ago, Sugar is now controlling the pace. Still a long way behind on points, the challenger is using an intriguing combination that’s hurting The Champion. But The Champ fights back. The Champ first points out that many fats—the type in nuts, olives, seeds, avocados, fish, and many other foods—are essential for optimal health and then notes that nothing in sugar is needed for human survival; he then combines that with the fact that a “no fat” label can be on a food containing 100 percent sugar. Then he uses the fact that sugar alters the body’s pH levels, a clear example that an all-sugar food is far worse than a no-fat food. That’s gotta hurt.

Round 13: The credit probably goes to The Hammer’s corner men, all major corporate CEOs, but Sugar has got to be one of the craftiest fighters in history. He comes after Fat with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and fibromyalgia, an offensive that clearly caught The Champ off guard. Apparently, they’re illnesses attributed in part to excessive sugar in one’s diet leading to insulin-resistance problems. The Hammer may have amassed enough points to win a decision but is now clearly on the defensive and reeling. Who knows what The Kid’s got up his sleeve at this point?

Round 14: With only one round to go, Sugar swings wildly with a combination of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and soda pop. This is one of the most lethal offensive combinations in the history of obesity! HFCS is the cheapest and lowest-quality sugar produced, and is now added to many items that aren’t even sweet—things like salad dressings and peanut butters, items once clearly in Fat’s corner. And soda, a substance with no nutritional value whatsoever, has become the singularly most consumed item on the planet. I don’t see how The Champ can survive this. He’s staggering around the ring, basically out on his feet! Somehow, and it must be experience, The Hammer avoids going down.

Round 15: It all comes down to this: one round to crown the World Champion of Obesity. Fat, the longtime champ, is clearly in trouble but still has enough points to win thanks to his mid-fight dominance. But Sugar has owned the latter rounds thanks to heavy lobbying, effective marketing, deregulation, and public misconception. The Champ was barely on his feet at the end of round 14, and his corner is working furiously to limit the damage. The question is, does Sugar’s corner have one last trick up its sleeve?

And here we go . . .: The Champ still manages to show some swagger, and comes out flashing heart disease as the number one killer, recently eclipsing lung disease and cigarettes—no slouch in the death department. But Sugar barely flinches and counters with type 2 diabetes, the fastest-growing illness in the world, that’s almost single-handedly controlled by Sugar. It’s like Ali’s “anchor punch” against Liston. And it sends The Champ sprawling. Down goes Fat! Down goes Fat!

And I don’t think the Champ will be rising from this one. Nope. Fat is out cold. The Hammer’s reign is over. There’s a new kid in town. Sugar is elated, dancing around the ring and pointing at the crowd, screaming, “I want YOU! I want YOU!” Ladies and gentlemen, introducing the NEW heavyweight champion of the obesity world: SUGAR!

Sweeteners

Sugar
In this tip, we’ll look at sugar and fake sugar, and then try to come up with a reasonable strategy to deal with our sweet teeth.

Sugar
Remember, this class is the ultra basics, so instead of using words like saccharide and galactose, let’s just say that sugar is the simplest form of carbohydrates. It’s sweet, yummy, and easy to crave. In nature, it’s found in plants. As you recall from Part I, plants have fiber, and this minimizes sugar’s impact on your system by causing it to be digested slowly. Carbohydrates, whether from potatoes, lentils, or bananas, all break down into sugars in your body, and you use these sugars as fuel when you do stuff. So, if done right, eating carbohydrates is a good thing, especially when you’re active.

Refined sugar, the white grainy stuff you’ll find in gummy bears, chocolate, Coke, and most desserts, is sugar minus the fiber that surrounds it in nature. What you’re left with is a sweet but highly caloric food that your body absorbs very rapidly, causing a “sugar rush.” This “rush” is a temporary imbalance in your system that your body tries to regulate—a spike of energy followed by a lull.

But your body hates the lull, so to bring you back up, it’ll crave, you guessed it, more sugar. It’s an ugly cycle, considering refined sugar’s only nutritional value is similar to a nitrous injection in a race car—a quick burst of energy that burns right out. This might be a good thing if you’re in a drag race (or, in human terms, if you need an extra burst of energy during a workout), but it’s a bad thing any other time because, if you don’t put that excess sugar to use, it gets stored as fat.

Bottom line: Refined sugar is okay for sports performance (while you are skiing, bicycling, running, and so on), but it’s bad at all other times. Unfortunately, we tend to want it at all other times. Therefore, straight sugar consumption should be limited. Now you’re probably wondering, “So the best time to eat gummy bears would be during a marathon instead of at night in front of the TV?” The answer is yes, absolutely. And now you’re probably thinking, “But I want dessert after dinner!” Right, we all do. Something sweet after a meal is pretty darn ingrained in our society.

Artificial Sweeteners
I’m not going to do a breakdown of the artificial sweeteners on the market—because we already have. I recommend that you read “Sweet Nothing,” issue #58 (refer to the Related Articles section below), which will only take you a couple of minutes. Essentially, there are a bunch of different artificial sweeteners to choose from. Most are made of various chemical reactions that your taste buds think are sweet but aren’t used by your body and have zero calories.

There are also some, called sugar alcohols, which have fewer calories than regular sugar because they’ve been combined with an artificial fiber that you can’t digest. These have “-tol” at the end of their names, like “xylitol.” One, Stevia, or “sweet leaf,” is natural. It’s basically a, well, sweet leaf that you can chew on or that we can grind into a powder, like sugar. Now you might be thinking, “This all sounds great! What’s the catch?”

The catch is that a lot of recent science is showing us that calories might not be the only reason we’re fat. In fact, a handful of studies cited in “Sweet Nothing” concluded that those using artificial sweetener regularly tended to be more obese than those who used regular sugar. Then there’s the little fact that sweeteners may not be safe. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved some, but given their track record (Vioxx, etc.), we can easily—and should—be a bit skeptical. With a cursory search of the Internet, you can find both pro and con studies for each alternative sweetener. The FDA is highly influenced by lobbyists and does not accept all viable studies, meaning that you might want more than FDA approval before blindly trusting what you put into your body. So let’s use some logic to try to assess how best to choose a sweetener. By adding two and two together, we should be able stack the odds in our favor.
Time. Saccharin is the most maligned of this bunch, yet it’s been around for more than 100 years and is still on the market. Sure, there is some negative research out there, but it can’t be that bad! A lot of people consume a lot of different artificial sweeteners. If people were dropping like flies, we’d probably hear about it. In fact, sweet leaf has been used for thousands of years. FDA approval or not, that’s what I call time-tested.
Research. If one of these sweeteners were so good, why would other people keep trying to come up with better ones? From this fact alone, we know that at least some of those negative findings must have an inkling of merit.
Money. The influence of big business can keep need-to-know information from the public (again, Vioxx, etc.). Most sweeteners have become American staples, such as aspartame in diet soda.
Artificial or natural? “Artificial” sounds bad and “natural” sounds good. But just because something is natural does not mean it’s good. Tobacco and opium are natural. So, the claim that Stevia is good because “it’s natural” bears little relevance. Many very beneficial drugs are artificial. However, you generally don’t want to take them habitually, which is how some people use artificial sweeteners. Artificial doesn’t mean bad, but it should mean caution.
Anecdotal. I’m going to share two quick stories: First, my sister is a sweet leaf proponent. It’s time-honored and natural but lacks FDA approval. She lobbied Starbucks for a natural alternative to Splenda (chlorinated sugar). She got a long line of positive responses up the chain of command until, finally, they stopped returning her calls. A short time later, her local market (a chain that she used as an example for Starbucks) was forced to stop offering sweet leaf with their coffee and only sell it as a “supplement.” Coincidence or a blatant case of big business (Starbucks and/or the folks who bring you Splenda) using strong-arm tactics against someone who truly cares about your health? In the wake of the FDA scandal, it’s hard not to at least harbor a little suspicion.
Next is a female athlete whom I trained; she could not lose weight, despite being in great shape and eating a strict diet. Her vice was about 100 ounces of no-cal soft drinks per day. She would eye double Big Gulps like a junky does crack. When we were able to get her off the stuff—she even drank some sugared soft drinks to do so—she lost 15 pounds. This example is now being echoed with science. Two large-scale studies spanning many years have shown a link between artificial sweeteners and obesity.
Bottom line: There is no hard evidence that any one sweetener is better than the others. Most likely the stuff won’t kill you, at least not quickly. But given that we also know it’s not 100 percent safe, it would seem wise to limit your consumption as much as possible.

So now that we understand that sugar should be limited, let’s look at some ways to do it.
5 Ways to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth
So what’s a dessert-loving health seeker to do? Here are my five favorite ways to cut your sugar consumption without ruining all of your fun:
1. Portion control. I recently saw a sign in a Denny’s window saying, “Remember, an apple a day.” The sign was of an apple surrounded by about 2,000 calories of sugar and fat. Our society has gone crazy for “bigger is better.” After dinner, your body is not hungry. You don’t need 2,000 extra calories. You don’t need 200! If you savor a square of chocolate or a tablespoon of Ben & Jerry’s slowly, it will curb your cravings without a noticeable effect on your diet.

2. Don’t snack on artificial sweeteners. Gum is probably the worst snack because it creates a stimulus-response action that causes you to crave sweet stuff constantly.

3. Add some fruit to your sugar or artificial sweetener. Fruit is both sweet and good for you. However, I realize an apple might not be enough all by itself to satiate your sweet tooth. But you can dress up fruit with a very small amount of a “real” dessert and make it pretty darn decadent.

4. Make sure you have some complex carbs in your diet. This sounds boring, but complex carbs, like whole grains, sweet potatoes, rice, beans, ‘n’ stuff, all slowly break down into blood sugar. If your blood sugar is steady, you won’t crave sugar. You might still habitually crave it, but that’s a ton better than a sugar-crash craving, which will likely lead to bingeing.

5. The protein powder trick. Most protein powders have a small amount of sugar and a touch of artificial sweetener, and are 90 percent protein. If you can find one you like (our Whey Protein Powder is fantastic, ahem, ahem), you might be able to curb your cravings with a high-protein snack. Chalene Johnson, the creator of Turbo Jam®, uses chocolate protein powder as a base for pudding, and Beachbody® advice staff member, Denis Faye, sprinkles it on cereal. If you get creative, the possibilities may be endless.