Stevia: A Sweet Sugar Substitute

Every few years a new sugar alternative hits the market. People who prefer to get their sweeteners’ calorie-free rush to buy up the local supermarket’s stock and eagerly tout the benefits of the latest and greatest sweet invention. About a decade ago sucrolose (aka Splenda) gave Sweet ‘n Low and Equal a run for their money.Agave nectar has received a “health halo” among some people, despite the fact that it is nearly all fructose and may be worse for your health than table sugar or high fructose corn syrup. Most recently, another non-sugar has made a splash in our coffees.

Stevia (sold at health food stores as Truvia, PureVia, Sun Crystals, among others) is made from the sweetest part of the South American stevia plant. The human body cannot use these steviol glycosides as fuel which means the calorie and carbohydrate count is zero.  It also tastes 200-300 times sweeter than sugar.

As with any new product, there are some questions that you may want answered. So, I got ya covered:

Is Stevia Safe?

Stevia has been used safely for a long time in South American and Asian countries. Stevia has been the subject of quite a bit of rigorous research assuring the safety of the sweetener, and has been approved by the FDA. Other calorie-free sweeteners such as saccharin (Sweet ‘n Low), aspartame (Equal), and sucralose (Splenda) have also been approved as safe.

Can I Bake with Stevia?

Unlike saccharin or aspartame, which denature (change molecular structure) under high heat, you can bake with Stevia! Check out these Truvia chocolate chip cookies as an example.

Is it Worth Switching My Sweetener?

It depends. While Stevia may be natural, and fits in with the current trend to consume less processed foods, it still should be used in moderation. It can be a great alternative to caloric sweeteners (sugar) as part of a balanced diet if you like the taste.

Here’s how I’d assess the sweetener issue:

  • If you are someone who is drinking soda, sweet tea, or other sweetened beverages, start to make the transition to water or lightly sweetened water-based beverages. You may be gulping down gobs of added sugar, which leads to diabetes and weight gain. If you already have diabetes or have been told that you are pre-diabetic, take heed now to cut back on foods and beverages with added sugars.
  • Take a look in your pantry… are you addicted to diet foods? Do you have a lot of packaged low-cal stuff that you snack on and no real food to speak of? Maybe there’s a problem. A few artificially sweetened treats may be fine, but if you are loading up on packaged snacks all day, you lose a chance to get good nutrition. Have a fat-free Greek yogurt with fruit instead of a sugar-free pudding.
  • Retrain your sweet tooth. If you really feel like you overdo it on all things sweet, maybe your whole eating plan needs a makeover. You’ll find by eating healthy, whole foods that your need for sweets goes down over time.
  • As with anything you add to coffee, cereal, or baked goods, taste makes all the difference.  Use what tastes good to you – just because Stevia comes from a plant doesn’t mean it’s any better (or worse) for your health. You have to enjoy your food. If you prefer sugar, fine. If you prefer Stevia, fine. If you prefer artificial sweetener, fine too. As long as you don’t think you are overdoing it. If you aren’t sure, you can always have your eating habits evaluated by a dietitian.

Fruit2o “Docks” at Boston Harborfest to Get Pledges for Healthy Living

Hey Beantown residents… Are you without plans for the fourth of July? Boston Harborfest (www.bostonharborfest.com) in the Boston, Massachusetts City Hall Plaza could be just what you’re looking for! Running from the 2nd of July to the 5th, the event is free with over 200 events and Fruit2o will be there too.

Between historical reenactments, tours, concerts, and Chowderfest, stop by the Fruit2o booth to sample some of the new Fruit2o Essentials flavors and make a pledge to be healthier with “small changes”. You may have heard me talk about making small behavior changes before on my interview with Fox 5 in D.C. and other interviews throughout the summer in my work with Fruit 2o.

A small change is the best jump start to living healthier. Small changes can be anything from walking 15-30 minutes each day or drinking less sweetened beverages (sodas, energy drinks, sweet tea). Sugar sweetened drinks have little nutrition for the calories and can lead to weight gain and diabetes. According to the Massachusetts Diabetes Prevention Program, an estimated 110,388 more people in Massachusetts had diabetes in 2007. As little as one 20-oz sugar sweetened beverage a day (17 tsp) is nearly twice the recommended “sugar limit” (9 tsp) — eek!

If you want flavor, you can try hydrating with a zero calorie water beverage like Fruit2o. Miss soda bubbles? Mix equal parts Fruit 2o and seltzer water over ice for a zero calorie fruit flavored cooler.

When you pledge to make a small change like the ones above, you can also make a difference in the fight against diabetes. For every pledge, Fruit20 will generously give a dollar to your local American Diabetes Association. A small change for you can mean a big change for the community! What a great trade off!

Can’t make it to Boston? Visit Fruit2o on Facebook and write a pledge on their wall. They’ll still donate a buck on your behalf. Be sure to specify the Boston chapter of the American Diabetes Association.

For more information on the Boston Harborfest, follow them on twitter or visit their website.
www.twitter.com/bostonharborfes
www.bostonharborfest.com

2010 Dietary Guidelines Summary Released!

It’s big news for nutrition. We may have new advice for eating healthy… and you can give your 2 cents, if you feel so inclined. Every five years the Dietary Guidelines for Americans are updated to reflect the latest knowledge in science and research. The Guidelines are used for government nutrition initiatives, programs and education, as well as by dietitians and health professionals to help educate people about eating healthier.

Dietary Guidelines (DG) Advisory Committee released their Executive summary on Tuesday, June 15th, 2010. The full report can be found here and is currently open for public comments. (that’s you, the public…let your voice be heard and comment on the Executive Summary).

The Committee has used a state-of-the-art, web-based electronic system and methodology, known as the Nutrition Evidence Library, to answer the majority of the scientific questions it posed, about specific nutrients and foods.

What’s New in 2010?

The 2010 Guidelines are different from previous reports in that this one addresses an American public of whom the majority are overweight or obese and yet under-nourished in several key nutrients. (It may sound strange, but it is possible to be overweight and under nourished at the same time.)

This DG also focuses more on children because primary prevention of obesity must begin in childhood. They say this is the single most powerful public health approach to combating and reversing America’s obesity epidemic over the long term.
To reduce the incidence of overweight and obesity in our country they recommend that we:

  • Shift food intake patterns to a more plant-based diet that emphasizes vegetables, cooked dry beans and peas, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. In addition, increase the intake of seafood and fat-free and low-fat milk and milk products and consume only moderate amounts of lean meats, poultry, and eggs.
  • Significantly reduce intake of foods containing added sugars and solid fats because these dietary components contribute excess calories and few, if any, nutrients. In addition, reduce sodium intake and intake of refined grains.Daily sodium intake be 1,500 mg, (down from 2,300mg in the 2005 recommendations).
  • Eliminate Trans-fatty acids from the diet, and seeking to increase the amount of omega-3 fatty acids in diet.
  • Increase physical activity: adults should get at least 2½ hours of moderate-intensity physical activity each week, such as brisk walking, or 1¼ hours of a vigorous-intensity activity, such as jogging or swimming laps, or a combination of the two types. Kids and teens should do an hour or more of moderate-intensity to vigorous physical activity each day.

While I strongly support these recommendations, there are several things that must be changed about our  Food environment so that eating healthy is easy, accessible and affordable. Hopefully our government will launch initiatives that seek to improve the following points:

  • Improve nutrition literacy and cooking skills, including safe food handling skills, and empower and motivate the population, especially families with children, to prepare and consume healthy foods at home.
  • Increase comprehensive health, nutrition, and physical education programs and curricula in US schools and preschools, including food preparation, food safety, cooking, and physical education classes and improved quality of recess.
  • For all Americans, especially those with low income, create greater financial incentives to purchase, prepare, and consume vegetables and fruit, whole grains, seafood, fat-free and low-fat milk and milk products, lean meats, and other healthy foods.
  • Improve the availability of affordable fresh produce through greater access to grocery stores, produce trucks, and farmers’ markets.
  • Increase environmentally sustainable production of vegetables, fruits, and fiber-rich whole grains.
  • Encourage restaurants and the food industry to offer health-promoting foods that are low in sodium; limited in added sugars, refined grains, and solid fats; and served in smaller portions.

With over two thirds of our population either overweight or obese, this has a huge impact on the healthcare system, and our entire nation. On average, Americans of all ages consume too few vegetables, fruits, high-fiber whole grains, low-fat milk and milk products, and seafood and they eat too much added sugars, solid fats, refined grains, and sodium. Added Sugar and Fat contribute approximately 35 percent of calories to the American diet. (these are just empty calories) The current US Food environment is loaded with excess sodium, sugar, fat and refined grains, making it harder for the average consumer to eat healthy. We have to seek out healthy foods and do some detective work when eating out.

This summary is now open for public comments-so what do you have to say? Tell me here or submit your comment to the committee here! You can also read what others are saying here. Will changing the recommendations help make American healthier or do we first need to change the entire food environment?

D.C. Air Show Saturday May 15 2010 – Come Try Fruit 2 o Essentials

I’m super excited to be working with Fruit2 on a campaign to educate women about the risks of diabetes — and ways they can prevent it. Even cooler, they are putting up some serious money for the cause! Fruit2O is working with the American Diabetes Association to help promote the fight to stop diabetes.  As part of its Small Changes>Lifelong Results campaign, the Fruit2O brand is asking consumers to pledge to make a small change in their life that will have a big impact on their health. For every “small change” pledged, they will donate $1 to the local American Diabetes Association chapter. Pretty cool, huh?

Come see me and Stacy Capers (American Diabetes Association spokesperson and former Biggest Loser contestant) at the D.C. Air Show May 15. We will tell you about the Small Changes campaign and how you can get involved.

If you know me at all, you know I’m a fan of the “small change”. When it comes to preventing Type 2  diabetes, I’m looking at managing a healthy weight and minimizing “added sugars” — you know what I mean. Most of the added sugars Americans consume are in the form of empty calorie drinks like sodas, sports drinks (when you aren’t exercising over an hour), sweetened teas, slushies, etc. If you’re drinking these beverages, consider the power of making a small change. Swapping out these drinks with beverages that provide zero calories is the way to go.

I’ll be talking about the Small Changes>Lifelong Results campaign, all summer long in various locations. I’ll be giving tips for making small changes and sampling the new Fruit2O Essentials. It’s a zero calorie water beverage with vitamins and minerals. This is a great drink to try because it has fruit flavor and when you’re used to drinking sugary beverages, you might appreciate the taste. Another good one to try is sparkling water with about 1/4 cup of 100% fruit juice added.

Nearly 24 million American children and adults have diabetes while 57 million have pre-diabetes (this means they are at risk for getting diabetes soon if they don’t make changes). Diabetes runs in my family. My mom has it and she used to guzzle sweet beverages. This campaign is especially important to me. But you can do something about your risk. By improving your nutrition habits and activity levels, you can help prevent diabetes (ask me how!)

Three Easy Ways to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes

As I write this, some 54 million Americans are living with pre-diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and they may not even know it. November is National Diabetes Awareness Month. As the daughter of a type 2 diabetic, I know first-hand what it is like living with the disease. Between medications, finger sticks, foot checks, vision tests, and the daily grind of nutrition and exercise, it can be a lot for people to manage, especially after years of unhealthy habits.

So, wouldn’t it be great if you knew what you could do to control your diabetes, or better yet prevent diabetes, in the first place? Well, you’ve come to the right place. This blog post will describe the top three steps you can take to prevent or reverse type 2 diabetes.

diabetes

1. Eat healthy

If you already have type 2 diabetes, then you have (hopefully) learned about the importance of keeping carbohydrates consistent throughout the day, meaning enjoying a small amount of healthy carbohydrates with each meal. Well, this also works in preventing type 2 diabetes.

I recommend people choose carbohydrates in the form of fresh or minimally processed starchy vegetables (like potatoes), fruits, beans (like lentils), and whole grains (like brown rice, quinoa, and corn) for their meals. Non-starchy veggies have such low carbs for the calories and they are almost 100% water that you don’t need to limit those.

Just watch how they are prepared. Steamed or broiled with herbs, spices or a little olive oil is best. Refined sources of carbohydrates should be limited as much as possible: sugar, white bread, white rice, etc. You don’t need to eliminate all foods with these ingredients, but try to make a healthier swap whenever possible and limit your portion sizes of these foods.

2. Exercise more

Exercise can help slow or prevent the progression of diabetes a number of ways. Exercise helps to maintain a healthy weight, lose weight, manage stress, and improve sleep (more on that next). Exercise also helps people manage a healthy blood sugar level whether you have diabetes or not.

dietitian

When you exercise, you burn sugar for energy. Regular exercise also helps keep blood vessels healthy to prevent heart disease, which diabetics often get from damage to blood vessels. You don’t have to be a marathoner either. As little as 1,000 calories worth of activity spread throughout the week (walking 30 minutes and 20 minutes of strength training three times a week) causes your muscles to utilize sugar more effectively and keep it from floating around in your blood, which leads to diabetes.

3. Lose weight

Get a tape measure and take a waist measurement. Men, if you’ve got 40 or more inches around the waist you have 12 times the risk of developing diabetes than a male with 35 inches. Women, if you have 37 or more inches around the waist you are 12 times more likely to get diabetes than a female with 32.5 inches.

Eating healthy and exercising more are the best steps to losing weight. Get a trainer, dietitian, join a class, or buy a book/dvd… but do something to help yourself lose weight sensibly.