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Sunday, May 15, 2005

Sugar, Not Fat, Responsible For Obesity Problem

This Kansas City Star article is about the new increased focus by Americans on the detrimental effects sugar has on their bodies. But it also takes a highly critical look at "the low-carbohydrate dieting craze" and the dangers of sugar substitutes such as Splenda in what I believe is an attempt to discourage people from livin' la vida low-carb. How about if we set 'em straight?

Presenting it as evidence that the popularity of low-carb has waned, this story describes what organic foods manufacturer Stonyfield Farms did with their popular yogurt line called Moove Over Carbs to continue the sales success it has had now that low-carb is supposedly dead.

The article explains: "In January they pulled Moove Over Carbs from the shelves, and this month Moove Over Sugar takes its place. Except for the name, the product remains the same. Sugars are, after all, carbs."

Okay, let me see if I understand this correctly. The bigwigs at Stonyfield Farms decided to change the name of their product from "Moove Over Carbs" to "Move Over Sugar" in an attempt to boost sales because low-carb is not as popular as it once was. Uh, am I missing something here?

With virtually every other food company out there falling all over themselves to put "low-carb" on their packaging, why is Stonyfield Farms switching gears all of a sudden? I guess you could say they've become convinced that low-carb is out and low-sugar is in. But isn't it interesting they haven't changed the ingredients in this product at all? I guess you could conclude it's still low-carb although it isn't marketed that way.

Interestingly, while the packaging and name may have changed, a quick visit to the Stonyfield Farms web site description of the yogurt shows you a picture of the new "Moove Over Sugar" packaging, but at the very top of the page they still call it "Moove Over Carbs" as of Sunday night when I posted this story on my blog (they might change it now that I've pointed this error out to them!). I guess they can't make up their mind whether mentioning their product as a low-carb item is a good thing or not!

Supposedly, according to the article, "low-sugar food has become the new low-carb food." But my only response to that is "WHO CARES?!" If something has little to no sugar in it at all, then it is usually an excellent choice for people who are livin' la vida low-carb. Dr. Atkins continually focused on the negative aspects of sugar as a primary reason for weight problems in America in all of his books. In fact, I am devoting an entire chapter of my book on the subject of sugar because it is that important for people to understand the negative role sugar plays in regards to your weight and health.

Just as they did when low-carb first became popular, food manufacturers are now rushing to pump out "low-sugar" foods to help people identify products that are supposed to be "healthier" for them. Unfortunately, though, while these products may be lower in sugar than their regular counterparts, oftentimes they still have an unusually high amount of sugar that make them off limits to people doing a low-carb lifestyle. Just as so many of the so-called "low-carb" products failed to sell because they were not low enough in carbohydrates to warrant that lofty description, these new low-sugar products will face the same fate when people realize they are still getting much more sugar than their body needs.

Right now there isn't a standard to regulate what can be described as "low-carb" or "low-sugar" on the grocery shelves. While I do not advocate the government getting involved in this process, there needs to be an independent organization or board that gives what would amount to the "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval" to those products that are actually found to be "low-carb" or "low-sugar" as defined by a consensus of health and nutritional experts on the panel. Representatives from Atkins Nutritionals and others would judge whether a product should be allowed to be labeled "low-carb" or "low-sugar" by establishing a carbohydrate and sugar threshold which cannot be exceeded. If we're going to be serious about truth in advertising regarding "low-carb" and "low-sugar" products, then this is something that must be taken into consideration as soon as possible.

Whenever people ask me about what to eat when they want something sweet while doing the low-carb lifestyle, I recommend they choose sugar-free items because they just don't need all that sugar. Even in popular diet bars there can be large quantities of hidden sugars you have to be aware of. I always tell people to read food and nutrition labels carefully and immediately put down any product that has more than a gram or two of sugars per serving in it. It's just not worth putting in your mouth when there are plenty of viable sugar substitutes that, in my opinion, taste just as good as sugar, but without the consequences that come from eating too much of it.

The article warns about the move to market low-sugar products and whether the sugar substitutes in those products are safe for people to use. Interestingly, the only sugar substitute mentioned in the article is sucralose, sold under the product name Splenda.

Splenda is the sugar substitute highly recommended by Dr. Robert Atkins in his books. That brand has become a household name with its little symbol found on thousands upon thousands of products these days. Most people (and especially low-carbers) are extremely comfortable with using Splenda and recognize it as an excellent sugar substitute with 600 times the sweetness of sugar.

But there are some who question the safety of Splenda. While I can appreciate the honest concerns about the foods sold on our supermarket shelves, this alarmist response to Splenda is a bit of an overreaction. There is nothing in this article about the real dangers that have been documented about some other sugar substitutes like aspartame (Nutrasweet) and saccharin. Just as they have done with the low-carb lifestyle, the media is attempting to villify Splenda to discourage people from using a product found to be safe in over 100 studies in the past two decades and prominently used by low-carbers everywhere.

The story cites a recent survey conducted by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the world's largest association of food, beverage and consumer product companies, which found nearly half of all grocery shoppers are looking for products that contained "reduced sugar."

Well duh? This group of survey participants who want less sugar in the food they buy doesn't exactly exclude people who are livin' la vida low-carb as the story implies. Actually, it's quite the contrary. Those of us who are watching our carb intake are the ones who are most likely to be especially careful about the sugar content in the products we buy. Low-sugar generally equates to being low-carb.

But the same can't be said about low-fat. The vast majority of low-fat products have loads of added sugar and sodium in an attempt to as closely replicate the taste of the original versions of various foods as possible. The resulting consequence is usually something that tastes very discusting and the addition of even more sugar in your diet that you just don't need. If you're cutting out sugar from your diet, then you can't exactly be doing a low-fat diet!

So how about starting the low-carb lifestyle like millions and millions of us who have already done it with great success and you can cut your sugar while enjoying lots of tasty foods you just can't have on a low-fat diet! It'll be the best thing you've ever done in your life in regards to shrinking your waistline and improving your overall health.

At the end of the article, a nutritionist named Dr. Stuart Fischer, who runs his own practice in Manhattan and formerly worked under the leadership of Dr. Robert Atkins for nine years as associate medical director of the former Atkins Center for Complementary Medicine, expresses his opinion that artificial sweeteners do nothing to help people's "overall health" because they supposedly make you crave sugar-laced treats.

"They remind dieters about the taste of the forbidden fruit," Fischer said. "Does Alcoholics Anonymous recommend alcohol-free beer? Of course not."

While I am not even going to pretend to question Dr. Fischer's expert medical analysis of sugar substitutes, all I can offer is my own experience with sugar substitutes during my weight loss and weight maintenance over the past year and a half.

Sugar substitutes have been a godsend to me. Before I started livin' la vida low-carb, just the mention of the words "sugar-free" caused me to cringe. But times have changed and so have the sugar substitutes. You just don't know what you are talking about if you haven't even tried how wonderful sugar substitutes make Russell Stover candies or Z-Carb chocolate bars taste.

While Dr. Fischer said he is worried about people wanting to gobble up foods with sugar in them after consuming these sugar substitutes, I found just the opposite is true. Because the sugar substitutes are so good, I don't feel compelled to eat anything with sugar in it because I know it would go against my goal of losing and maintaining my weight. I have a unique phrase I often tell myself whenever I might be tempted to eat something with sugar in it. I can't tell you what it is right now because I use it in my book. But I think it can help anyone who wants to overcome their addiction to sugar. You'll have to wait until my book comes out to find out what it is.

The bottom line is this: Sugar is not good for you at all. You need to do whatever you can to avoid it completely, especially when you are on a low-carb lifestyle. Even just a little bit of sugar can kick you out of ketosis and foil your plans to lose and maintain your weight. If everyone in this country would just cut sugar out of their lives, I contend we would see the obesity numbers plummet to near single digits!

While the media has focused much of their attention on fat consumption, especially with people on a low-carb lifestyle, they need to turn their attention to sugar consumption, generally associated with people on a low-fat diet. The truth is that we can live without sugar. It might be difficult for many to break their addiction, but it can and must be done.

05/16/2005 UPDATE: I got a personal e-mail response today from Dr. Fischer.

Thanks for your e-mail and your excellent article. I am also glad for your personal success story and your hope of helping many others. After dealing with this tremendous subject since 1988, I wish that it would lend itself to monolithic thinking and simplistic answers (I am referring to how the media treats overweight and obesity), but human physiology and behavior are much more complex. Keep up the good work!

Best wishes,

Dr. Stuart Fischer


I guess he's on our side after all! Thanks for your kind comments, Dr. Fischer. I look forward to hearing more from you regarding how we need to deal with the obesity problem in the coming years.

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1 Comments:

Blogger Newbirth said...

About the yogurt, Oreo did the same thing. They repackaged their "Carb Well" Oroes (best sugar free cookies evah!) as "Sugar Free" Oreos. Same exact cookie, different marketing.

1/09/2006 12:12 AM  

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