By Ashley Koff, RD
Author of Mom Energy: A Simple Plan to Live Fully Charged
Dr. Oz and I agree that the risks outweigh any perceived benefits when it comes to artificial sweeteners, so there’s really no room for them in your diet. Deep down inside, whether it’s due to the digestive disturbance or the insatiable sweet tooth you battle, you know this too. But how do you get rid of them? Here are my 3 Rs to help you with this challenge.
Reduce your intake of artificial sweeteners. This is the first step we want you to take, as quitting cold turkey can feel dramatic, scary, and even be confusing. If you currently have several artificially sweetened diet drinks a day, challenge yourself to only have one. Similarly, if you typically put three packets of an artificial sweetener in your coffee or tea, only use one – if you don’t like the taste with just one, then you really don’t like coffee or tea, so go for a different beverage or food choice instead. Don’t get sneaky and say you only have one packet in your coffee – but have several coffees a day! When we say one, we mean one. If that means less coffee or a coffee without any sweetener, that’s what reduce means. And remember, as you reduce your artificial sweetener intake, you will increase your overall health.
Replace your artificial sweetener with one of nature’s non-caloric sweeteners. One option is stevia, a plant leaf that contains compounds that naturally sweeten drinks and recipes too. While it’s been known in other parts of the world for ages, ever since stevia became popular here in the US, we’ve seen an explosion of products containing it, as well as “stevia” packets. Keep in mind, not all stevia products are created equal – so make sure to read your ingredient list to make sure it says “stevia” or “stevia extract.” And as always, read the rest of the ingredients to make sure there aren’t artificial ingredients present as well. Exchange your artificial sweetener for liquid drops, powder packets, or choose a beverage made with stevia for a nutrition upgrade. But keep portion control in mind: I recommend no more than 3 servings of stevia daily. Some products have 3 servings worth in one can, so check the amount and if it tastes too sweet to be true … it probably is!
Renew your taste buds. From the day we are born, our sweet taste buds are active, excitable entities that want to be given as much attention as possible. Unfortunately, when we start giving them artificial attention – which is super-high doses of sweet minus any valuable nutrients – they get quickly accustomed to that level, and anything less becomes relatively intolerable.
Even if you don’t battle a sweet tooth per se, your body is getting artificial messages from artificial sweeteners that don’t promote optimal health. Renew your sweet taste buds by bringing back nature’s sweets – fruit and vegetables in their whole form (ready-to-eat, dried and frozen) or its saps, juices and nectars. The less processed it is, the better as you will get the nutrients in the balance nature intended, which will translate into the body using it most efficiently.
But remember, just like the examples above, portion control matters. You don’t want to have more than one or two servings of added sweets (saps, nectars, juices and syrups) daily. You can consume fruit and starchy vegetables (like beets, sweet potatoes, and carrots, which get especially sweet when you cook them) more often, but a proper portion size is your fist or a half-cup cooked. They will count as your carbohydrate sources at that meal, so limit others. For example, if you have baked beets, then skip the rice at that meal, or if you are having a vegetable burger, skip the sweet-potato fries.