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  • Perception vs. Reality: Low-Calorie Sweetener Edition

    Amy Myrdal Miller, MS, RDN

    I’m often amazed by the number of choices available in nearly every category in my local supermarket. From cereals to sodas, we can always find a choice that suits our mood, our budget, or our health goals.

    The other day I noticed a store display featuring sparkling waters, offering twelve flavors to choose from, so I selected a few and headed to the checkout area. The cashier was quick to comment on the sparkling waters, saying “Those are so much better for you than diet sodas.” I wanted to explain to her that they are nearly identical to diet sodas. Like diet sodas, zero-calorie, flavored, sparkling waters are composed of mainly water, flavorings, and low-calorie sweeteners, which are safe and effective for sweetening a wide variety of foods and beverages.

    A recent consensus statement from nutrition experts around the world summarized the benefits of low-calories sweeteners as follows:

    1.  Low calorie sweeteners do not increase appetite and have no discernible effect on hunger or fullness.
    2. Low calorie sweeteners help to reduce calorie intake when used in place of higher calorie ingredients.
    3. Low calorie sweeteners can enhance weight loss under real-life conditions when used as part of a healthy, balanced weight loss program that strives to incorporate lifestyle changes.
    4. Low calorie sweeteners may have a beneficial effect on post-meal glucose and insulin levels in healthy individuals, as well as in people with diabetes.

    Like diet sodas, zero-calorie flavored, sparkling waters are a wonderful choice for people who want to balance their calorie intake by limiting calories from beverages. And with so many flavors to choose from today, there’s a sparkling water to fit every occasion, from family picnics and summer pool parties to kids’ baseball games!

    Amy Myrdal Miller, MS, RDN, is a registered dietitian nutritionist who has lived well with Type I diabetes for more than 37 years. The owner of Farmer’s Daughter Consulting, she consults with a variety of food and beverage clients on issues related to nutrition and health.



  • What’s in Your Cooler?

    Pat Baird, MA, RDN, FAND

    Outdoor picnics, concerts, and social events are in full swing -- which means packing smart meals and beverages to bring along. However, it doesn’t mean you have to leave behind your food and beverage choices. Below are a few of my tips for staying hydrated this summer, while including your favorite options.

    1. Plan outings the same way as any other meal or snack time to avoid a dull picnic hamper. Coordinate your outing with your group in advance to ensure the best mix of fresh foods and tasty treats.
    2. Hydration is a health essential for people of all ages. Adequate amounts of fluid are important to maintain body temperature, digest food properly, and perform a variety of biological processes.  While water may be top of mind for most people when they think about hydration, we get water from a variety of beverages and foods.  All of them count.
    3. Quench your thirst. The latest recommendations from the Institute of Medicine advise that adults use thirst as their guide for how much to hydrate.  Keep in mind that they specified this meant fluid from all sources: food and beverages combined.
    4. Include options. Don’t forget to pack choices -- water, juice, milk, soda, or even ice tea.  Diet soda is a good hydration option for people looking to save calories and stay refreshed.  Juice provides vitamins and minerals, especially electrolytes like potassium that may be lost with sweating, while flavored milks offer nutrients like calcium and vitamin D.  Summer fruits like watermelon, cantaloupe, grapes, peaches, and nectarines are also high in water and tasty additions to any cooler. 

    So before your next outing be sure to plan a variety of food and beverage choices to offer the best choices for everyone and, most importantly, maintain optimal hydration.

    Pat Baird is a registered dietitian nutritionist, a fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; and President of the CT Academy of Nutrition.  She is an award-winning author of five books, a noted media spokesperson, and adjunct professor at UConn Stamford. Pat worked in healthcare at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.   

  • Food Fear: Will Warning Labels do More Harm than Good?

    Rosanne Rust, MS, RDN, LDN

    Over recent weeks and months, there has been chatter about placing warning labels on sugary beverages in an effort to improve the health of Americans. Food activists are claiming that warning labels on products such as soda will help consumers make healthier choices and reduce incidences of obesity. Really? It’s highly debatable whether a warning label will deter soda sales, but I am quite certain that a warning label on groceries will not improve the health of Americans.

    Ideas like the proposed warning labels emphasize to me how illiterate many food activists are about human behavior and what people across the country actually eat. Encouraging people to embrace a healthy lifestyle will take more than singling out and discouraging a single calorie source; and it’s not something that will happen overnight or with excessive red tape. People are more successful at behavior change when they have access to appropriate guidance, education, and long-term support.

    Obesity prevention isn’t about telling people what to eat either. It’s about helping people learn how to engage in a balanced lifestyle (and truly value it) - which includes finding ways to be more physically active, managing stress, as well as learning how to choose options from each food group in a balance way.  In other words: helping people figure out how to balance their activity with their diet that provides a variety of foods that they can enjoy, in moderate amounts.

    So how would a simple warning label on soda teach consumers what to place in their grocery cart and how to reduce stress or fit in exercise?

    Don’t underestimate the consumer -- they understand that treats can be enjoyed in moderation and that all calories count.

    In addition to being the mother of 3 sons, Rosanne has nearly 30 years of experience in the food and nutrition field. She is the coauthor of several books, including DASH Diet For Dummies®, which all share her philosophy of balancing healthy eating with exercise and an enjoyment of life's little pleasures. Check out her blog, Chew The Facts, for more on this topic.