Switching to diet drinks is not enough to produce weight loss

Aspartame: Weight Loss Friend or Foe?

This blog was written as a guest post for Yahoo!Shine. You can read the original post here.

In the wake of today’s growing obesity epidemic, beverages made with low-and no-calorie sweeteners are a valuable tool. They help people to enjoy sweet tasting foods and beverages without too many calories and help manage weight. Since obesity is caused, in part, by excess calories, using these sweeteners just makes sense. Unfortunately, not everyone advocates for their use.

Despite all evidence in favor of sugar substitutes, there have been repeated challenges regarding their safety, which leave many people wondering if they’re a healthy option. Recent coverage of an American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (AJCN) study prematurely portrayed aspartame as harmful, and is a perfect example of media raising unnecessary alarm. As a registered dietitian and specialist in weight management, I’d like to lay these concerns to rest.

First, the facts: Aspartame was approved for use as a table-top sweetener by the Food and Drug Administration more than three decades ago. It then received approval for use in carbonated beverages and other food categories. It has also been approved as a food ingredient by regulatory agencies in more than 100 other countries and used by millions of people living with diabetes or simply trying to control their weight.

The recent AJCN aspartame study tried to link the sweetener to cancer, but like so many other studies, failed to find a connection. After promoting the study, the researchers retracted their findings and noted the results were so inconsistent they may have simply been due to chance. That is not what the media initially reported, however, causing alarm and confusion for many.

This time the reaction to the misinformation was swift. In less than 24 hours, Harvard and the Brigham and Woman’s Hospital, where the study was conducted, apologized for promoting this flawed research. Other scientists also took a stand, such as Dr. Steven Nissen at the Cleveland Clinic, who asserted, “Promoting a study that its own authors agree is not definite, not conclusive and not useful for the public is not in the best interests of public health.”

After 30 years of widespread use, we know that aspartame is safe. It is one of the most thoroughly investigated ingredients in the world with more than 200 scientific studies conducted in both laboratory animals and in humans confirming its safety. It’s time to focus our attention on how low calorie sweeteners can help people control their weight instead of repeatedly raising fear about their use.

The best way to protect your health and maintain a healthy weight is the same now as it ever was – eat a balanced diet and get regular exercise. And if you’re doing that, then there’s no reason not to enjoy a beverage with sugar substitutes, too.

Robyn Flipse is a registered dietitian and cultural anthropologist who consults for food and beverage companies, including Coca-Cola, McNeil Nutritionals, and General Mills.

The simple truths about good nutrition are lost in the hype and sensationalism

Why Are Consumers Confused by Food, Nutrition & Diet Information?

This blog was written as a guest post for Yahoo! Shine. You can read the original here.

In my 30 years of practice as a registered dietitian I have never been discouraged by the challenge of educating people on how to make healthier food choices. It has been a rewarding process for me, whether done individually, in a classroom or over the airwaves.

The bigger challenge has been countering the effort by some health professionals and journalists to reduce important food and nutrition information to simple sound bites or catchy headlines. I have found that these proponents often infuse their messages with emotional language and unsupportable claims that leave consumers ill-equipped to make appropriate decisions in the rapidly expanding food and nutrition marketplace.

I choose not to contribute to this debilitating process. Instead, I want to empower people to make sensible choices for themselves. To support that effort I have prepared a list of New Year’s Resolutions for Better Food and Nutrition Communications in 2012. I hope others will join me and take the pledge to help Americans become better consumers by giving them all of the food and nutrition information they need – not just what fits a sexy headline.

I pledge to:

1. Never propose that a single “diet” – or combination of foods – is best for everyone. I will always ask you what you currently eat and what your food preferences are, then tailor a diet to suit you.

2. Never use the length of a food’s ingredient list as a simple measure of its nutritional value, or lack thereof. I will explain what the key ingredients are in different foods and how they can be enriched or fortified by other ingredients.

3. Never agree with banning or taxing foods or drinks as a way to change what people eat. Advocates say efforts like these will curb obesity, but research shows taxing sugary drinks like soda does not affect body mass index. Instead, I will show you how any food or drink can fit into your diet when you control the frequency and portion size.

4. Never dismiss foods that contain multisyllabic ingredients, words with scientific origins or words that are difficult to pronounce. Instead, I will teach you what those words mean and what their function is so you can make more informed decisions.

5. Never suggest that foods labeled as “all natural,” “organically grown” or “locally sourced” are superior to foods that do not carry these labels. I will show you how to use the Nutrition Facts on food labels so you can make appropriate comparisons based on nutrient content, cost and availability.

6. Never use inflammatory or provocative language when talking about food, such as “junk,” “garbage” or “toxic.” I will remain objective in my discourse so you can make objective decisions rather than emotional ones.

7. Never assume that most people can evaluate the integrity of scientific research studies or interpret their findings. I will assist you in your understanding of the scientific process by providing an explanation of how the new information fits in with the current body of knowledge on the subject.

8. Never support the notion that to “binge,” “splurge” or “cheat” when eating is compatible with good health. I will evaluate the underlying reasons for these potentially abusive eating behaviors and attitudes and help you establish a more balanced approach to making your food choices.

9. Never imply that losing weight can be quick, simple or effortless. I will remind you that eating is a complex behavior and we don’t understand all of the factors that influence it. Changing your eating habits and level of physical activity is a slow and difficult process, but with help it is possible to establish a healthier lifestyle.

10. Never profess that we know everything about our nutritional needs and how to best meet them. I will acknowledge that the science of human nutrition is young and still evolving and I remain open to new discoveries.

Please sign up below if you want to take the Pledge: