New research provides further evidence why we should prevent zinc deficiency as we age

Today’s Nutrition News: Preventing Zinc Deficiency

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, so the post has been reproduced here.

NEW RESEARCH PROVIDES FURTHER EVIDENCE FOR WHY WE SHOULD PREVENT ZINC DEFICIENCY AS WE AGE

You don’t hear much about zinc deficiency in nutrition circles. My chief recollection of it from

undergraduate school was that it was responsible for the a loss of taste as we aged. Fearing that possibility, I’ve always paid attention to the zinc content of foods. (Baked beans, dark meat chicken, cashews, chick peas and Swiss cheese are my favorites)

Now a new study helps to explain why we develop zinc deficiency as we age. This research may lead to a better understanding of how we can continue enjoy the taste of our food as we grow older and benefit from the many other important functions zinc performs in the body.

Reasons for Zinc Deficiency

The research was done by scientists at the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University and published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry. They found signs of zinc deficiency in older rats that had adequate zinc in their diets. The cause was malfunctioning zinc transporters. In a convoluted process, the mechanisms used to transport zinc were disrupted by changes in DNA, and the DNA was damaged by the lack of zinc.

In humans as well as rats, zinc is needed to repair the damage to DNA that goes on in the body throughout life. This study and others suggest our ability to keep up with these repairs becomes less efficient over time while the need gets greater.

One of the most serious effects of low zinc levels is an enhanced inflammatory response. Excessive inflammation is directly linked to many life-threatening diseases, including cancer and heart disease. When the rats in this study were given 10 times their dietary requirement for zinc, biomarkers for inflammation retuned to the levels of younger animals.

Given the aging of the population and rising rates of degenerative diseases, the role of zinc in controlling inflammation may be its most important contribution to a healthy retirement.

Key Facts About Zinc in the Diet

Zinc is involved in the activity of over 100 enzymes and needed for proper immune function, DNA and protein synthesis, wound healing and cell division.

The combination of low dietary intake of zinc and poor absorption can lead to a deficiency. Government food intake surveys found the diets of 35%-45% of people over age 60 did not meet average zinc requirements. When zinc sources from both diet and supplements were measured, 20%-25% still had inadequate intakes.

Current Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) for zinc for people over age 19 are 11 mg/day for men and 8 mg/day for women. Due to lowered rates of absorption in older adults, many nutrition scientists believe the RDA for people over 50 should be increased.

Symptoms of zinc deficiency include frequent infections, hair loss, poor appetite, loss of sense of taste and smell, poor wound healing, and mental lethargy. Many of these symptoms are also associated with other health problems so a thorough medical exam is needed to make a diagnosis.

People with higher risk for zinc deficiency are those with digestive diseases, malabsorption syndrome, chronic liver or renal disease, sickle cell disease, alcoholics, and vegetarians.

There are no medical tests to adequately measure zinc status. A dietary assessment is the best tool along with a review of medical history and medication use.

Zinc toxicity can occur from overuse of dietary supplements and over-the-counter cold remedies. Signs include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. The Tolerable Upper Intake for men and women over age 19 is 40 mg/day.

Why Do We Have Low-Calorie Sweeteners?

This post was originally written as a guest blog for TheSkinnyOnLowCal.org. You can read the original post here.

If you’ve ever wondered why there are so many low-calorie sweeteners to choose from, it helps to first know a little bit about the history of the caloric sweeteners they can be used to replace. It all begins with our innate preference for a sweet taste. This evolutionary trait is linked to the natural sweetness of breast milk, which must fuel our rapid growth during the first year of life.

SWEET HISTORY

The only way our earliest ancestors got to taste something sweet once they were weaned was if they happened to find a plant while foraging with sweet leaves, stem, bark, roots or fruit. Since those parts could also be toxic, the pursuit of something sweet required a fast learning curve. The same can be said for stealing honey from a bee hive to satisfy a sweet tooth! People living in New Guinea over 8,000 years ago are credited with being the first to chew wild sugar cane for its sweet taste. It was later discovered that sweet syrup could be made by boiling the canes, and this turned into a sweet powder when dried. The rest, as they say, is history. The trading of sugar quickly expanded across Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Europe, finally making its way to the New World in 1493 when Christopher Columbus arrived with sugar cane seeds.

SUGAR SUBSTITUTES, THE EARLY YEARS

The growing global demand for sugar in the 20th Century combined with the high cost to produce and transport it motivated food scientists to look for something that could be used in its place. Several compounds were discovered that were many times sweeter than sugar so they weren’t readily accepted as a substitute. It wasn’t until sugar was rationed during both World Wars that sales of these alternative sweeteners took off to satisfy our craving for something sweet when no sugar could be had.

SUGAR SUBSTITUTES, THE MODERN ERA

The unprecedented expansion in food production in the United States following World War II gave us an abundant and affordable food supply that contributed to the first signs of excess weight gain among Americans in the 1950s. This, in turn, helped launch the popular Weight Watchers® program in 1960s and increase the demand for more no- and low-calorie sweeteners by people trying to manage their weight.

WHAT’S AVAILABLE

LCS table

The no- and low-calorie sweeteners currently approved for use in U.S. foods and beverages can be found in the table above. Dozens more are in development to help meet the growing desire for alternatives to sugar that have fewer calories and are safe for everyone in the family — and that pretty much sums up why we have low-calorie sweeteners!

Have any questions? Ask them in the comments!

Notes:

1. Sweet compounds were isolated
2. Approved as a dietary supplement in 1995, then available as a food ingredient in 2008
3. Approved as Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS), so does not require FDA approval as a food additive
4. Discovery of the sweet component in the fruit

Hunger and appetite are not the same

Hunger versus Appetite: Learning the Difference is Key to Weight Management

This post was written as a guest blog for SplendaLiving.com. You can read the original post here.

I have been compensated for my time by McNeil Nutritionals, LLC, the maker of SPLENDA® Sweetener Products. All statements and opinions are my own. I have pledged to Blog With Integrity, asserting that the trust of my readers and the blogging community is vitally important to me.

When I hear people say they don’t use low calorie sweeteners because they believe they’ll lead to food cravings, I’m always surprised. When I want something sweet and chocolaty I just reach for a dish of sugar free chocolate pudding or cup of no added sugar hot cocoa because they always satisfy me, and with far fewer calories than if I went for the full sugar version!

I have used a number of different no and low calorie sweeteners in my life, and continue to use them, and have never experienced anything close to a craving when eating a food or drink containing them. My experience is confirmed by studies that show people did not report increased appetite when given food and beverages sweetened with sugar substitutes.

All of the discussion over whether these sweeteners can really make us eat more, or want to eat more, got me thinking about just how complex our eating behavior really is. After reading this brief summary I think you’ll agree there are more triggers to food cravings than sweeteners.

Learning to Eat

Human beings come into the world with two basic drives that control when we eat: hunger and satiety. Hunger makes us seek food and satiety keeps us from thinking about it again until we are hungry again. You can see these innate mechanisms at work in any healthy newborn baby.

We do not start out life knowing what to eat. We must be taught what is edible and how to feed ourselves. These lessons are shaped by many things. Think about how your own food choices have been influenced by your family food traditions, religious dietary practices, health beliefs, food labeling, cost, advertising, peer pressure and serving sizes, just to name a few. Our exposure to the many factors that shape our own eating behavior begins at birth and continues throughout our lives. These influences are part of every food decision we make.

Separating Our Wants from Our Needs

Now let’s get back to those internal signals, hunger and satiety. When a wide variety of good tasting food is readily available virtually all of the time, external forces can easily override the internal signals that tell us when to eat and how much. If that happens often enough we soon have a difficult time telling the difference between our hunger (a physiological need for food) and our appetite (a psychological desire to eat). If you’ve ever ordered a delicious dessert right after eating a three course meal then you know how your appetite can get the best of you!

Ignoring our internal signals of hunger and satiety can also explain why some people think drinking a diet soda can make them overeat. Here’s what may really be happening: if someone is hungry and grabs a can of diet soda instead of getting something to eat, they will still be hungry soon after they finish the soda. Since a serving of diet soda has little or no calories, it’s like drinking a glass of water. The longer they ignore the feeling of hunger the greater the likelihood that they will overeat when they finally get some food because by then they are really hungry. But that is not the fault of the diet soda; it was hunger all along!

These are just some of the examples that illustrate how complex human eating behavior is compared to other animals. Our individual eating behavior is also unique when compared to other people, whether family members, friends or folks we’ve never met around the world. You could say no two people eat in exactly the same way.

That is why I do not believe low calorie sweeteners, such as SPLENDA® Brand Sweetener (sucralose), can make us eat more or crave sweets. But it’s reassuring to know there’s plenty of scientific evidence that shows low calorie sweeteners do not stimulate appetite or food intake and don’t cause weight gain. In fact, millions of people use them every day to help with weight management, but when people overeat, there are a million other reasons why.

 

Having too many food choices can result in overeating if we make the wrong decisions in the grocery store

Can Too Many Food Choices Lead to Obesity?

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, but you can read the original blog here.

HAVING TOO MANY FOOD CHOICES CAN RESULT IN OVEREATING IF WE MAKE THE WRONG DECISIONS IN THE GROCERY STORE

The average grocery store in the U.S. now has up to 60,000 different items in stock. That’s good news if you’ve always wanted a mango chipotle salad dressing, but for most of us that’s just too many food choices. And research shows that choice overload may actually be contributing to the obesity epidemic.

I like grocery shopping since I’m in the food and nutrition business. But with the expanding number of products for sale, it now takes me a lot longer to do it. Supermarkets are where food manufacturers showcase their latest and greatest products, so everything that fills the shelves is of interest to me. How else could I possibly know there are low sodium olives and braised beef flavor with sweet potato dog treats?

But for most people, food shopping is a chore – a dreaded chore. The more people you have to feed, the more dreaded it is because the pantry never remains stocked for very long. And each trip back to the store involves another round of decision-making as you take in all those choices.

A simple shopping list is not enough to help you win the battle against too many food choices.

Food Choice and Hunger

No matter how much you may like macaroni and cheese, it would soon lose its appeal if you had to eat it over and over again (toddlers excluded). Research shows that appetite declines, regardless of physicalhunger, when limited to eating the same food day after day. This loss of interest in food is also seen in people who have lost their sense of taste.

The other side of that coin is called hedonic hunger. That is when you eat more than you physically need because you can move from one food to another to get a new taste sensation. Our enjoyment of food over-rides our sensation of satiety. That’s what happens every time we order dessert immediately after a meal.

When food shopping, we are not literally consuming everything we put into our carts, but we are “setting the table” for what we might consume once we get that food home. How well we make those decisions can contribute to overeating.

Overchoice and Overeating

Careless Decisions: Overwhelmed by having to make so many decisions you grow mentally tired of evaluating all the choices. To simplify the process you may ignore important information (price, nutrient content, health claims), make an impulsive decision or don’t choose at all, even if it’s something you really needed. That is how you leave the store with a familiar brand of cereal instead of the high fiber, low sugar one you meant to buy.

Incomplete Decisions: You make a decision but are not satisfied with it because you don’t know if you saw every possible choice, and fear there may have been something better. Your enjoyment of that food is diminished by a feeling of uncertainty about what you may have missed and you are likely to eat more of it trying to become satisfied. That is how you can polish off a half-gallon of low fat ice cream in a few days so you can go back to look for more options.

Irrational Decisions: The availability of so many tempting choices can over-ride your rational, decision-making process and make it easier to select foods for other reasons, such as to reward yourself or satisfy emotional needs. That is how you arrive home with so many items that were not on your shopping list.

To avoid poor decisions when food shopping, my advice is to:

  • always have a list
  • never shop when hungry
  • pay in cash

What works for you?

Check Jars for Spices to See if You Store Spices Too Long

How Long Do You Store Spices in Your Spice Cabinet?

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. This site was deactivated on July 1, 2013 but you can view the original blog here.

 

CHECK JARS FOR SPICES TO SEE IF YOU STORE SPICES TOO LONG

It’s time for your first annual pantry purge of the New Year! Opening up a new calendar is a perfect time to open up your spice cabinet and do a little housecleaning since how long you store spices and herbs plays a big part in determining how effective they will be in seasoning your food.

The initial quality of the herbs and spices you buy is the biggest determinant of their shelf life. The type of jars used for spices being stored in your kitchen is also important. Dried spices and herbs won’t spoil if properly stored and used, but they can lose their potency. No matter how much, or how little, you pay for your seasonings, if they have no flavor they are not a bargain.

Don’t Store Spices Too Long!

The first step is to take out all of the spices and herbs you have tucked away in cabinets, drawers and racks and line them up on the counter. Next you can check the label or bottom of the container for the “best by” date. This date doesn’t mean they will be bad if it has passed, but it’s a good indication of how long the manufacturer stands behind their effectiveness.

Storage conditions and duration can affect not only how robust the flavor of your herbs and spices will be, but also whether they become caked or infested with insects or mold. Dried herbs lose their flavor faster than spices, and ground spices lose theirs faster than whole. If flavor has faded, using a bit more may allow you to get the desired result.

Give Jars for Spices and Herbs the Look and Sniff Test

Look at the Color Dried herbs and red spices, such as chili powder, paprika and red pepper, may turn brown when held at room temperature or exposed to air. They are still fine to use, but will not look very pretty as a garnish. To retain the bright color of the red ones so you’ll always have vibrant paprika for your deviled eggs, you can store them in the refrigerator.

Sniff the Aroma For ground spices, the best way to check freshness is by shaking the closed container, then opening the lid and sniffing. If it doesn’t emit a strong, characteristic aroma, it may be safe to use, but ineffective in flavoring your dish.

You can check the strength of whole spices by scraping them on a grate or crushing them with the side of a knife before smelling.

The best way to test dried herbs is to take a few leaves and rub them between your fingers or into the palm of your hand to see if they emit their fragrance.

Keeping Dried Spices and Herbs Fresh Longer

How to Use Don’t open and shake the container over food that has steam rising. The steam will cause caking and can lead to mold. Shake the spice or herb into your hand or measuring spoon first.

If you are going to insert a measuring utensil into the container, be sure it is clean and completely dry first to avoid cross-contamination. Always replace the lid immediately after using.

How to Store Keep dried herbs and spices in tightly sealed containers, away from direct sunlight and moisture. Do not store on a window sill, above the stove, near the sink or next to the dishwasher to avoid heat and humidity. Decorative spice racks with open shaker holes on top may look cute, but they are not practical storage containers. Use them as a decoration only.

When purchasing spices in large quantities, transferring them to smaller containers – possibly cleaned, empty containers from spices bought in a smaller size – can make them easier to use and store. Keep the remains of the larger containers on a cool, dry, dark shelf.

Do not store dried herbs and spices in the freezer. Condensation will occur when they are thawing, which can result in caking and mold.

Shelf Life Spices that are used in small quantities, or infrequently, should be purchased in smaller sizes so they won’t end up on your shelf for too many years. If you write the date of purchase on the bottom of each new container you buy, you can use this guide for storage times:

  • Ground spices: 2-3 years
  • Whole spices: 3-4 years
  • Seasoning blends: 1-2 years
  • Dried Herbs: 1-3 years
  • Extracts: 4 years, except pure vanilla which lasts indefinitely

Once you have your spices ready for the year, you can look for ways to spice up your love life here!

The American diet has not improved with access to more food and nutrition information than ever before

Why is the American Diet So Bad?

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, but you can read the original blog here.

THE AMERICAN DIET HAS NOT IMPROVED EVEN WITH ACCESS TO MORE FOOD AND NUTRITION INFORMATION THAN EVER BEFORE

The American diet is not good, and I think I know why. It’s not because we don’t know what’s good for us, can’t afford the good stuff, or can’t get enough of it.

We have access to the most abundant and consistent food supply in the world. There is more information available to us about the composition of our food and how and where it’s grown than ever before. And we have more knowledge about our nutritional needs throughout the lifecycle and how different foods impact our health than at any other time in history.

Still, we struggle to eat right. I believe it boils down to three very fundamental things that determine virtually all of our food choices, regardless of what we know, read or hear about food and nutrition. They are Taste, Time, and Talent. Until we can conquer their influence over our eating habits there is little reason to believe we’ll eat any better in the next 35 years than we did in the last.

Taste Rules

Taste is the number one factor influencing food choice. Year after year consumer surveys tell us this.

Food manufacturers know it, so they market products that taste good to us. That’s why national brands and franchises do so well. They deliver what we want the way we like it every time.

This makes perfect sense when you consider how much food and money is wasted when you buy products that have the best nutrition score or lowest price or fewest ingredients on the label, but no one in your family likes them. People eat what they like. Always have, always will.

Time Crunch

The next factor I believe is controlling our diets is the amount of time we are willing to spend on getting food and eating it. Most people can’t find 30 minutes a day. I spend around 12 hours a week. That’s 2 hours for shopping and storing food and about 1.5 hours a day preparing it, eating, and cleaning up.

If you can’t shop for your own food, prepare it, and portion it out for yourself you are left with short cuts that can easily undermine your good intentions. Eating out, buying take-out, and using prepared and convenience foods do save time, but often lead to compromises on the quality, cost, and quantity that you eat. Yet no matter how little time you have, you won’t be disappointed with the taste, because we only buy what we like.

Limited Talent

The final factor that keeps us from eating well is limited talent in the kitchen. Ironically, the rise in food and nutrition information over the past three decades has been matched by a decline in basic cooking skills. Yes, there are plenty of cooking shows and celebrity chefs to show us how, but most Americans do not have the confidence to properly select and prepare food for themselves and their family.

When you don’t know how to cook (or don’t like to cook or have time to cook), you cannot take advantage of all the best nutritional values in the grocery store, healthy meal planning advice, or cost-saving tips available. Just like folks who are short on time, you will rely on restaurants, take-out, prepared and convenience foods to get most of your meals. And all that good dietary information will take a back seat.

This doesn’t mean there is no hope for improving the way Americans eat. But I do think we have to start looking for different solutions. Maybe a pill that alters taste preferences, a shorter work week, and mandatory home economics classes for all students?

Who taught you to cook, and who have you taught?

Other posts on this topic:

  • Being Busy Interferes with Eating Regular Meals
  • Fast Food May Hurt Us in More Ways Than One
National Peanut Butter and Jelly day is not the only time we enjoy peanut butter

What Food is in 90% of US Households? Peanut Butter!

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. This site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, but you read the blog here.

NATIONAL PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY DAY IS NOT THE ONLY TIME WE ENJOY PEANUT BUTTER

This morning I smeared chunky peanut butter and wild blueberry preserves on a toasted whole wheat English muffin for my breakfast. Like many Americans, I make some version of this popular sandwich many times throughout the year. One reason that’s possible is because the main ingredient is something 90 percent of us always have in our kitchens.

Other little known facts about pb&j are that the average child will eat 1,500 of them before he/she graduates from high school, although adults consume more of them than school kids. And for a whopping 96 percent of all pb&j sandwiches made, the chunky or creamy is spread on the bread before the jam, jelly or preserves.

Since today is National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day, I’d like to honor this infamous combination between two slices of bread by sharing the top reasons why I think it’s so good.

Great Taste!

Millions of Americans like the taste of peanuts and anything made with them. Some of us even think they make candy taste better since four of the top 10 candy bars made in the US contain peanuts or peanut butter. That taste is also found in ice cream, cookies, ready-to-eat cereals, granola bars, pretzel snacks, smoothies, sauces, and dressings to name just a few of the most popular pairings.

Totally Convenient

Easy to use and easy to store are what make peanut butter a household staple. It can be made into a sandwich by a 3 year old if you’re willing to put up with a little mess or used as a ready-to-go dip for fruit slices. An unopened jar has a shelf life of 9-12 months, and an opened jar can be on the shelf for 3 months. If you put an opened jar of peanut butter in the refrigerator you can use for up to 6 months.

Always Affordable

No matter what your budget, a jar of peanut butter will be a good investment. The average price of a pound of creamy was $2.23 as of November 2011. There are 14 servings (2 tablespoons) in a pound of peanut butter, which comes to $0.16 per serving. You can’t find a less expensive way to replace meat or other sources of protein on a sandwich.

Nutritional Winner

Though not really a nut (peanuts are a legume, like beans and lentils), peanuts have more protein than any nut by weight. They also contain over 30 other essential nutrients and phytonutrients and have a higher antioxidant capacity than grapes, green tea, and tomatoes according to the National Peanut Board. A 2 tablespoon serving of creamy peanut butter has 190 calories, of which 150 calories come from the fat. Fortunately, most of that fat is made up of healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids and is completely cholesterol free.

What are your reasons for loving peanut butter?

Parents can play a major role in preventing childhood obesity

Childhood Obesity: 5 Things Every Parent Should Know

This post was written as a guest blog for Family Goes Strong. You can read the original post here.

PARENTS CAN PLAY A MAJOR ROLE IN PREVENTING CHILDHOOD OBESITY

Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the United States over the past 30 years. It affects children in every state and from every socioeconomic group. As of 2008, more than one-third of children and adolescents in the U.S. were overweight or obese.

When a problem becomes that prevalent there is a danger of not taking it as seriously as we should. But the risks of obesity are too great to ignore. Preventing excess weight gain in children may be the most important way we can protect their health and quality of life.

With more than 30 years of experience helping families deal with childhood obesity, I know there is no simple solution to this problem. But there are some things every parent should know as they consider their options.

5 Things You Need to Know About Childhood Obesity

1. Your child’s relationship with food is established in the first five years of life

When solid foods are first introduced to a child between the ages of 4 and 6 months, they begin their relationship with food. For the next year parents must learn to interpret the subtle signals their children use to express how hungry they are and what they like until they can tell you themselves. The goal is to allow the child’s internal sensation of hunger to govern how often and how much they eat. Their evolving taste preferences should allow them to accept and refuse different foods without threat of punishment or reward. If this is done consistently, in an eating environment where no bias or judgment is expressed about any food, children will grow to trust their feelings of hunger and appetite by the time they start school.

2. What is eaten at home is more important than what is served at school

Children spend far more time eating at home or out with their parents than they do in school. What children experience during meals with their family is far more important than the institutional feeding that goes on in schools. If parents don’t like the selections available on school menus, they can pack a lunch for their child to eat instead. But if a child is being exposed to new foods in the cafeteria that are not available at home, they have no choice but to eat what is served at home.

3. Weight loss in parents is the biggest predictor of children’s weight loss

A recent study looked at 80 parent-child sets with an overweight or obese 8-12 year old in each. The participants were assigned to one of three different programs to help their child lose weight. Features of the three programs included having the parents change the home food environment, limit what the child ate, and lose weight themselves. The researchers found parents’ weight loss was the only significant predictor of children’s weight loss. These results are consistent with other research showing how important the example set by parents is to successful weight loss in their children.

4. Genetics are a factor in obesity, but age of onset is more important

There is no test we can take at birth to tell us who will become overweight or obese as an adult. If one or both parents are obese, that does increase a child’s risk of also becoming obese, but it is not inevitable. Research from the Children’s Hospital and Medical Center of Cincinnati found that being obese during the teen years is a stronger indicator of who will be obese in adulthood than being obese in early childhood, regardless of whether the parents were obese. Preventing obesity in adolescents is one of the best ways to prevent obesity in adults.

5. Treat overweight and obesity in your child as a health concern, not an image problem

All children need to learn how the food they eat and their level of activity can affect their health. The conversation should be the same for an overweight child and one who is not, just like talking about the importance of wearing seatbelts and getting immunized. When the focus is on staying healthy, not appearance, your child is less likely to develop emotional issues about their weight.

): Sugar and sweeteners can be part of healthy diet

Sugar or Sweetener – Which is Best?

Both sugar and artificial sweeteners can have a place in a healthy diet

They’re the foods and beverages we love to hate – anything that tastes sweet. We love them because they satisfy one of our most primal appetites. We hate them because it’s so easy to consume too much of them, or to eat and drink sweet tasting things instead of the other less tasty stuff.

But is that really a sugar/sweetener problem or one of portion control? Take a look at my post on portion control and evidence below, then decide.

Sugar is Natural

The Food and Drug Administration allows food manufacturers to describe foods as natural if they do not contain added color, artificial flavors or synthetic substances. Both sugar and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) meet those criteria. The both come from plants and undergo less processing than what it takes to turn milk into cheese.

Once sugar, HFCS or a naturally sweet piece of fruit is eaten, they are broken down into the exact same simple sugars. Your body cannot tell where they came from and uses them all in the same way. And although fruit does have other nutrients in it along with the sugar it contains, the sugar is there for a reason. It helped us select the ripest, and consequently, most nutritious fruits when we were foraging for our food, and that contributed to our evolutionary success as a species.

Flash forward to the 21st Century and sugar is no longer hard to come by or only found in fruit. That makes it easy for some people eat too much of it, but that does not mean sugar or HFCS is bad for us. Too much is not good, and that’s true about everything as I wrote in my blog, There are No junk Foods.

And what about the alternative to sugar and HFCS, artificial sweeteners?

Sweeteners Are Safe

Low and no calorie sugar substitutes have been available for over 50 years. Saccharin was the first, and each new sweetener discovered since then has undergone more extensive study than any other additive in the food supply.

Still, the suspicions linger on.

The weight of the research sides with the sweeteners. Not only is there no scientific evidence that they are harmful or increase our appetite, they can actually play a role in weight and blood glucose control when used as part of an energy balanced diet. Of course, some people use a lot of them who do not have balanced diets, but are the sweeteners to blame?

According to international experts, the answer is no. The safety of the low and no calorie sweeteners on the market today has been endorsed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives of the World Health Organization, the Scientific Committee for Food of the European Union and the regulatory agencies for more than 100 countries. Could they all be wrong?

Position Statements in support of these sweeteners have also been issued by groups including the American Diabetes Association, American Medical Association, American Dietetic Association, American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Cancer Society to name a few. Are they all misleading the public?

You decide. Are sugars and sweeteners the problem, or do some people have a problem with them?

Processed food shouldn’t be blamed for unhealthy diets.

Can Processed Foods be Part of a Healthy Diet?

Food processing has many benefits that make choosing a healthy diet possible.

Do you think your diet is healthier as a result of using processed foods? If you answered yes then you have a good understanding of all that food processing involves. If you said no, you might be surprised to find out just how difficult it would be to have a healthy diet without processed foods.

The most basic definition of food processing includes any method that transforms raw foods and ingredients into another form before consumption. A more detailed definition includes washing, cleaning, milling, cutting, chopping, heating, pasteurizing, blanching, cooking, canning, freezing, drying, dehydrating, mixing, packaging or other procedures that alter a food from its original state.

From the moment a crop is harvested or animal is slaughtered, food processing begins. It is done to preserve the food, make it easier to store and transport, improve its digestibility and taste, enhance nutritional value, increase the variety, shorten preparation and cooking time and lower the cost.

While food processing has gotten a bad rap of late, it has been used since prehistoric times when it was discovered that the sun and salt could keep foods from spoiling. Applying heat from a fire soon followed, and cooking is now one of the most commonly employed forms of food processing used around the world today.

All of the advances made in food processing since the days of drying berries on a rock in the sun have helped to make our lives and our diets better. Yet many people object to the modern treatment our food undergoes. They view food processing with suspicion while welcoming technological improvements in every other area of their lives.

The irony is I’ve never met anyone who wants to eat raw whole grains as opposed to being able to eat bread, let alone anyone who wants to bake all their own bread from scratch! So like it or not, food processing does make our lives easier, more palatable and more nutritious if we choose our food wisely.

And that brings us back to the real heart of the issue. How well do we make our food choices amidst so many choices? There are some foods that have way too much salt and fat in them, but it is also possible to pluck fresh spinach from your garden and put too much salt and butter on it right in your own kitchen.

The key is to balance your food choices so they add up to a healthy diet at the end of the day. Processed food can help us do that, but we have you do our part, too.

For more on making the right food choices, read:

Imagine Shopping Without Nutrition Facts on Food Labels

Guess What? There Are No Junk Foods!

The Yin Yang Symbol Offers Path to a Balanced Diet

Are Superfoods the Key to a Healthy Diet?