TIME Diet/Nutrition

Gov’t to Put Up $52 Million to Help Farmers Market Their Produce

Wheat
Sean Gallup—Getty Images

A total of $30 million a year will go towards promotion for local food and farmer's markets

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is to put $52 million toward local and organic farming through farmers markets and organic research.

Local farmers are having difficulty marketing their produce, even though there’s increasingly high consumer demand for it. According to the New York Times, the funding is part of the Farm Bill signed by President Obama in February.

The $52 million is being distributed to the industry through five grant programs that were authorized through the Farm Bill. The grants will be distributed annually.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the funding at the Virginia State Fair, where farmer and business owner M. James Faison of Milton’s Local Harvest won a grant to help farmers producing pork and beef products market their goods more effectively.

According to the Times, the organic business sector will be getting $125 million over the next five years for research as well as $50 million for conservation. The USDA will also be allocating $30 million each year to marketing for local food and farmer’s markets. Another $70 million will go toward researching fruits and vegetables.

In an interview, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said funding local food systems are good business for the government since they generate new employment.

TIME Obesity

Why Cutting Soda Calories Isn’t Such a Sweet Idea

soda
Getty Images

Civil rights and soda might not seem like a classic combination. But yesterday, as major soda brands announced their goal to reduce beverage calories in the American diet, it seemed to make sense to Wendy Clark, president of sparkling brands and strategic marketing for Coca-Cola North America.

“‘The time is always right to do the right thing’ – MLK” she tweeted. “So proud of our industry.”

That time will come in 2025, the year by which every American will drink 20% fewer soda calories than they do today. In the press release about the announcement, which was made at the Clinton Global Initiative meeting in New York, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Dr. Pepper Snapple vowed to make these reductions in part by making containers smaller, as well as focusing marketing efforts and innovation into lower-calorie drinks, no-calorie drinks and water. In the release, President Bill Clinton called the pledge a “critical step in our ongoing fight against obesity.”

But are such premature congratulations merited? Is developing more low- and no-calorie bottled beverages really the way to fight obesity?

Soda consumption has dropped, with sales lower than they have been since 1995. And while we might like to think sippers are swapping soda for water or unsweetened herbal tisane, research shows they’re not. A Pediatrics study published earlier this year that showed while kids aren’t drinking as much soda as they once were, they’re guzzling more energy drinks and coffee beverages—both caffeinated sweetened products with a nutritional profile similar to most sodas. Sales for ready-to-drink tea—most of which is sweetened—are also up by double digits in the Coca-Cola portfolio, reports Forbes.

That’s concerning if we want to seriously address obesity. The jury is out on no-calorie and low-calorie sweeteners, but mounting recent evidence showings sugar substitutes may contribute the very obesity they’re meant to combat. That’s because they appear to fuel sugar cravings and alter the composition of gut microbes, leading to a rise in blood glucose levels. Several studies have found a link between sugar alternatives and weight gain, and research just published in the journal Appetite found that drinking artificially sweetened beverages make you think about food more, choose high-calorie foods more often, and feel less satisfied after eating things sweetened with actual sugar.

“On face value you’re getting a nice sweet taste without calories, but my research shows it might lead to cognitive shifts that might promote overconsumption later,” Sarah Hill, the study author and a psychologist at Texas Christian University, tells TIME.

This all suggests that even if soda slashes calories by 2025 as promised, the replacement ingredients could come with unforeseen consequences.

The idea of tasting something sweet without getting any energy from it is an evolutionarily very novel thing for our bodies to handle, Hill says. “When you have that unnatural pairing of sweetness and no energy increase, it leads the body to perceive an energy crisis,” Hill says. “It triggers thoughts and behaviors consistent with a scarcity mode.”

“I think that the real way to get change is drinking water,” Hill says. Plain, unadulterated, straight-from-the-tap H2O included.

TIME Food & Drink

Coke and Pepsi Pledge to Cut Calories

Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and the Dr Pepper Snapple aim to lower calorie consumption by 20% over the next 10 years

The country’s three largest soda companies promised Tuesday to reduce the calories in sugary drinks by 20% over the next decade, an unprecedented effort by the beverage industry to fight obesity in the U.S.—and a tacit recognition of consumers’ increasing aversion for high-calorie soft drinks.

Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and the Dr Pepper Snapple will expand the presence of low- and zero-calorie drinks and sell drinks in smaller portions, as well as provide calorie counts and promote calorie awareness where their beverages are sold, the American Beverage Association said in a statement.

The commitment was announced at the 10th annual Clinton Global Initiative in New York.

“This is huge,” former President Bill Clinton told the New York Times. “I’ve heard it could mean a couple of pounds of weight lost each year in some cases.”

Consumers over the next 10 years will see the beverage giants’ new marketing strategy and product mix everywhere from company-owned vending machines and coolers in convenience stores, to fountain soda dispensers in fast-food restaurants and movie theaters, to grocery store sales and end-of-aisle promotions.

“This initiative will help transform the beverage landscape in America,” said Susan K. Neely, president of the American Beverage Association in a statement. “It takes our efforts to provide consumers with more choices, smaller portions and fewer calories to an ambitious new level.”

Read more from the American Beverage Association here.

TIME Heart Disease

Healthy Behaviors Can Prevent 4 Out of 5 Heart Attacks

A study of Swedish men shows just how beneficial healthy living is for the heart

We all know the basic tenets of a healthy lifestyle–maintaining a good diet and waist size, exercising, not smoking and drinking alcohol in moderation. But how healthy will they get you, exactly? A new study published Monday in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology quantifies the effects of a healthy lifestyle and finds that practicing these behaviors can prevent four out of five coronary events in men.

Researchers looked at a study population of 20,721 healthy Swedish men between the ages of 45 to 79 and followed them for more than a decade, asking them about their lifestyle choices and behaviors from levels of physical activity to their smoking status.

Men didn’t have to stick to every healthy behavior to see results: Every good habit was associated with a reduced risk for heart attack. Eating a low-risk diet plus drinking alcohol in moderation was associated with a 35% reduced risk of heart attack compared to those in the high-risk group. When men combined even more behaviors, the protective effects soared. Men who don’t smoke and walked or cycled at least 40 minutes a day, exercised at least one hour a week, had a waist circumference under 37.4 inches, drank moderately, and ate a diet of fruits, veggies, legumes, nuts, reduced-fat dairy products, fish and whole grains had an 86% lower risk of heart attack than those with high-risk behaviors.

It’s not all good news, of course. Only 1% of men in the study–and about the same amount of the U.S. population–keeps this kind of heart-healthy regime.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

5 Reasons to Eat Healthier That Have Nothing to Do With Your Weight

Golden Acre Farm,  a small organic veggie farm next to North Table Mountain in Golden
Cyrus McCrimmon—Denver Post/Getty Images

While many clients come to me to slim down, in the long run, nearly all find themselves feeling far more motivated by the numerous benefits of healthy eating outside of shedding pounds and inches.

For example, a new study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology found that young adults who eat more fruits and veggies experience greater “flourishing,” meaning they’re happier, more positive, creative, and curious. I absolutely see these effects among the people I counsel, regardless of age, and it’s this overall enhanced sense of well being that keeps most of them going strong.

Here are five more meaningful benefits of eating well that have absolutely nothing to do with your size or shape.

Better mood

Like the study I referenced above, another from New Zealand has tied a higher produce intake to mood. In the study, nearly 300 young adults completed daily food diaries for three consecutive weeks, along with psychological and mood-related ratings. Scientists found that a higher intake of fruits and veggies resulted in more energy, calm, and greater feelings of overall happiness. They also noted that the effects were seen not only on the days more produce was consumed, but also throughout the following day.

Another study, published in the journal Social Indicators Research, which tracked the eating habits of 80,000 adults, found that downing more servings of fruits and veggies boosted mental well being, with the magic number for happiness being seven daily servings (think half of each meal).

Sounder sleep

Numerous studies have tied better sleep to improvements in overall wellness, and more and more research indicates that eating the right foods can help. Scientists from Taiwan found that when men and women who struggled with sleep disturbances ate two kiwis one hour before bed over a four-week period they fell asleep 35% faster, slept more soundly, and snoozed 13% longer.

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and University of Rochester have also found tart cherry juice to be an effective elixir for sleep. In their study, volunteers sipped either one ounce of tart cherry juice or a placebo daily for a week. The cherry drinkers experienced a 25-minute increase in sleep quantity, and a 5-6% boost in sleep efficiency, a measure of overall sleep quality. Not surprisingly, other foods that have been tied to better sleep are all of the good-for-you variety, including fish, whole grains, nuts, and dark leafy greens. In other words, better diet, better slumber.

Better workouts

As a sports nutritionist, I’m always on the lookout for research about foods that enhance athletic performance, and in recent years several healthy foods have been shown to either build muscle, boost recovery, or improve endurance. For example, a study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that gulping 16 ounces of organic beetroot juice daily for six days helped male athletes cycle for up to 16% longer compared to a placebo, an effect the researchers say isn’t achievable through training.

Glowing skin

Healthy eating really does give you a natural glow. At least that’s what University of Nottingham scientists found when their study concluded that photographs of people who ate more produce were rated as more attractive than those with suntans. Another from the University of St. Andrews found that people who upped their intake of fruits and veggies by roughly three more daily portions for six weeks were rated as more attractive than those with lower produce intakes. The lesson: you really are what you eat—both inside and out!

Improved brain function

For some time the Mediterranean diet has been considered the gold standard for optimal health. Cornerstones of this eating plan include a eating lots of veggies and fruits, along with fish, beans, whole grains, extra virgin olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds, a moderate amount of wine—and a low intake of fatty meats, dairy products, refined grains, and sugar. A recent study from the National Institutes found that people who consistently adhere to a Mediterranean-like diet were less likely to have brain infarcts, small areas of dead tissue in the brain linked to cognitive problems.

Researchers also found that over 6 years, Mediterranean diet eaters were 36% less likely to have brain damage than those who least closely followed this eating pattern. This backs other research supported by the National Institute on Aging, which found that close adherence to a Mediterranean diet resulted in a 28% lower risk of developing mild cognitive impairment with aging, and a 48% lower risk of progressing from cognitive impairment to Alzheimer’s disease.

Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health’s contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers NHL team and the Tampa Bay Rays MLB team, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

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TIME Diet/Nutrition

10 Mistakes That Make Cravings Worse

Cupcake choices, Crushcakes Cupcakery and Cafe, Santa Barbara, California
UIG/Getty Images

Cravings—such a dirty word when you’re trying to lose weight or keep it off. No matter what your “I-want-it-now” food is—pizza, burgers, ice cream, cupcakes—you probably wrestle with what you want to do (eat it now!) with what you “should” do (go eat veggies). Unfortunately, it’s true that many of our daily habits actually make cravings more intense and frequent, making healthy decisions harder. That doesn’t mean you can’t do something about it. Learn the 10 biggest mistakes that make cravings even worse to get yours under control.

You skimp on breakfast

Maybe you’re not hungry in the a.m., but eating some calories now can keep cravings at bay later. In one study in the Nutrition Journal, overweight girls who ate a 350-calorie breakfast with at least 13 grams of protein had reduced cravings for sweet and savory foods compared to breakfast skippers. Researchers aren’t exactly sure why, but protein may help stimulate the release of dopamine, a neurochemical involved in the brain’s reward centers that can help manage cravings. A half-cup of cottage cheese, 2 hard-boiled eggs, or a cup of cooked oatmeal with two tablespoons of peanut butter will do the trick.

Your serving is too big

You’ve got a craving for brownies, you’re going to have some, and you’re okay with that. So you take three. Thing is, you probably only needed half, suggests a 2013 study from Cornell University. Research on 104 students found that people who were given small snack-sized portions of chocolate, apple pie, or potato chips reported feeling as satisfied as those presented with larger servings—and they ate 76.8% fewer calories. So take a small serving, eat it and enjoy, and then wait 15 minutes until the yearning for more subsides.

You don’t eat anything

Craving candy? Try eating a bowl of super-sweet sliced strawberries. What about chips? Crunch on salted, in-shell pistachios. Substituting what you’re jonesing for with a similar-tasting healthy equivalent should be enough to satisfy you, says Marisa Moore, RD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Cravings are short-lived and soon you’ll forget about it but will have helped your health with a good snack. It’s a win-win,” she says. However, if chips—and only chips—will do, count out one serving, eat them slowly, and be done.

You don’t know why you’re craving something

You can’t get your hand out of the bag of cheesy crackers. If you don’t understand why, you can’t do anything about it, says Christine Palumbo, RD, a faculty member of Benedictine University in Lisle, IL. She recommends keeping a cravings journal. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy—just jot down a few notes on your phone. When a craving hits, log your emotions: you’re tired, anxious, stressed, bored. Eventually, you’ll pick out common patterns, and you can deal with the causes head on, rather than trying to eat as a solution.

You don’t pair the food you crave with something healthy

Cravings aren’t all or nothing. You can satisfy your yearning while still eating healthy by pairing a larger portion of healthy foods with a small amount of what you think you want. It works because it makes meals more fun and tasty, but still gives your body the nutrition it needs to function at its best, suggests a Vanderbilt University study. The researchers call it a “vice-virtue bundle.” So here’s how to do it: order the salad with grilled salmon with a side of fries or get a piece of grilled chicken and veggies with a small bowl of mac and cheese. Fill up on the good stuff, and eat a quarter to half a portion of the splurge.

You pile on the guilt

It’s your friend’s birthday and there is cake. If you eat a slice, will you feel joyous or wracked with guilt? Delighting in delicious food rather than feeling shame about eating it may be key. People who said they associated chocolate cake with celebration had more control over their eating habits and had less trouble maintaining and losing weight, reported a 2014 study in the journal Appetite. One reason? Feeling guilty may make you try to ignore your thoughts, a strategy that actually backfires, causing you to obsess over the cake even more.

You try willpower

Straight-up willpower doesn’t always work. “It leads people to feeling like failures when they give in,” says Moore. A winning strategy: distraction. One study found that three minutes spent playing the game Tetris reduced the strength of food cravings better than a control condition where people spent the same amount of time waiting around. A 15-minute walk can also help reduce chocolate cravings, reports a 2013 UK study. Since cravings usually don’t stick around long, you just need to stick it out momentarily.

You keep temptation around

The mental battle between you and the box of cookies in the pantry does not have to be fought every day. “Out of sight, out of mind,” says Moore. “If it’s 10 p.m. and you want a cookie, you’re probably not going to go out and get some,” she says. On the other hand, if they’re staring you in the face every time you open the pantry, it’s all too easy to grab one. If your family insists you keep foods like cookies in the house, at least move them to the back of the pantry. Hide them behind the box of fruit-and-nut bars, so you see those first. And avoid buying crave-worthy snack foods in bulk from warehouse stores, adds Palumbo, since the more you have around, the more you’ll eat.

You’re dieting

You’ve got good intentions: in an effort to eat well, you tell yourself that the doughnut is off limits or the burger is sinful or a “bad” food. But your perception matters. Dieters have more intense and harder-to-resist cravings than non-dieters or people who are just trying to maintain their weight, particularly for their off-limits foods, according to a study published in Appetite. “When you deny yourself foods you love all the time, it will build up and explode, making you more likely to binge,” says Palumbo. Allowing yourself a little something every day, whether you’re looking to lose weight or not, can help take the power away from your cravings

You use Instagram or Pinterest

Gooey grilled cheese. A fudge-topped sundae. Pizza. Food porn is fun to look at, but don’t be shocked when suddenly you’re struck with a desire to run to the nearest Mexican restaurant or gelato store. In a small preliminary study from the University of Southern California, researchers found that images of high-calorie foods spark more activity in the reward areas of the brain than photos of low-cal fare.

There are plenty of health bloggers out there who create delicious-looking-but-nutritious food, so if you can’t resist food porn, at least follow people who post pics of healthy eats. Maybe you’ll be inspired to cook something new tonight.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

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TIME Diet/Nutrition

5 Amazing Powers of Avocados

Nutrition of Avocado
Bloomberg/Getty Images

Avocados are one of the most rich, delicious, and satisfying foods on the planet. But as a nutritionist, I’m also happy to report that an avocado is a powerhouse superfood. These luscious gems—which are technically fruits, although I categorize them as “good” fat—are packed with anti-aging, disease fighting antioxidants, and nearly 20 different vitamins and minerals.

One study out this year found that regular avocado eaters have higher intakes of fiber, vitamins E and K, magnesium and potassium—pretty darn impressive! I eat avocado in at least one meal each day, and I love how versatile they are for cooking (more on that below), but there’s also more health-related news to share.

Check out these five amazing avocado benefits.

They boost satiety

Eating good fats helps to slow stomach emptying, which keeps you fuller longer and delays the return of hunger. Avocados, which provide about 22 grams of fat each (mostly as heart healthy monounsaturated fatty acids, or MUFAs), certainly fit the bill. In one recent study, volunteers rated feelings of satisfaction and appetite after dining on meals with or without avocado. The addition of half of an avocado to meals resulted in a significant boost in self-reported satiety and a reduced desire to eat for up to five hours. This is one of the reasons I often reach for guacamole as my salad dressing.

They’re waist whittlers

According to a recent survey, Americans are still fat-phobic, probably due to the notion that eating fat makes you fat. But the truth is eating the right types of fat is actually a savvy weight-loss strategy. In addition to upping satiety, plant-based fats like avocado provide antioxidants and fight inflammation, which have both been linked to weight management. That may be why recent research revealed that regular avocado eaters weigh less and have smaller waists, even without eating fewer calories.

They protect your ticker

The MUFAs in avocados have been shown to slash “bad” LDL cholesterol, and up “good” HDL levels—a double whammy effect that helps to lower the risk of heart disease, the #1 killer of both men and women. A recent UCLA study also uncovered some remarkable heart protective effects of avocado consumption: Compared to eating a burger without avocado, the addition of half of a Hass curbed the production of compounds that contribute to inflammation, improved blood flow, and didn’t increase triglycerides (blood fats) beyond the amounts raised by the burger alone. Avocados are also a source of potassium, a nutrient that helps reduce blood pressure by acting as a natural diuretic to sweep excess sodium and fluid out of the body, which relieves pressure on the heart and arteries (bonus: that also means avocado is a natural de-bloater!).

They’re nutrient boosters

Enjoying avocado at mealtime can help your body absorb more antioxidants from other healthy foods. In one Ohio State study, when men and women ate salads and salsa topped with 2.5 tablespoons of avocado, they absorbed over 8 times more alpha-carotene and 13 times more beta-carotene—phytonutrients known to fight cancer and heart disease. Another recent study found that pairing avocado with tomato sauce and carrots boosts absorption of the veggies’ vitamin A, a key nutrient needed for healthy skin, vision, and immunity.

They’re not just for savory dishes

I adore guacamole, but one of my favorite things about avocado is that there are so many other ways to enjoy it, including in sweet dishes. I often whip avocado into fruit smoothies, whip it into chocolaty pudding, and substitute it for butter when baking. Just trade each tablespoon of butter in recipes like brownies and cupcakes for half a tablespoon of avocado. This swap slashes calories, upgrades the nutritional quality of your goodies, and still provides the creamy texture that will leave you feeling satisfied. Try it, and send us a picture of your healthy creation!

Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health’s contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers NHL team and the Tampa Bay Rays MLB team, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

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TIME Exercise/Fitness

5 Things You Need to Know to Get Lean

Morning spinning
Xavier Arnau—Getty Images

Summer is just about over, which means fewer distractions like vacations and barbecues to derail your fitness goals. Now is the perfect time to ramp your workouts into high gear and get that physique you have always wanted.

You’ll need to live by these 5 rules in the gym—and the kitchen!—to help reveal that lean body.

Get enough protein

Protein takes the most energy to digest: Between 20 and 30% of the calories in each gram of protein are burned during digestion, compared to 5-10% of the calories in carbohydrates. So if you eat 100 calories’ worth of protein, you’re left with 70 to 80 calories after digestion, versus 90 to 95 calories from carbs. It adds up fast and your waistline will thank you. Protein is also essential for repairing your muscles after workouts. Most women need between 50 and 60 grams per day, but it depends on your weight and activity level. Try this formula to figure out how much protein you need. So next time you’re thinking of snacking on those baked chips, grab a Greek yogurt or some string cheese instead.

Do more interval training

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: To get the most bang for your buck, high-intensity interval training is the way to go. It involves a mix of exercise types, like strength-training and cardio, with minimal rest between moves (like 15 to 30 seconds). Not only is it the most time-efficient workout style, it has been proven to burn more fat and calories than a traditional steady-state cardio workout. You’ll also continue to burn more calories and fat in the 24 hours after you finish—an added bonus. Aim to do interval training up to 3 times a week, but no more. Just like anything else too much of a good thing can backfire. You want to give your body ample time to recover. Try this 15-Minute Workout to Change Your Fat to Muscle.

Take photos and track progress

When you look in the mirror to try to see the effects of your workout routine, sometimes it can be hard to notice any results if you have nothing to compare it to. Take pictures throughout all the different stages of your workout and diet efforts so you have a benchmark. This will also help motivate you as you can see your body actively changing week to week. Think of this to push you through that last grinding round of intervals.

Lift heavier weights

To make sure you’re working your muscles to their fullest potential, try adding heavier weights to your workout once or twice a week. By switching up your routine and challenging your muscles with weights they’re not familiar with, they’ll be forced to work harder, change body composition, and increase your lean muscle mass. The more muscle you have the more calories you will burn throughout the day. So instead of grabbing your usual dumbbells, reach for the next heaviest weight, whether that’s 10 pounds, 12, 15, or more.

Get sporty

Sometimes we need a change from the routine, so make a game out of your next workout! Doing something like playing volleyball or soccer will get your blood flowing, muscles burning and you’ll be torching calories all while you’re having fun. Since sports have you running in all different directions you get a better cardio workout versus a linear cardio regimen on the treadmill. You don’t have to be good at sports to play them; just get out there and have a good time while toning your lean body.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

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TIME Diet/Nutrition

Artificial Sweeteners Aren’t the Answer to Obesity: Here’s Why

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Artificial sweeteners may be contributing to the very health problems they were supposed to prevent, say researchers Tetra Images—Getty Images/Tetra images RF

They’re supposed to be the sweet alternative to high-calorie, diabetes-causing sugar. But the latest science shows that artificial sweeteners may actually set us up for obesity and diabetes

Aspartame, saccharin, sucralose—sugar alternatives go by many names, but share an almost irresistible promise: all the sweetness of sugar without the calories, weight gain and increased risk of diabetes that comes with uncontrolled amounts of sugar in the blood.

But studies on artificial sweeteners and weight loss—as well as research about whether sugar substitutes helped people avoid metabolic disorders like diabetes—have been mixed. And in a paper published Wednesday in Nature, Dr. Eran Elinav from the Weitzmann Institute of Science in Israel found that the sugar stand-ins actually contribute to changes in the way the body breaks down glucose. How? Fake sugars aren’t digested and therefore pass directly to the intestines, impacting the millions of invisible bacteria that live in our gut. And when he and his colleagues gave seven people who didn’t normally use artificial sweeteners the sugar substitutes for seven days, about half of the people showed higher blood glucose levels after just four days.

MORE: 5 Steps to Quitting Artificial Sweeteners

“What our comprehensive genetic profiling of the microbiome pointed to is that exposure to artificial sweeteners directly impacts the microbes,” Elinav says. “We found that the artificial sweeteners we think of as beneficial and that we use as treatment or preventive measures against obesity and its complications are contributing to the same epidemics they are aimed to prevent.”

In the intestines, gut microbes are hard at work, pulling out some nutrients from food that are helpful in stopping tumor growth, for example, and squirreling away others to store as energy for later use. But while artificial sweeteners aren’t absorbed by our own cells, they may be absorbed by our bacteria—and when that happens, things appear to go haywire.

Higher amounts of the sweetener substitutes, Elinav and his team found, can change the makeup of these bacterial communities. And that in turn can change how those bugs behave, leading to weight gain and poorer glucose breakdown. These alterations in intestinal bacteria were the same as those in a group of 400 people who reported using artificial sweeteners—and those changes were the same in mice as well.

MORE: Why Your Brain Isn’t Fooled By Sugar Stand-Ins

In the mouse studies, Elinav’s team found that the artificial sweeteners pushed one particular group of bacteria, Bacteroides, to thrive, while inhibiting growth of another, Clostridiales. Bacteroides are the microbial equivalent of hoarders, hungrily pulling energy out of food and squirreling it away as fat. The end result of a Bacteroides-heavy gut is a physically heavy gut as well. In studies by other research groups, its dominance, and the resulting drop in diversity of other microbes, is typical of obese people compared to normal weight individuals.

MORE: 7 Not-So-Sweet Lessons About Sugar

The metabolic consequences were also dramatic in both the mice and people studied. In the mouse experiments, animals who were fed the same dose of saccharin that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers safe for daily use showed a drop in their ability to break down glucose. When he gave those mice antibiotics, their ability to break down glucose returned to normal, suggesting that wiping out the abnormal balance of bacteria could return the animals back to a healthier state.

And to confirm that the changing microbial communities were indeed responsible for the glucose changes, he also transplanted fecal samples from the people using artificial sweeteners into mice whose own guts had been wiped clean. These mice then developed the same abnormalities in glucose breakdown that the human donors and the mice who were fed saccharin did—even though they never actually ate artificial sweeteners. Simply harboring the microbes that had been exposed to the sweeteners was enough to disturb their glucose metabolism.

MORE: Can Sugar Substitutes Make You Fat?

The good news is that as easily as the gut microbiome can shift toward an unhealthy state, it can just as easily be brought back into line with the proper balance of bacterial communities. The best way to do that isn’t clear yet, but, says Eran Segal, a co-author of the study and a professor of computer science and applied mathematics at the Weitzmann Insttitute, “We believe that the situation today at the very least needs to be re-examined. We were able to induce glucose intolerance in a few days in some individuals, so this massive, unsupervised and unregulated use [of artificial sweeteners] should at the very least be reassessed and perhaps re-examined in additional studies.”

Elinav, for one, isn’t waiting. Based on his findings, he’s stopped adding artificial sweeteners to his coffee.

 

TIME Exercise/Fitness

You Asked: Should I Eat Before or After a Workout?

Illustration by Peter Oumanski for TIME

Experts answer the great exercise question of our time

Short answer: Both.

Long answer: How and when to fuel your body is the same for all exercisers to some extent, but your routine may warrant a few nutritional tweaks, says Dr. Nancy Cohen, head of the department of nutrition at the University of Massachusetts.

“In general, you’ll want to eat a meal high in carbs and protein and low in fat roughly three to four hours before you exercise,” Cohen says, whether you’re trying to shed pounds or build muscle. Carbohydrates supply your body with the glycogen it needs for your yoga session, gym visit, or jog. Skimp on carbs, and your muscles will sputter when called on to perform, she says.

If you’re trying to lose weight, it may seem weird and counterproductive to eat a carb-heavy meal before you hit the gym. But complex carbohydrates like beans, lentils, whole grains and starchy vegetables will provide exercise fuel plus nutrients and fiber. Unlike refined carbohydrates—things like white bread, cookies, soft drinks, or many pre-packaged foods—complex carbs won’t expand your personal equator or supercharge your appetite, research shows.

Cohen recommends avoiding fat in your pre-workout meal because it slows down your digestion. But eating protein supports your muscles. “During and after exercise, your muscle cells break down and rebuild,” Cohen explains. The right proteins contain the amino acids your muscles need to complete that cellular rebuilding process.

Complete protein packages include animal sources like chicken or lean beef, since they have all those amino acids, Cohen says. Grains like quinoa and bulgur as well as beans and some vegetables also contain protein, though probably not the “complete” kind. But if you eat a variety of those food sources, you can skip the meat and still get all the amino acids you need, she adds.

As for post-workout food, Cohen suggests eating or drinking more protein an hour or two after lifting weights for bodybuilders and athletes. But despite what you’ve heard, it’s not necessary (or healthy) to pound a massive protein shake the second you stop pumping iron.

According to Dr. Rob Danoff, an Aria Health System physician with a focus on sports medicine and nutrition, your body—and especially your kidneys—can only synthesize so much protein. Research suggests roughly one gram of protein per kilogram of body weight is plenty to maximize muscle growth. By that measure, for a person who weighs 175 pounds, 80 grams of protein all day is enough.

One large chicken breast or cut of red meat can contain 60 grams of protein or more, so slamming a huge protein shake after a workout will only inundate your kidneys with protein it can’t handle and your muscles don’t need, Danoff says. Apart from the risk of kidney damage, there’s evidence that overloading your body with protein can contribute to an imbalance in the acidity of your blood, which in the long run could lead to bone weakening. “It’s a myth that we need all this protein,” Danoff says. “More isn’t always better.”

In your workout-food focus, don’t forget water. If you exercise first thing in the morning, Cohen says dehydration is a big concern because you’ve probably passed much of the night without a sip of H2O. “Your whole cellular metabolism is dependent on fluid,” she says. And everything from your workout performance to your mood and mental acuity will suffer if you’re parched.

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