TIME Nutrion

5 Steps to Quitting Artificial Sweeteners

The fake stuff actually increases your cravings

Yet another new study supports what I’ve seen in my private practice for years – artificial sweeteners actually increase cravings. Scientists say that faux sugars activate the brain’s pleasure center, without satisfying it, which triggers an increased desire for sweets. That’s probably why statistically, people who drink diet beverages aren’t slimmer–one report found that two-can-a-day diet drinkers had a 54.5% chance of becoming overweight or obese, compared to 32.8% for those who drank the same amount of regular soda.

While I’m certainly not recommending drinking regular soda, I do believe that kicking the diet habit is essential for sustainable weight control and optimal health. I’ve had numerous clients who worried they’d never be able to give up the artificial stuff, or that doing so would lead to weight gain, but the outcome is always the same–fewer cravings for sweets, a heightened ability to tune into hunger and fullness cues, and far more effortless weight loss. If you’re ready to give fake sugars the old heave-ho, put these five steps into action.

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Go cold turkey (and be sure to uncover hidden sources!)
In addition to diet drinks and those little colored packets, artificial sweeteners may be lurking in foods you don’t suspect, including gum, yogurt, flavored water, protein shakes, and powders, even cereal. To scope them out, read every ingredient list carefully. Generic names include aspartame, sucralose, acesulfame potassium, or Ace K, and saccharin. While stevia is marketed as natural, I recommend avoiding this additive as well. In my experience, its intense sweetness (100 times sweeter than sugar) may also drive a desire for sweets, and groups like Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) raise important concerns about its safety.

Start a cravings journal
In addition to tracking what and how much they eat, I ask my clients to record their hunger/fullness ratings before and after meals, as well as any observations related to cravings, whether physical or emotional. Their post-artificial sweetener observations can be pretty darn remarkable. I’ve had clients who were self-proclaimed artificial sweetener addicts suddenly lose their sweet tooths. One was shocked when she had no desire to sneak a spoonful of her son’s pudding. Another was struck by the realization that when she stopped doctoring up her a.m. coffee with fake sugar, she no longer felt like nibbling all morning on office treats.

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Satisfy sweet cravings with fruit
Research indicates that fruit can indeed satisfy a sweet tooth, and it’s a far better option than a calorie-free sweetener for several reasons. First, the naturally occurring sugar in fresh fruit is bundled with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, and fluid, key nutrients that nourish your body and support your overall health. The sugar in fruit is also non-concentrated–one cup of grapes (about the size of a tennis ball) contains about 15 grams of sugar, a few grams less than the amount in just a tablespoon of honey. Finally, studies show that regular fruit eaters weigh less, even more so than veggie eaters, probably because fruit tends to displace sweets (e.g. reaching for an apple instead of a cookie), whereas veggies tend to be add-ons. Fruit is fantastic by itself, but you can also get creative with it. Add a little mashed in-season fruit to your ice water, toss fruit on the grill or bake it in the oven, warm fruit on the stovetop, seasoned with spices like cinnamon, cloves, or ginger, or sauté your favorite fruits in a little extra virgin coconut oil. If there are varieties you haven’t yet tried, like dragon fruit or carambola (akastarfruit), give them a whirl. There’s a bounty of nature’s candy to discover.

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Use “sweet” spices
While not technically sweet themselves, spices like ginger, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, and nutmeg enhance natural sweetness, and can take the place of some or all of the sugar in various dishes. I relish sprinkling cinnamon and nutmeg, or a spice blend (pumpkin pie spice, apple pie spice) into my morning cup of coffee, and many of my clients find that adding these aromatic, satisfying seasonings to foods like hot or cold whole-grain cereal, natural nut butter, nonfat organic Greek yogurt, and baked sweet potato, allows them to forgo sweeteners all together. Bonus: they’re potent sources of antioxidants, which are cell bodyguards that protect against premature aging and disease; one teaspoon of cinnamon packs as much antioxidant power as a half cup of blueberries.

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Enjoy real sugar sparingly
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the daily target for added sugar (e.g. the sugar you add to coffee or the sugar added by manufacturers to sweetened yogurt, baked goods, etc.) should be no more than 6 level teaspoons for women, and 9 for men–that’s for both food and beverages combined. If you’re eating clean, and avoiding processed foods that often contain hidden added sugar (such as salad dressing, canned soup, and tomato sauce), you can afford to build small, sweet splurges into your overall healthy diet. For example, a half cup of coconut milk ice cream contains about 10 grams of sugar, a two inch brownie about 12 grams, and two tasting squares of 75% dark chocolate about 4 grams, roughly a teaspoon worth (every 4 grams of added sugar equals a teaspoon). In my experience, avoiding artificial sweeteners tends to curb sweet cravings overall, but when they do strike, indulging in a small amount of the real thing is the best way to satisfy your fix, and move on. My mantra: keep calm and eat real food.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Domestic Policy

Industry Reacts Cautiously to FDA Nutrition Label Makeover

The food industry reacted cautiously Thursday to proposed changes for nutrition labels, but industry watchers said businesses would likely work cooperatively with the Food and Drug Administration as it finalizes new rules in the coming years.

“We look forward to working with the FDA and other stakeholders as these proposed updates to the Nutrition Facts label make their way through the rule making process,” the Grocery Manufacturers Association said in a statement.

The measured response came after First Lady Michelle Obama and the FDA laid out the first changes to nutrition labels on food since they were first required two decades ago, with a greater emphasis on calories, added sugars and realistic serving sizes.

“Our guiding principle here is very simple: that you as a parent and a consumer should be able to walk into your local grocery store, pick up an item off the shelf, and be able to tell whether it’s good for your family,” Obama said in a statement Thursday morning. “So this is a big deal, and it’s going to make a big difference for families all across this country.”

The proposed changes have to go through a 90-day public comment period, and after that it will take at least a couple years of working with the industry for them to be finalized and enforced.

“The bottom line for the industry is that the consumer has to buy the product,” said Dr. Caroline Apovian, a spokeswoman at the Endocrine Society and an expert on obesity. “The industry is going to make as many changes as we want them to as long as the consumer buys it.”

The changes the FDA is proposing target issues nutritionists have been griping about for years. The new labels would provide more realistic serving sizes—the serving size for ice cream, for example, will be increased so that a pint is shown to hold about two servings instead of four, as it’s presented now. The adjusted serving size will increase the calorie count to about 400 calories per serving. The new labels would also inform consumers of how much sugar and sweetener have been added to products. Bonnie Liebman of the Center for Science in the Public Interest said that provision will probably face the most backlash from the businesses.

“The food industry doesn’t want to disclose added sugar because many products are high in added sugars and it makes those foods look bad,” she said.

One chocolate bar has about 77.4 calories from added sugar alone, according to the American Heart Association, and a can of soda has about 132 calories from added sugar per serving. “The fact is the average person wants to know how much sugar has been added to their yogurt,” Liebman said. “And right now you can’t tell.”

Constance Brown-Riggs, a spokeswoman at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, said teaching consumers how to read the new labels will be critical, regardless of which changes are or aren’t made.

“Even with the old Nutritional Facts Panel the one thing people miss is that it requires education,” she said. “The same will be true with the new label.”

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