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When the sweet tooth bites, bite back!

November 21st, 2008

Don't let that sweet tooth bite off chunks of your health!

Don't let that sweet tooth bite off chunks of your health!

Q: My Dad’s health is taking another step down… His weight is starting to go up, because his heart is keeping him from getting his usual exercise… And his monthly physical yesterday came back, and they told him “You are borderline Diabetic… You need to get your diet under control…”
I know that he’s going to go looking for cheats and treats… Especially when it comes to his sweet tooth (Which I also inherited.) Figured I’d see if you guys had some ideas of stuff that’s on the GI friendly side, that will still make a sweet tooth happy late on a Tuesday night.

For instance I was thinking about making him a tub of Blueberry Frozen Yogurt… Half Sweetend up with splenda…Thanks for any help.

Walter “Wally” Pike,

Mountain Iron, MN

A:  Thanks for writing, Wally. We certainly do have a few options for you and your Dad to consider. Sugar-free frozen blueberry yogurt is a great idea. As you probably already know, diabetics, whether full-blown or borderline, have to be really careful about consuming sugary sweets for two reasons; first and foremost, sugar and sugary high-glycemic foods and drinks wreak havoc with a diabetic’s already-precarious insulin function, raising blood sugar and reducing insulin sensitivity, which is the opposite direction in which we need to go.  Secondly but perhaps just as important, sweet foods – whether sugar-y or sugar-free – reinforce the cravings for more sweet foods for reasons not entirely clear.

So while there are plenty of products and approaches to get around the first problem, the second problem requires a change in thinking and behavior. It’s certainly not necessary for your Dad to swear off sweets forever, but try to have a conversation with him in which your encourage him to use restraint with all sweets, whether sugary or artificially sweetened.

Even sugar-free sweets should be consumed in moderation, because they de-sensitize a person to sweet tastes and encourage the consumption of more sweet foods. This, by the way, is an area of current, ongoing study. You may be aware that the proliferation of sugar-free foods and sweeteners coincided with an explosion of obesity and diabetes-like syndromes across almost all age and ethnic groups, including young children who, it was previously believed could not develop Type II or “adult-onset” diabetes.

One reason for this might be due to taste receptors which besides being located on the tongue, are also located throughout the digestive tract. Their function is not fully understood. It may be that these taste receptors help the body determine the caloric and nutritional content of food, and thereby help to “calibrate” the relationships between appetite, sweet cravings, energy  expenditure, insulin function, nutrient partitioning and overall metabolism.  No-calorie sweeteners essentially “cry wolf” to the body by signaling, falsely, the imminent arrival of simple sugars.  When the body loses this once-trustworthy sweet taste-calorie content connection,  it can no longer “trust” taste signals and develops protective mechanisms to compensate: increased appetite, increased sweet cravings and increased fat storage are all survival safeguards against an unpredictable food supply.

So, restraint and moderation are critical regardless of what kinds of sweet foods he eats.

With that said, here are some products you and your Dad might like to use.

Xylitol and Erythritol: These are the ultimate sugar substitutes, completely natural and safe (even though they may be unfamiliar) . They have a white crystalline structure just like table sugar, and are about as sweet as table sugar spoon for spoon. But as natural polyols, they metabolize much more slowly so they don’t play games with your blood sugar level or insulin sensitivity. And unlike other sugar-substitutes, these are metabolized by your body for energy, so they are less likely to reinforce sugar cravings or that ‘rebound’ hunger that often follows consumption of sugar-free foods and drinks.

Organic cocoa powder:  Believe it or not, organic unsweetened cocoa is a superior health food, full of heart-healthy antioxidants, mood boosting theobromine and even fiber.  You can use this is any recipe, just be sure to use something like xylitol or erythritol to sweeten it.  You could also do what chocolatiers do, add lecithin to you chocolate recipes to give them richness and smoothness. Lecithin is itself a heart-healthy superfood, and dirt cheap.

In terms of cooking oils, use organic coconut oil instead of butter, shortening, frying oils or other saturated fats…..in any kind of recipe at all. It’s cholesterol-free, affordable, shelf-stable and super-versatile. The coconut-ness of the taste is very mild and doesn’t overpower any food or recipe in which we’ve used it.

In terms of ready-to-eat products, you couldn’t go wrong with Atkins Advantage Caramel Bars. First, they taste great. Secondly, they have a very modest carb content which is further offset by the whopping 10 grams of fiber, which greatly lessens the impact of carbs on insulin and blood sugar levels. 10 grams is pretty substantial,  more than a bowl of Raisin Bran and almost half your recommended minimum daily amount of fiber (25 g)….and that’s for one bar.

Speaking of fiber, if he’s willing to use it, a glucomannan fiber supplement could be a big help him in a few ways. First, it’s a very effective and safe non-pharmaceutical appetite suppressant. Second, as a soluble fiber, it can help manage healthy cholesterol levels. Finally, as a fiber, it’ll slow the release of carb calories into his system, which is ideal for diabetics.

One Response to “When the sweet tooth bites, bite back!”

  1. November 24, 2008 at 10:10 am, Bill said:

    I, too, have a sweet tooth. I totally forgot about the sugar free foods that are available.

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