The One Thing You Shouldn’t Be Eating

As an RD, I have to say the most common question I receive is something along the lines of “What foods should I totally avoid?” or “What is the worst thing to eat?”. Usually this comes from someone I have just met who found out I’m a dietitian, but it might be via text or facebook message from an acquaintance or friend. My knee-jerk reaction, based on my realistic/whole foods/intuitive eating approach to nutrition, is to say “There aren’t any foods you can’t eat. All foods can fit in a healthy, balanced meal plan.” And often times, I do say just that.

Except the more I get asked, the more I realize that’s not how I really feel. It is how I feel if we’re talking about FOOD.  But these days, what does food even mean to you?  The Oxford dictionary defines “food” as any nutritious substance that people or animals eat or drink, or that plants absorb, in order to maintain life and growth.  Interesting, right?

In his book In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan advises us to eat real food and avoid what he calls “edible food-like substances”.  When I first read his book, this idea really stuck out to me and since then, I’ve listened to/watched/read much more food and nutrition information backing it.  We’ve stopped eating food.

Problem-Is-We-Are-Not-Eating-Food-We-Are-Eating-Food-Like-ProductsI digress.  When it comes to answering that ever popular question about what foods NOT to eat, I still struggle.  Some people definitely shouldn’t eat any gluten.  Some need to avoid all dairy products.  Some should limit their intake of soy.  Certainly some people should avoid all of those things.  Nutrition always has been and always will be an individualized science, so the answer to that question is different for every. single. person.  

That being said, there is one thing I can 100% say I think everyone should avoid.  You’ll find plenty of RD’s, health coaches, doctors, etc. who disagree with me on this one, but I strongly feel that no one needs to be consuming artificial sweeteners.  It’s not really a food, but artificial sweeteners are found in a lot of those “food-like substances” for sure.  Here’s the deal:  sugar is definitely not good for us.  In case you haven’t heard, it’s the latest culprit in our declining health.  But artificial sweeteners are not the answer to this problem.  In fact, they create a whole lot of problems on their own…like headaches, stomach upset, altered metabolism, weight gain and increased risk for certain types of cancer.  Unfortunately, you’ll find supporting research on both sides of this one.  But I urge you, if there is anything you’re looking to cut out of your diet completely, make it artificial sweeteners.  Try it for even just one week and see how much better you feel!

Skip anything you see with one or more of the following in the ingredient list:

  • acesulfame potassium (Sunett, Sweet One)
  • aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet)
  • Neotame
  • Saccharin (SweetNLow)
  • Sucralose (Splenda)
  • Sugar alcohols: erythritol, isomalt, lactitol, maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol

So there you have my answer to the ever popular question!  You should be avoiding artificial sweeteners.  At the risk of sounding preachy, let’s go back to eating real food.  Mmm, kay?  I’ll be getting down from my soap box now.  




7 comments on “The One Thing You Shouldn’t Be Eating

  1. AGREED. If you’re justifying eating this, you’re okay with chemicals. I had to reprogram my brain and finally have opted that if I want an occasional soda, I will have the full fledged sugar option. Better to have an occasional sugar overdose than chemicals with evident side effects.

  2. Totally agree and I’ve tried to eliminate a lot of artificial sweeteners from my diet. I’m no where near 100% clean, but baby steps! One question, you don’t mention stevia on here… are you ok with that sweetener?

    • Great question! Whole leaf stevia (from the actual plant) is fine, but a lot of the products available on the market are extremely processed and/or have additives (like sugar alcohols or “natural flavors”). Look for “whole leaf stevia” on products instead of “stevia extract” or Reb-A.

    • Great question. It’s hard to answer without knowing more information about the specific person, but a person with Diabetes may be able to handle small amounts of natural sugars (like dates or maple syrup). Stevia (100% whole leaf) may be another good option. I would suggest someone with Diabetes speak to an RD about their blood sugar levels and current diet, as well as their endocrinologist about their plan.

  3. Thank you for this! I always try to avoid sweeteners. It’s the one rule I try to follow all the time, but sometimes I think it’s probably in more things than I realize…like when eating at restaurants. So sneaky! I actually didn’t realize that artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols are the same thing until this past weekend…and now I can’t eat my favorite protein bars anymore, haha. I thought they didn’t have any sugar but then realized I didn’t read the label well enough because they DO have sugar alcohols. Should have known! Glad I know the ingredients to be looking for now! Annnnd I’m done rambling. haha xo

  4. I’m going to be the one that doesn’t disagree, but doesn’t outright fully agree either (in a friendly way, of course!)… My dad has to really limit the amount of regular sugar he consumes… I don’t know the exact reasons why – he isn’t diabetic, but has a bunch of health issues including neurological problems, high blood pressure, and more. So for him, putting a half packet of Splenda in his decaf (oh yeah, he can’t have any caffeine either!) coffee is the extent of his artificial sweetener use, but he can’t use regular sugar. So in a situation like that – what would you recommend he use instead? Is there a “better” sugar alternative he can use? (He used to use Total and Sweet ‘n Low, but graduated to Splenda, so I’d love to have a better suggestion for him).

    I think you hit the nail on the head when you say that nutrition is an individual science, and sure, for the most part we need to avoid those chemicals, but everyone is different with different limitations, restrictions, reactions, overall health, etc. to different types of foods (and “foods”) so that has to be kept in mind, too! It’s just tricky when for the most part a generalization works for most people, but every so often there’s an exception to the rule!

    I have a coworker who completely cut out all sugar from his diet to loose weight and get healthy, and he’s had great results. It was a lifestyle change, though, and one that took a lot of time to get used to (he used to have multiple sodas throughout the day).

    But I need to do a better job of eating whole foods and reading labels – I do for the most part, but sometimes I’m just too lazy… and that’s a poor excuse. Thanks for this thought provoking post!

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