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.
I 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)
- 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.