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The Dish

The Dish

With SFU's Registered Dietitian

Archive for the 'Sugar & Sweets' Category

I am a sugar junkie, constantly craving sweet food and drinks. Is there any advice you can give me?

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

Great question. Please see the resource “What causes food cravings and how can I curb them?”.

I have read your numerous posts on how aspartame is “safe”. But why all this controversy? I can’t understand who to trust. It seems every and any authority is saying it is either safe or extremely harmful. Dr. Mercola (mercola.com) says it is dangerous along with all these other “Dr.’s” on 60 minutes but the FDA says it’s all good and the cosmetic database says there is no harm in it despite some studies saying it causes some mutations in lab rats. I drink almost 1-2 gallons a week according to my calculations and this was one of the thresholds for interrupting homeostasis in the body.

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

Thank you for reading The Dish. I use Health Canada and Dietitians of Canada as a reference for many of my posts. Although aspartame is permitted for use as a food additive in Canada, I don’t usually recommend it. It is “artificial”, made from a chemical process and many experts and consumers alike are trying to minimize our exposure to chemicals in all regards. Concerns arise with increased intake. Having 1-2 gallons per week of an aspartame containing beverage is of increased concern compared to someone who drinks a couple of cans of diet pop in a week. Even if we set aside the chemical issue, this amount of a beverage containing aspartame is likely displacing more nutritious beverages from your diet. Also, if the beverage is diet pop the acidity can damage tooth enamel.

Although aspartame is considered “safe”, the ADI (or Acceptable Daily Intake) for aspartame is 40 mg/kg body weight per day. For example, a 50 kg (110 lb) person could safely have 2000 mg of aspartame per day. One can of diet pop contains up to 200 mg of aspartame BUT that doesn’t mean it is recommended to drink 10 cans of pop in a day or even in a week.

There is a breadth of health information online and it is important to critically evaluate everything we read and look for scientific references. It is also important to make food and beverage choices you believe in. For example, some people prefer only organic foods while others choose items with the best value. So I really leave it up to the individual.

Nutritional science is also an evolving field, who knows what new information or products will be available in 10 years time. Have you heard of Stevia? There may be more beverages available soon with this plant based sweetener which is also much sweeter than regular sugar but without the calories.

Topic of the Month – October 2010: Vitaminwater

Monday, October 4th, 2010

Vitaminwater isn’t healthy

Well this is news to my ears, finally some action against the Coca-Cola company for deceptive claims for it’s Vitaminwater brand. I am a big supporter of the Centre for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and so glad they are proceeding with a lawsuit. A couple of years ago, when Vitaminwater first came out it was all over this campus. Given away for free at Student Services events and highly marketed in campus food service outlets, it was hard for my message, that it is comparable to kool-aid with a sprinkling of vitamins, to get across. Even my cousin was buying 10 at a time because it was on sale! Find out what is happening by checking out the article on the CSPI website http://www.cspinet.org/new/201007231.html or another opinion column which discusses this issue http://www.naturalnews.com/029425_vitaminwater_Coca-Cola.html.

What do you think? Log in with your SFU ID and post a comment. Your name will not appear next to your comment.

I was wondering how healthy granola bars are? Specifically Nutri-Grain bars and Nature Valley, are they actually nutritious?

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

Firstly I will say that as per Canada’s Food Guide, “Another important step towards better health and healthy body weight is limiting foods high in calories, fat, sugar or salt such as cookies and granola bars…”

The problem with granola bars is they sound healthier than they are. Have a look at the ingredient list. One of my key recommendations is if there are ingredients you cannot pronounce it is a good idea to put the product back. Although Nutri-Grain bars are “made with whole grain oats” they only have about 1 gram of fiber per bar. That is not a lot considering we need 25-35grams of fiber a day. Also their “real fruit filling” is mostly sugar as well as the second ingredient in the crust.

With Nature’s Valley products, there are many of types of bars but most of them too are not a good source of fiber (only 1-2grams per bar) and are packed with a lot of sugar and ingredients you cannot pronounce.

I’d recommend making your own granola bars, try the Booster Bar recipe I posted a while back. Or if you are looking for a quick portable snack, I recommend trail mix. Make your own with your favorite, plain nuts and seeds. Try trail mix with a piece of fruit for a snack instead of a commercial granola bar.

I find that I cannot manage to drink the recommended daily water intake, but I will drink more if it has flavour such as crystal light. Are there serious disadvantages to adding this to my water?

Monday, March 8th, 2010

I wouldn’t say “serious disadvantages” but I would also not recommend it. When you are looking at the ingredients list of a product, I usually say, “If you can’t pronounce it, put it back”. Judging from the ingredient list below that is for Crystal Light – Pink Lemonade, it’s probably a good idea to put it back.


I often get asked about Aspartame and its safety. It is considered a safe food additive from Health Canada (it is not going to give you cancer) but there are more natural ways to add flavour to your water than with an artificial sweetener.

-          add a wedge of lemon or lime or other citrus fruits like orange or grapefruit

-          add a splash of 100% fruit juice

-          add a splash of fruit flavoured tea or green tea (Tazo brand teas has one called Passion that I really like and is very flavourful)

-          make ice cubes out of 100% juice or tea and add them to your water

-          use a good looking glass or bottle – you know that saying, “We eat with our eyes”, the same goes for drinking

Keep in mind that 100% juice, milk and even tea and coffee count towards your daily fluid intake. We actually need more than “8 glasses a day”. The average male needs about 3.7 litres while the average female needs 2.2 litres. But everyone’s needs vary, the best sign of being well hydrated is if your urine is a pale yellow color. And lastly, drink before you feel thirsty. Thirst is actually a sign of dehydration.

Healthy eating sounds easier than it is but how do you stay motivated? I mean, I always say I am going to eat healthier but then I totally mess up and end up having a chocolate bar or chips or something and all my attempts have gone to waste. Do you have any suggestions for how to keep it up?

Thursday, August 27th, 2009

Absolutely! Check out these tips:


Move ahead one step at a time.

If you are someone who eats fast food every day it’s not realistic to change overnight to someone who is preparing nutritious home made meals instead. But what might be a good idea is to start with a goal – a small, realistic one. For example, “I am going to make a home cooked meal one night per week”. And once you are able to achieve that you can build on it.


Set goals and track your progress.

If you are unsure of where to begin you might want to compare what you are currently eating to what is recommended for you in Canada’s Food Guide. There is a fabulous tool from Dietitians of Canada, called EATracker, which does exactly that. You can enter in what you ate for a sample day and the program will give you suggestions on ways to improve. Remember to cater those goals to you and what is realistic for you.


Don’t worry about getting ‘off track’.

Don’t beat yourself up for getting ‘off track’ or having treats.  It doesn’t mean you’ve failed on your goal to healthy eating.  Many people have the ‘all or nothing’ mentality, where they believe they have to follow a perfect healthy eating plan, or they shouldn’t bother.  It’s not true!  For instance, treats can be a part of healthy eating. I always emphasize the 80-20 rule which is healthy eating according to Canada’s Food Guide 80% of the time and allowing yourself to enjoy treats (guilt free) for the other 20%.  If you feel like you’ve gotten ‘off track’, forgive yourself and start again!


Celebrate successes.

Feel good about the small changes and healthy choices that you make every day.  It’s the small changes that last a lifetime that are important!  Celebrate by being good to yourself!


Partner up.

We know it’s easier to stick to a fitness schedule when we have a work out buddy right? The same goes for our nutrition goals. If you have friends or family who also want to try to eat healthier then do it together. Maybe you have a healthy meal potluck where everyone brings a different dish. Or maybe you and your roommates try balanced breakfasts as a team. Prepare and cook nutritious meals together.


I’m really glad you asked this question because part of changing our habits is having the information (I hope The Dish is helping with that). But the other part is putting it into practice. Thanks for your question!

My aunt asked me my opinion of Splenda as a Kines student. I did a bit of research but wanted to hear your opinion as well, specifically on it’s controversy as an artificial sweetener. I heard that any sweet taste leads to an insulin response which, in artificial products like Splenda since it is not absorbed, would then cause hypoglycemia and increased food intake the next meal.

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

I don’t recommend artificial sweeteners to the general population. In some cases, such as individuals with diabetes, an artificial sweetener can be used to help control blood sugar.


Insulin is a hormone which helps our body’s cells absorb glucose, our primary fuel. Insulin is ONLY secreted in response to a carbohydrate rich food being ingested. Any sweet taste does NOT lead to an insulin response. You included a link from Wikipedia in your question, above that quote there is a message that denotes “unverifiable information”. I am really glad you asked your question rather than trust the incorrect information online.


There is fair evidence to indicate that artificial sweeteners, including sucralose (Splenda), are safe for daily use in moderation or below their Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI). Health Canada also has to approve sweeteners before they can be used and sucralose has been approved as a food additive. If you are curious about the different sweeteners and their ADI, check out this Sugar and Sweeteners resource from the Canadian Diabetes Association.


There is also some evidence that suggests foods that use artificial sweeteners do not register the same fullness cues in our body as foods that contain sugar. Or that people end up eating more of an item that contains an artificial sweetener because they believe it is not contributing any calories to their diet. Artificial sweeteners do not affect our blood sugar but sometimes they are in foods that contain other carbohydrates which do impact our blood sugar.


To add to the controversy, artificial sweeteners are not a natural food, they are produced by a chemical process. I am not concerned with occasional use of artificial sweeteners but I always ask students, why are you using them? Making our food and beverage choices according to Canada’s Food Guide is best, and you won’t find any artificial sweeteners listed there.