By Steve Edwards

This week, our oh-so-basic nutrition class takes a look at bottled water. We drink it because it's safe, right? Or do we drink it because it tastes good? What if someone told you that your tap water was held to a higher safety standard than your bottled water? Would that get your attention? If not, then how about this: what if I told you that the refreshing bottle of Aquafina® you just paid $2.75 for at the Stop-N-Rob came from the municipal water supply of Detroit?

The bottled water industry is still relatively young in the U.S. and has only recently come under a somewhat underpowered microscope. Even so, the findings are far from pretty, and a much further cry from that pristine glacier-fed mountain spring you thought you were shelling out three bucks a gallon for. But before you go dump that case of Dasani® you just bought into Fido's dish, read on.

First off, the odds are with you, health-wise. The findings of a recent 4-year study conducted by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) showed that 78 percent of the brands tested were safe. This means that unless you've been extremely loyal to one brand on the list, you're probably okay. Still, knowing that 22 percent of the companies out there have chemical contaminants in their water higher than the state limits isn't too reassuring.

Add that to the findings that almost 25 percent of the companies selling bottled water are using tap water that sometimes has no further treatment, and it becomes downright maddening. After all, Americans consumed an estimated 25.8 billion liters of bottled water in 2004. At an average of about a dollar a liter, that's a lot of money to be spending on smartly dressed tap water.

If you're not offended yet, consider the resources it takes to pour water out of a tap and into a bottle. To create enough plastic to bottle these 26 or so billion liters requires over 1.5 million barrels of oil. This is enough to fuel about 100,000 cars for a year. And this is just in the U.S. alone. Then consider that there's a flotilla of plastic in the middle of the Pacific Ocean that's twice the size of Texas and that every time you throw out a plastic water bottle (bottles which are only formulated to be safe for one-time use) you're adding to it, and you should be fired up enough to enroll in Politics 911. But back to the task at hand, your health.

What's up with the standards?

This is a good question. Most of us have heard stories about polluted metropolitan water supplies. When I lived in Los Angeles, every year or so, a story would hit the wires about excessive levels of certain substances being found in our tap water. Scary? Of course. So now I live in the city with the best water standards in the U.S., Salt Lake City. For some reason, however, bottled water companies have somehow flown under this regulatory radar. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that most of the big-name water brands are subsidiaries of soda companies with massive lobbying power and, historically, little regard for their consumers' health. (It's Pepsi® who brings you the cool drink of Detroit's finest, for example.)

Whatever the cause, the regulations enacted allow bottled water to contain some contamination by E. coli, or fecal coliform, and don't require disinfection for cryptosporidium or giardia. There is also no regulation for the types of plastic to be used, and some of these cheap, "throwaway" plastics allow chemicals to migrate from the plastic and into the water. If you don't understand what any of this stuff is, trust me, you don't want to be drinking it.

How do I tell good water from bad?

Unfortunately, this is difficult, if not impossible. A list of the offending companies has not been made public, so as of now, there just isn't much you can do to ensure your safety. Contacting the bottler might be helpful. Contacting the state water boards in the state where the water's bottled can also help because they often oversee the bottling standards as well. And if the cap says, "from a municipal source," or, "from a community water system," you're drinking tap water, which may or may not be further treated.

The best solution is probably to cry foul (see below). With 78 percent still on the upside, we've got a good chance of spurring the good guys to action on this one.

What to do?

Switching to tap water isn't the perfect answer. While the U.S. has high standards for water purity, the taste alone is often enough to incite dreams of Evian®. A home water filter is probably the best solution. Filters certified by NSF International (800-NSF-MARK) ensure the removal of many contaminants. A certification is not a safety guarantee, but it is better than no certification at all. It's important that all filters be maintained and replaced at least as often as recommended by the manufacturer. Otherwise, they could make the problem worse.

You can also get the test results of your tap water. All water suppliers must provide annual water-quality reports to their customers. Give 'em a call and they'll send you one. Their number is on your water bill.

If you're fastidious, or suspicious, you can do this test on your own. Call the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) Safe Drinking Water Hotline (800-426-4791) for a list of state-certified water testing facilities. Standard consumer test packages are available through large commercial labs at a relatively reasonable price.

What about my bottled water?

No matter how you look at it, the safest current option is checking out your local tap water and then filtering it. And when you do opt for bottled waters, try finding those from springs or aquifers, not municipal sources, unless you know which municipal source the water came from and can check it out. At this point, I'd have to recommend bottled water as a supplement only, not as your primary water source.

You don't have to like it

If you're mad as hell and don't want to take it anymore, well, it's a good thing we live in a democracy. Fire off a letter of indignation to your members of Congress, the Food and Drug Administration, and your governor, and urge them to adopt strict requirements for bottled water safety, labeling, and public disclosure. Specifically, refer to these points suggested by the NRDC:
  • Set strict limits for contaminants of concern in bottled water, including arsenic, heterotrophic-plate-count bacteria, E. coli and other parasites and pathogens, and synthetic organic chemicals such as "phthalates."
  • Apply the rules to all bottled water, whether carbonated or not and whether sold intrastate or interstate.
  • Require bottlers to display information on their labels about the levels of contaminants of concern found in the water, the water's exact source, how it's been treated, and whether it meets health criteria set by the EPA and the Centers for Disease Control for killing parasites like cryptosporidium.
Contact information:

Andrew von Eschenbach
Commissioner, U.S. Food and Drug Administration
5600 Fishers Lane
Rockville, MD 20857

That's enough for today, where we actually did borderline on politics class. Unfortunately, that's the world we live in. We're often forced to stand up and fight for things that should be basic, such as the right to non-polluted water. Next time, we'll stay on the beverage theme by looking at one of the most popular drinks on the planet, coffee.

By Denis Faye

"How do I get past this plateau?" "Why do I have to do yoga?" "How on earth can the sweet, orangey goodness of P90X® Results and Recovery Formula be good for you?" As an Advice Staff member on the Beachbody Message Boards, these are the kinds of questions I've fielded almost every day for the last 6 years. In that time, I've answered over 23,000 posts on the Nutrition or Fitness forums. There's no longer much that throws me, with the exception of one question: "Is it possible that I'm allergic to water?" But besides that one, the questions online tend to be fairly routine. They're good questions, mind you, but let me put it this way, you're not the only one around wondering when his or her six-pack abs are going to show up.

So, for your amusement and, hopefully, your education, here are the top eight questions I get asked on the boards.

1. "I'm eating at a large calorie deficit and exercising really hard, yet the scale isn't moving. What gives?"

Plateau, huh? Ninety-nine percent of the time, it's one of two things. If you're not dropping pounds, yet your inches are changing for the positive, odds are you are actually losing fat but also gaining muscle. That's what's balancing out the scale.

I know it's a frustrating situation, but if you've been looking in the mirror or putting on clothes, you've probably noticed that you're looking better and your clothes are fitting looser, so it's not all bad.

When this happens, I've found that approximately week 6 is the magic time when the scale starts moving, so hang in there, tiger!

The other probable cause is that you're undereating, which can force your body into starvation mode.

Back in the days when folks hunted and gathered, there were no 7-Elevens. Because of this, people sometimes had to go for days with little or no food. According to Darwin, people who survived these times of famine were the people who, well, survived these times of famine. And in order to do this, their bodies adapted by slowing down their metabolisms and holding onto emergency fuel supplies (aka "fat") during lean times. This is starvation mode.

Almost every time I tell someone to eat more to knock out a plateau, I get an argument because people who've lost weight by eating less have trouble adjusting their mindsets. But as your body composition changes, you have to eat to support it. If I can finally turn them around, the scale almost always starts moving again.

2."What's the deal with Recovery Formula?"

P90X Results and Recovery Formula is a four-parts-carbohydrates-to-one-part-protein powder that speeds muscle recovery.
When you exercise anaerobically (weight training, the high end of intervals, etc.), you burn blood sugar and glycogen. If you give it your all for about an hour, you'll probably deplete both of those resources. The carbs in Recovery Formula rush in to replenish that blood sugar and glycogen. Meanwhile, the protein piggybacks in, getting to muscles for a head start on resynthesis.

This 4:1 recovery drink model was conceived by John Ivy and Robert Portman in a landmark study you can read in the book Nutrient Timing: The Future of Sports Nutrition.

That's my main answer to this query, but there are sometimes subtle variations on the question. Let's address a few of those here.

First off, the carb–protein balance should be between 3:1 and 5:1 to work optimally. If you take in more protein than that or you add fat or fiber, it slows the absorption of the carbohydrates and you miss the post-workout window of about 1 hour during which nutrients are absorbed readily.

Secondly, while Recovery Formula primarily works for strength workouts, there's an anaerobic component to most of our "aerobic," or cardio, workouts, which you know if you've done P90X's "Plyometrics" workout.

Because not every workout is going to hammer you, you should decide how much Recovery Formula you need on a sliding scale. If you're so wasted that you're having difficulty moving the muscle groups you just worked, then a full serving of Recovery Formula is called for. If you feel a little shaky but not trashed, you probably have a little glycogen left over, so drink half a serving.

Another factor in deciding how you use Recovery Formula is how much blood sugar you began your workout with. If your diet is very lean, you may be tapped to begin with, so sipping a little during your workout would be hugely beneficial. There's no hard and fast rule. If you feel perfectly good post-workout, you likely didn't train hard enough for Recovery Formula. It's really up to you to gauge how you feel, and use some common sense.

Finally, Recovery Formula is specially designed for maximum absorption, and it has a lot of extra goodies in it. But if you're getting fit on the cheap, you can make your own recovery drink with apples or grape juice (the acids in orange juice mess with the absorption process, so don't use that) and a couple tablespoons of vanilla protein powder.

And no, it doesn't taste weird. It tastes like a fruit juice float.

Oh, and Beachbody's Meal Replacement Shake is also a decent replacement.

3. "Why do I have to do yoga?"

When a form of exercise has had over 3,000 years to evolve, it tends to be highly effective. It increases strength, balance, and flexibility in a way that no other exercise can. A lot of people write in to ask if they can replace it with stretching, but it's just not the same thing. Stretching does little, if anything, for strength and balance.

I know yoga can be hard, but if you stick it out, it'll pay off. If you don't believe me, here's what Kareem Abdul-Jabbar told Time magazine about the longevity of his basketball career: "My friends and teammates think I made a deal with the devil. But it was yoga that made my training complete. There is no way I could have played as long as I did without yoga."
4. "How long can I do the high-protein first phase of the P90X nutrition plan?"

For most of us, not very long. It's slated to go a month, but most of you won't go past week 2, and some won't make it a week. This phase is designed to teach you how to identify how carbs work with your body for energy and to more efficiently use your body's fat stores. Sounds cool, but if you do it too long, you'll hinder your progress, because when you follow a high-protein diet, you're denying yourself the carbohydrates to do P90X workouts effectively.

The body does use body fat for energy during some activities, such as cardio, but only to a degree. When you deny yourself the carbohydrates it needs and then push beyond the capacity of fat mobilization for energy, your body activates a process called ketosis, which burns additional body fat for use as fuel for the muscles and brain. When ketosis fails, your body will enter a carb-depleted state called "the bonk," and you won't be able to exercise effectively.

Continued ketosis wears on your kidneys and can lead to kidney disease. Obese and out-of-shape people may be able to follow a high-protein diet for a while because they have plenty of fat reserves and, frankly, they aren't yet capable of exercising at a high level. But still, 6 weeks is about as long as anyone should be able to stay in phase one.

How do you know where you fall? If you add some carbs and instantly feel better, you'll know it's time for a change. If you add too many carbs, you will start to feel sluggish, which is the lesson phase one is designed to teach.

5. "I've injured myself. Should I just work through the pain?"

Never, ever work through injury pain. Sometimes it's hard to tell if it's muscle pain or an injury, but if you're hurt, stop. And if you're unsure, err on the cautious side. If you can do other workouts that don't affect the injury, fine, but rest the injury and ice it every day to help with swelling. If it clears up in a week, resume exercising, but make a point of warming up the injured area a little longer before working out, and stretch the area as often as you can, particularly post-workout. Stretching an injury helps prevent scar tissue from forming on the muscles. If it doesn't clear up, you can try more rest or get to a doctor or a physical therapist ASAP.

If you take care of it, it'll most likely heal. If not, it will probably become chronic, which means you could be stuck with it for life.

6. "Why don't I have six-pack abs yet?"

You very well may already have a washboard stomach, but that last bit of chub is covering it. Unfortunately, you can't spot burn fat. We all have our problem areas—the last places fat wants to leave. Typically, for guys, it's the gut, and for the ladies, it's the hips.

So basically, all you can do is keep at it. Eat right and work hard, and eventually, you'll get those abs. Keep in mind that your body will be super resistant to lose the last of its emergency fuel supply, so you're going to have to work with a pretty small calorie deficit, or you might go into starvation mode. (See question one.)

7. "My breasts are getting smaller as I lose weight. How can I stop this?"

Breasts are mainly fat. Unlike hips, they often seem to be the first thing to go on women. It's kind of a bummer, but seriously, the rest of you is thinning out too, and you're going to look much hotter in a bikini with or without your current cup size.

And, for the record, I don't get this question all that much, but it's a real crowd-pleaser, so I thought I'd throw it in the mix.

8. "Why can't I eat less on P90X?"

Because P90X isn't a weight loss program. Yes, burning fat is a primary component of the program, but it's only part of the plan.

P90X is designed for people with some degree of fitness. Our other programs, such as Power 90® and Slim in 6®, are designed for people who are less fit. Out-of-shape people generally can't spend a long time working out above their anaerobic threshold, and therefore, they don't burn fat for fuel efficiently. Training while eating fewer calories can help improve this.

Typically, as these people work their way up the Beachbody fitness ranks, they need to up their calories to continue to get results. They need to support their increased metabolisms, and they need the fuel to repair their muscles after the more intense workouts. Otherwise, they risk getting injured or getting a chronic illness.

Assuming you can do P90X, you should already be in this higher fitness range.

Of course, this can be different for everyone, so it's up to you to experiment and find a calorie range that's right for you. Just don't undereat. If you overeat slightly, your fitness will eventually catch up with your nutrition. But if you undereat and ignore your body's warning signs, then you will break down sooner or later.

By Steve Edwards

This week, we're going to address why we should drink water. You know, water, "like in the toilet." This line, borrowed from the film Idiocracy, isn't so far from the way many people think about drinking plain water. In the comedy, the world's drinking water is replaced by Brawndo, a Gatorade-like electrolyte drink. We will deconstruct Gatorade at a later date, but today, I want you to understand why this is not an option. You can hydrate yourself with other liquids, but every time you do, you're chipping away at the chances of following a nutritional diet.

It's likely that the only reason you think you need to drink water is to stay "hydrated," but you might not truly understand what this means. Let's delve into the meaning behind hydration and just why you need to drink so much plain, "boring" water.
  1. Your body is made up primarily of water. When you're properly hydrated, about two-thirds of your body is water—muscle tissue is even higher, at around 70 percent, while fat is less. Muscle powers your body and fat protects it. Put two and two together, and you may infer that water is vital to the things that make your body do stuff. When you don't drink enough water, your body declines into a state we call dehydration. Get too dehydrated, and your body will not function properly, which isn't too surprising when your body's low on such a vital nutrient. (Your body can be as much as up to 65 percent water!)
  2. You don't need to drink 65 percent of your weight in water each day. This is because, one, if you lost all the water in your body, you'd be dead, and two, that water makes up most of all the living things on our planet. Since we eat living—or recently alive—things, we get some water from the things we eat. When we cook things, they lose their water. This means that the more raw whole foods you eat, the less water you need to drink. Fruits and veggies lead the group of water-rich foods and contain around 95 percent water. If you eat a lot of plants, you can drink less water. But if you don't . . .
  3. There is more to hydration than just your water levels. Chemicals in your body react with water so that you can function. We lose water in the form of sweat, and sweat is made up of water and body "salts," which are mainly sodium, chloride, and potassium, but they also include magnesium, calcium, and so on. These are called electrolytes and, basically, are the reason that salt is such a vital component in your diet. Salt is a mixture of sodium and chloride, but generally, we use the term "salts" in reference to electrolytes. Too much salt is bad and too little is bad. Both can kill you. This is why, like water, the amount you consume should be directly related to the workload your body is put under. More P90X® or ChaLEAN Extreme® equals more sweat, meaning that you need more water and more salt.
  4. What about water weight? Some people are afraid to drink a lot of water because they're afraid of gaining "water weight." This is the opposite of what you should do. Water weight is a term for your body holding on to excess water because it's not getting enough. The best way to get rid of water weight is to drink more water. It works two ways. If you don't drink enough water or if you eat too much salt in your diet, your body hoards water. This water/salt relationship is referred to as your electrolyte balance.

    Generally, there's an easy way to tell if you need more water or salt; because most people drink too little water and eat far too much salt—especially those who eat in restaurants. So when you aren't exercising, you almost never need more salt. When you are exercising, getting enough salt becomes an issue. Endurance athletes are ever aware of the need to have enough salt to avoid a condition called hyponatremia, a condition that results when you've had too much water and not enough salt, basically just dehydration from a different angle. Those who don't exercise outdoors excessively almost never have to worry about this condition.
  5. So what does water do for you? You'll often hear claims that water helps chemical reactions, regulates your body temperature, and lubricates your joints, eyes, and spinal cord. Sure, it does all of this stuff. In fact, since you're mostly made up of water, a case can be made that it does almost everything. So why split hairs? Your body doesn't work, at all, without being fed a lot of water. You can live days, weeks, and, sometimes, even months without food. But you can't live even a few days without water.
  6. Itchy skin. Dry skin. Constipation. Sneezing. Dry cough, headaches, nosebleeds, and acne. These are common ailments related to drinking too little water. Since water regulates your body's functions, it makes sense that minor glitches in bodily functions may be related to not drinking enough water. And this is just a partial list of common ailments. Many symptoms blamed on allergies are probably due to living in a dehydrated state. When you are properly hydrated, your body can better defend itself.
  7. The above symptoms may be worse in the winter. Water is required just to breathe, and you lose water through your mouth and lungs. During winter, when the air is dry, more water is required. Add forced heat in the air—like from home heating systems and fires—and the situation is exacerbated. This means that you need to drink extra water in the winter when it's cold, even though you are probably less thirsty.
  8. Water and your immune system. During winter, lack of water will dry out the mucous membranes of your lungs, gut, and sinus passages and lessen your resistance to disease. These barriers protect your body against bacteria, viruses, and pollutants when you're fully hydrated and intact. Allowing them to dry out could be the leading cause of the common cold and allergic symptoms, not to mention things like constipation, sinusitis, irritable bowel syndrome, and long-term diseases like hemorrhoids and colon cancer.
  9. Water and fat loss. We haven't yet discussed the importance of fat mobilization for energy and its relation to weight loss and effective exercise because, well, this is Nutrition 911 and that sounds complicated. Anyway, water is the main component of this action. A well-hydrated body has higher levels of oxygen in the bloodstream, translating into an increased ability to burn fat as fuel. The more efficiently you burn fat as fuel, the more effectively you exercise, leading to a better overall body composition.
  10. How much water? It's said you need about 8 glasses of water a day. However, this will vary due to your activity level and environmental conditions. As a general rule, add a couple of glasses during the hot days of summer and the dry, cold nights of winter. During exercise, you may lose a quart an hour or more. While all liquids provide water, sugar, diuretics (caffeine, etc.), and carbonation reduce the hydration effect. Combining all three, as in soda, can reduce the hydration efficiency of the liquid to almost nil.
Now that you're sold on the importance of drinking water, we better take a deeper look at where that water is coming from. Next time, we'll discuss what's in your water.

By Denis Faye

Sure, soda pop is the biggest calorie source in the American diet. Sure, it may be a sugary-sweet drink that is partially responsible for the planet's obesity epidemic, according to a 2007 Yale University study. But frankly, there's not much real about cola. Heck, most American versions don't even have real sugar in it.

To prove this point, we've decided to take a look at the ingredients in a can of cola. Is there anything real in there? You tell us.

Carbonated water

Ingredient-wise, this is cola's get-out-of-jail-free card. Carbonated water—water injected with carbon dioxide gas—has received a bad rap over the years, but current studies suggest there's little wrong with it. The idea that the phosphorus (the "fizz") in bubbly water drains calcium from bones was shown to be untrue in a 2001 study by the Creighton University Osteoporosis Research Center in Nebraska. So if you give up the soda and stick to the soda water, you'll be in good shape.

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS)

For the uninitiated, HFCS is corn syrup that has gone through enzymatic processing to increase its fructose level. It's then mixed with un-enzymatic processed corn syrup to make a combo of fructose and glucose that can be used as a sweetener. Due to the massive amount of corn our country produces, HFCS is cheaper than white cane sugar and, therefore, the sweetener of choice for just about every American junk food you can think of.

There have been all kinds of theories and studies over the years claiming that HFCS is worse for you than other sugars. Conversely, the Corn Refiners Association has gone to great lengths to dispute this information, but it's a losing battle. They have yet to comment on the latest studies, one published in Environmental Health and another from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, both showing that HFCS can contain mercury.

Whomever you believe, this stuff just isn't good for you. One 12-ounce can (and who drinks just a can anymore?) contains 39 grams of simple carbohydrates, all from HFCS. With no fat, no protein, and no fiber, it's 140 calories of blood-sugar-spiking sweetness. It's like eating 9 teaspoons of table sugar. So no matter what you call it, what vegetable it's derived from, or how you process it, it's bad for you.

Caramel color

Also known as caramel coloring, this is just sugar heated until it turns brown. However, the heating process to make class IV sulfite ammonia caramel coloring, the kind they put in soft drinks, requires ammonia. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, this doesn't affect the toxicological properties. A joint Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization expert committee on food additives wasn't quite as sure and suggested a 0 to 200 milligram per kilogram of body weight limit on the stuff. Most colas don't appear to publish the amount of caramel color they use, so we have no idea how much you'll find in a Big Gulp.

Either way, in the U.S., guess what kind of sugar this stuff is made of? Yes, corn syrup (see: High Fructose Corn Syrup [HFCS]).

Phosphoric acid

Phosphoric acid is a chemical that gives colas their "tangy taste." It's much cheaper to use than more natural ingredients. The belief that phosphoric acid lowers bone density is contentious. While it's true that a 2006 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that women who consume cola daily have lower bone density, that could also be because those soda drinkers were less inclined to drink calcium-rich beverages such as milk. Furthermore, the Creighton University study (see: Carbonated water) suggests that it wasn't the phosphoric acid causing the problem—rather, it was the caffeine.

Regardless, phosphoric acid makes an excellent rust remover for iron and steel. So think about that the next time you have a hankering for a cola.

Natural flavors

Most people believe the word "natural" means that these flavors are the good stuff. Nothing could be further from the truth. Eric Schlosser, in his amazing book Fast Food Nation, sums it up best. Basically, just because a flavor is "natural" doesn't mean it's healthier than an "artificial" flavor. In fact, sometimes the opposite can be true. The example Schlosser brings up is almond flavoring. "When almond flavor is derived from natural sources," he writes, "such as peach and apricot pits, it contains traces of hydrogen cyanide, a deadly poison."

Conversely, artificial almond flavor "derived through a different process (by mixing oil of clove and the banana flavor, amyl acetate) does not contain any cyanide."

Most colas' secret recipes are safely hidden in their natural ingredients. Given that it's one of the best-kept secrets in industrial history, props to you if you can figure out what you're drinking.


Considering that some of our supplements contain caffeine, it would be downright hypocritical to trash it here. The simple fact is that in small amounts caffeine is fine. In fact, it's an ergogenic aid, meaning that it can increase the capacity for mental or physical labor. However, if you get too carried away, it can lead to everything from peptic ulcers to sleep disorders to the above-mentioned bone density loss.

So if you're at risk for osteoporosis, you're probably going to want to pass on caffeine. Otherwise, you'll want to drink it in moderation.

How does this bode badly for soda? Simple. Pretty much every other source of caffeine around has some kind of benefit. Supplements have myriad benefits. Coffee and tea contain antioxidants. Even chocolate, in moderation, is said to be beneficial, with its antioxidants, flavonoids, and phenylethylamine—a mild mood enhancer. Why get it drinking soda, a beverage without a single other beneficial quality yet several detrimental ones?

So there you have it. Mix that all together, and you get cola. Heck, because it's so natural and "real," you should be able to make it at home with ingredients sitting in your kitchen pantry. Right? Right?

Who am I kidding? This stuff's junk. Real junk, but junk nonetheless.

By DeLane McDuffie

Warning labels and signs are everywhere. Some are unique to each of us. For instance, for years, whenever I visited a greasy spoon, I knew that the quality of the food was inversely proportionate to the number of teeth the head cook had. The fewer teeth, the tastier the food. Moreover, warning labels populate our grocery stores' aisles. Although they're necessary due to the litigious times we live in, some of these labels are more questionable than others. See if you can guess the products that bear these puzzling warning labels.
  1. Silk Soy Milk – Shake well and buy often. This mix of instruction and marketing advice is as subtle and smooth as its brand name implies.
  2. Kellogg's Corn Flakes – Corn used in this product. No, you're not reading a typo. It actually says that on the side panel. This ranks #2 in the "ehhh . . . obviously" department, barely beating out the tie between Hagan Ice Cream's reported on-the-nose disclaimer, "Caution: Ice cream is cold," and the "Warning: May cause drowsiness" disclaimer found on some sleeping pills.
  3. C&H Cane Sugar – Ingredient: Sugar. Here's your "ehhh . . . obviously" champion right here. At least there can be no claim of false advertising.
  4. Axe Body Spray – Avoid spraying in eyes. I don't know about you, but I'm not aware of any person with smelly eyeballs. And if there are any out there, then please inform them that maybe they should consult a physician now. Right now. Stop reading. Go!
  5. Children's Benadryl Allergy Tablets – Be careful when driving a motor vehicle or operating machinery. It's hard to let this one slide when you realize that the medicine is developed for children and not adults, so the disclaimer seems a wee bit oddly placed. However, if you happen to see any drowsy 14-month-old construction workers operating cranes and forklifts, call the authorities . . . and tell that kid to be careful.

By Steve Edwards

Since all great things come in threes (or is it celebrity deaths?), we're going to complete our sugar trilogy with a look at the worst food in the world: soda pop. Forget about brands; whether it's Coke, Dr. Pepper, or even Hansen's Natural, it's all junk. There are different degrees of "junkiness," but this is Nutrition 911, so we're sticking with the bird's-eye perspective. The taste might make you happy, but from a nutritional point of view, soda's only place in the world is to make people fat, sick, and unhappy.

Alarming statistics

In America, we drink a lot of cola (or "un-cola"). A lot. On average, we each drank 52.4 gallons in 2005, and this figure includes infants, healthy folks, prisoners, etc., meaning that the average soda drinker actually gulps (their word) more than this. Carbonated soft drinks are the biggest single caloric source in the American diet. Teenagers in particular are hooked on the stuff and get an average of 13 percent of their daily calories from "pop." If this doesn't scare you, it should. In terms of sheer amount, these statistics could be alarming if it were any one food. A proper diet should have some balance and diver

We use the term "empty calories" for foods like soda that have no place in a nutritious diet. This term is ridiculously misleading. The calories in soda are far from empty. Most of them come from sugar. In the U.S., it's nearly always high fructose corn syrup, the cheapest, most processed sugar on the market. Other ingredients include caffeine, various phosphates and acids, and artificial colorings. We'll get to their effects on the human body in a minute, but first, let's stick to the simple stuff. Per day, the average teenager consumes between 10 and 15 teaspoons of refined sugar via soda—which, according to government standards, is about their daily requirement for all foods. This means that for the average teenager, his or her soda consumption virtually eliminates his or her chances of eating a balanced diet. There's nothing empty about that.

Weird science

The soda companies are a marketing juggernaut. They spend roughly $700 million a year on media advertising alone—not to mention hundreds of millions more sponsoring events, athletes, musicians, and such. This volume of cash makes it difficult for consumers to avoid them, by design. To avoid the temptation to drink Coke, you've got to be highly principled or living in the middle of the jungle. And even then, well, I once happened upon a soda vending machine halfway up Mount Yarigatake in the Japanese Alps, and a friend traveling in Guatemala found Coke in a rural area that didn't have running water. Let's just say that soda companies are going to continue making it easy for you to find the stuff.

This type of marketing machine won't go away quietly. With the stats listed above, you could certainly put two and two together and link soda companies to the childhood (and adult) obesity epidemic that is arguably the world's most serious health crisis. Yet, while researching this article, I came across a widely published "study" stating that "soft drink consumption has no effect on childhood obesity." Suspicious from the get-go (the word "no" being a huge red flag), it didn't take me long to find this statement: "The research paper was supported by an unrestricted gift from the American Beverage Association." Bingo. Remember those Phillip Morris tobacco "studies" that promised a long and healthy life from chain smoking?

What makes it so bad?

Besides the simple caloric trade-off, sodas are formulated to give you a rush. The sugar is mixed with phosphates designed to speed it into your system. It's so good, in fact, that many cyclists prefer Coca-Cola to specific sports food when they need a sugar rush near the end of races. And while a sugar rush is a good thing when you're trying to exceed your anaerobic threshold and you're out of blood glycogen (never mind if you don't know what this is), it's a bad thing whenever you're not, which even for a competitive cyclist is 99.9 percent of the time.

Beyond the simple sugar rush, these acids and phosphates alter your body's pH levels and inhibit the absorption of other nutrients. Then there are the effects of certain artificial coloring agents. For example, yellow #5, commonly used in soft drinks, has been linked to attention deficit disorder, hives, asthma, and other allergic reactions in some children.

Then there is the nutrient trade-off to consider. A person who drinks one Big Gulp per day must go to great lengths to maintain a balanced diet. Otherwise, they will almost certainly be deficient in numerous vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber, and essential fatty or amino acids—none of which is found in soda. For this reason, soda is often linked to type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, dental erosion, and a higher risk of kidney stones and heart disease. And that's just a start. There's plenty of less scientific data linking soda to poor scholastic habits, which we'll get to in a later class.

Diet sodas and juices

In an attempt to become thought of as healthier, soda companies have diversified into non-carbonated beverages and diet sodas. While these are an improvement in some ways, they are hardly a solution to the problem.

First off, most juices and other caloric non-soda alternatives are mainly just sugar and water without the carbonation. A quick label comparison between a commercial orange juice and a Mountain Dew would show a similar "bottom line" with regards to calories and sugar. The only improvement would be the lack of the non-caloric offenders.

But that's no small matter, as the true effects of these ingredients have not been thoroughly studied. Despite their no-calorie status, diet sodas have been linked to assorted illnesses. Recent studies have backed up my more anecdotal evidence that I've yet to have a client not lose weight by kicking diet soda. Granted, all of my clients drank an excessive amount, but regardless, there is little doubt that the pH balance of diet sodas hinders the body's ability to absorb nutrients, and that just may be the tip of the non-caloric iceberg.

A large-scale study in 2007 showed that men and women who had more than one diet soda a day were 31 percent more likely to be obese and 25 percent more likely to have both high triglycerides and blood sugar, and they had a 50 percent greater risk of developing metabolic syndrome. Never mind if you don't know what metabolic syndrome is. Just trust me when I tell you that you don't want it.

How can you help?

In my world, soft drinks would come with the same type of regulatory language as cigarettes and booze, at least. Actually, in my world, we'd all be educated and wouldn't require this language at all, but that's Politics 911, not Nutrition 911. Anyway, here are five ways you can help educate the public about the dangers of soda, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Contact your local government officials and/or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and suggest that:
  1. National and local governments should require chain restaurants to declare the calorie content of soft drinks and all other items on menus and menu boards.
  2. The FDA should require labels on non-diet soft drinks to state that frequent consumption of those drinks promotes obesity, diabetes, tooth decay, osteoporosis, and other health problems.
  3. Local, state, and federal governments should provide water fountains in schools, government buildings, parks, and other public spaces.
  4. School systems and other organizations catering to children should stop selling soft drinks (as well as candy and other junk foods) in hallways, shops, and cafeterias.
  5. State and local governments should consider levying small taxes on soft drinks, with the revenues earmarked for promoting health and fitness. A national 2-cent tax on a can of soda pop would raise $3 billion annually.
Are you scared yet? You should be. Or you could just stop drinking soda. Sounds so simple, doesn't it? That's all the time we have this week. Next week, we'll take a look at water. We know we're supposed to drink that, right?

Test Your Sugar IQ!

Saturday, April 24, 2010 | 0 comments »

By DeLane McDuffie
  1. Which has more calories, brown sugar or white sugar? White sugar actually has more calories than brown sugar, but not much more (only about 2 calories an ounce). Traditional brown sugar almost always comes from the sugar beet. The extracted beet sugar is mixed with molasses (the byproduct of the sugar extraction), which is what gives brown sugar its distinct color and flavor. Cane sugar is light brown in its natural state.
  2. How much sugar typically makes kids hyperactive? Amazingly, none. Science has yet to establish any conclusive link between sugar and increases in hyperactivity in children. It is suspected that sugar may be taking a bad rap for caffeine, which, along with sugar, is present in many sodas and chocolaty snacks, and has been proven to hype up the rugrats.
  3. How is powdered sugar, or confectioner's sugar, made? Powdered sugar is ground 10 times as fine as regular sugar and mixed with a small amount of corn starch to prevent caking. So if you're ever cooking at home and run out of powdered sugar, just grind up some regular sugar in a blender with a pinch of corn starch.
  4. How many gallons of maple sap are needed to make one gallon of maple syrup? It takes 40 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of syrup. But syrup isn't too bad of a sweetener. As maple sugar, it contains 7 fewer calories per ounce and many more essential minerals than sugar. It's not quite a health food, but it's better than the white stuff.
  5. Who played Sugar Kane in the 1959 film Some Like It Hot? Marilyn Monroe.

By Steve Edwards

Ladies and gentlemen, tonight we bring you The Thriller in Vanilla, the long-awaited fight to crown the World Obesity Federation's heavyweight champion. It's the battle to decide, once and for all, which contender is most responsible for making us fat. In one corner, we have our long-reigning champion, The Heartbreak Hammer, Fat! In the other corner, we have the up-and-coming challenger everyone's been talking about, The Soda Pop Kid, Sugar!

As the undisputed nutrient kings of our fast food world, this is the bout that everyone's been waiting for. Fat has been the people's champion for a long time. Sugar, on the other hand, has only been around as long as humans have been altering foods from natural sources. Lately, a lot of money and science have changed our challenger's traditional fighting style, leading to a string of TKOs (technical knockouts) en route to its shot at the title. Going into tonight's fight, however, the experts still favor The Champion by 2-to-1 odds.

The tale of the tape

Sugar—Weighing in at 4 calories per gram, the challenger is slight in stature compared to our champion and will look to speed to gain an advantage. Sugar is a carbohydrate, but the form we consume it in is much different than how we find it in nature, where's it's surrounded by a fruit, grain, or other plants. The Soda Pop Kid is synthetic crystalline sugar—the kind that goes into soda, candy, and many convenience foods. Its main weapon is the speed with which it rushes into your system.

Fat—At 9 calories per gram, Fat outweighs its challenger by more than double. Unlike Sugar, Fat is its own food group and an essential part of our diets, just like carbohydrates and protein. It's easily found in nature in many forms and doesn't need to be processed. This, of course, doesn't mean we don't process it when it's convenient or cost-effective. As opposed to Sugar, Fat moves into your system slowly. Then it remains there for as long as it can. In abundance, it clogs things up. Its main weapon being bulk, its goal is to wear you down.

As you can see, we've got a classic tortoise-vs.-hare matchup between these two heavyweights.

A brief history

Sugar—Since all carbohydrates are broken down into sugars in our blood, it's always been a part of our diets. However, when eaten as a complex carbohydrate or encased in fiber (as in fruit), it affects our bodies differently than it does as processed sugar.

Bees were the first sugar producers, and humans have been eating honey for about as long as bees have been making it. However, it didn't become a major part of our diets until thousands of years later. Westerners began the production of sugar around 1500 BC. Originally made from sugarcane and sugar beets, it's now manufactured from other crops, like corn and wheat, which makes up the bulk of the sugar consumed in the U.S.

Modern technology has enabled us to tamper further with natural sugar. Traditional sugar, like honey, had a much lower glycemic index (GI) than many modern variations. Since the higher the GI number, the quicker the sugar rushes into your system, we are now essentially able to have sugars affect the body like a drug, creating exaggerated hormonal responses, particularly the hormone insulin. You may have heard of insulin because, when we have trouble producing it, we have a disease called diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is the result of eating poorly. It's also the fastest-growing disease in the world, which, in Sugar's camp, means they think it's time for a shot at the title.

Fat—Like we stated earlier, fat is dense—it has a lot of calories for its size. It's also an essential nutrient and helps us feel satiated or full. Therefore, when we're hungry, we tend to crave it. And since we don't really need much of it, it's very easy to overeat.

When we eat more food than we can put to good use, our bodies store it in adipose tissue. We call this tissue fat, or fat tissue. But it's not really fat, as in the kind we eat. It's something else. Well, it's adipose tissue, but we've always called it fat. Anyway, the point is that we call it fat whether we get it from eating too much fat, too much protein, too much sugar, or too many carbs, or by drinking too much alcohol. And because of this, Fat gets a worse rap than it deserves.

But make no mistake, fat is formidable. We like fat. We like it a lot. Many fat-laden foods are considered delicacies. And we like fat so much that we've found ways to consume just the bad parts of fat that serve little to no dietary purpose. Stuff like butter, margarine, lard, and trans fats are completely unnecessary for our survival. Yet, somehow, our culture has taught us to crave such things. And these cravings have led to heart disease becoming the planet's most popular way to kill people. Fat has been the undisputed champion of the obesity world for a long, long time. It's not going to relinquish this title easily.

So let's get ready to rumble!

Round 1

Smaller but faster, Sugar comes out in a rush and pummels Fat mercilessly. Because of The Kid's smaller stature, Sugar's punches seem to have little effect on The Champ. But Fat hardly lands a punch himself and is looking old and slow. Could The Hammer's reign be over?

Round 2

The Sugar rush comes to a quick crash. The Champ, in no rush himself, seizes control of the pace and takes the round.

Round 3

All of our sponsors are major lobbyists on the side of Sugar. The Kid replenishes with some Gatorade and responds in another flurry of activity. The Champ is back on his heels, waiting for The Kid's next inevitable crash.

Round 4

The Kid jabs, moves, and controls the pace, but The Champ seems unfazed. Fat knows that Sugar is only an effective nutrient during and immediately after activity, when blood sugar is being used up. So Sugar must keep moving, otherwise it has no nutrient value. The Hammer, being experienced, is willing to bide his time and wait for an opening.

Round 5

Sugar bobs and weaves, employing a psychological game that confounds The Champ. Complex carbohydrates and the simple carbs in fruit break down slowly and provide sustained energy during performance. This gives Sugar an advantage of public misconception because the junk food sugar can be lumped together with healthy carbohydrates. This underhanded attack is clearly something Fat hadn't counted on. It seems to anger The Hammer.

Round 6

The Champ counters, big time. Two can play the public misconception card, and Fat uses its adipose tissue to absorb all of The Kid's body blows. The statement that size matters seems to be holding true. In spite of nearly unending corporate support, Sugar seems to be tiring and its punches are growing less and less effective.

Round 7

Fat is now clearly in control of the bout and uses a cholesterol combo to further weaken The Kid. The Hammer's corner men, Meat and Dairy, are loaded with it, and too much cholesterol is a major cause of heart disease. Could this spell the end for the gallant challenger?

Round 8

A savvy move saves The Kid, who notes that cholesterol is a necessary part of a healthy diet, and that with a proper ratio of fiber and complex carbs, it will have little negative effect. It's a beautiful defensive move, but how long can it work? The Hammer just seems to be warming up his arsenal.

Round 9

Offended by The Kid's trickery, Fat comes out smokin' and unloads an entire 7-Eleven of chips, whipped cream, hot dogs, margarine, and even "vegetable" oils at The Kid. Since they all lead to heart disease, now the leading cause of death in the world, Sugar's only defense is the rope-a-dope. He's clearly in serious trouble.

Round 10

Down goes Sugar! The Champ plants a trans fat to the head and levels the challenger. This could be it, folks. The Kid staggers to his feet, but the referee has stepped in. He seems to be holding up a can of Crisco to see if Sugar can identify what hit him. If not, he's going to stop it.

Oh, but wait a minute! The Kid seems to be okay, and even looks to be smiling. The ref flashes a thumbs-up and the fight continues. Sugar dances away from a series of haymakers. The Hammer obviously wants to end the contest right now. But he can't connect. The Kid survives! In his corner, he's given a Coke.

Round 11

His face is bloodied, but The Kid is back at work. The Champ's attack has been slowed with the news that the Food and Drug Administration has required that trans fat be listed on the side of every food label, while sugar, sugar alcohols, artificial sweeteners, and glucose syrups can be used with virtually no regulation. This tactic has clearly befuddled The Hammer, whose punches are beginning to miss more often than they connect.

Round 12

Ladies and gentlemen, we've got a new fight! Left for dead just a few rounds ago, Sugar is now controlling the pace. Still a long way behind on points, the challenger is using an intriguing combination that's hurting The Champion. But The Champ fights back. The Champ first points out that many fats—the type in nuts, olives, seeds, avocados, fish, and many other foods—are essential for optimal health and then notes that nothing in sugar is needed for human survival; he then combines that with the fact that a "no fat" label can be on a food containing 100 percent sugar. Then he uses the fact that sugar alters the body's pH levels, a clear example that an all-sugar food is far worse than a no-fat food. That's gotta hurt.

Round 13

The credit probably goes to The Hammer's corner men, all major corporate CEOs, but Sugar has got to be one of the craftiest fighters in history. He comes after Fat with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and fibromyalgia, an offensive that clearly caught The Champ off guard. Apparently, they're illnesses attributed in part to excessive sugar in one's diet leading to insulin-resistance problems. The Hammer may have amassed enough points to win a decision but is now clearly on the defensive and reeling. Who knows what The Kid's got up his sleeve at this point?

Round 14

With only one round to go, Sugar swings wildly with a combination of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and soda pop. This is one of the most lethal offensive combinations in the history of obesity! HFCS is the cheapest and lowest-quality sugar produced, and is now added to many items that aren't even sweet—things like salad dressings and peanut butters, items once clearly in Fat's corner. And soda, a substance with no nutritional value whatsoever, has become the singularly most consumed item on the planet. I don't see how The Champ can survive this. He's staggering around the ring, basically out on his feet! Somehow, and it must be experience, The Hammer avoids going down.

Round 15

It all comes down to this: one round to crown the World Champion of Obesity. Fat, the longtime champ, is clearly in trouble but still has enough points to win thanks to his mid-fight dominance. But Sugar has owned the latter rounds thanks to heavy lobbying, effective marketing, deregulation, and public misconception. The Champ was barely on his feet at the end of round 14, and his corner is working furiously to limit the damage. The question is, does Sugar's corner have one last trick up its sleeve?

And here we go . . .

The Champ still manages to show some swagger, and comes out flashing heart disease as the number one killer, recently eclipsing lung disease and cigarettes—no slouch in the death department.

But Sugar barely flinches and counters with type 2 diabetes, the fastes-growing illness in the world, that's almost single-handedly controlled by Sugar. It's like Ali's "anchor punch" against Liston. And it sends The Champ sprawling.

Down goes Fat! Down goes Fat!

And I don't think the Champ will be rising from this one. Nope. Fat is out cold. The Hammer's reign is over. There's a new kid in town. Sugar is elated, dancing around the ring and pointing at the crowd, screaming, "I want YOU! I want YOU!"

Ladies and gentlemen, introducing the NEW heavyweight champion of the obesity world: SUGAR!

By Steve Edwards

Welcome to part VI of our very, very basic nutrition class. We've now taken a basic look at what we should eat, marketing slogans to be wary of, and how to read food labels. Today we'll look at sugar and fake sugar, and then try to come up with a reasonable strategy to deal with our sweet teeth.


Remember, this class is the ultra basics, so instead of using words like saccharide and galactose, let's just say that sugar is the simplest form of carbohydrates. It's sweet, yummy, and easy to crave. In nature, it's found in plants. As you recall from Part I, plants have fiber, and this minimizes sugar's impact on your system by causing it to be digested slowly. Carbohydrates, whether from potatoes, lentils, or bananas, all break down into sugars in your body, and you use these sugars as fuel when you do stuff. So, if done right, eating carbohydrates is a good thing, especially when you're active.

Refined sugar, the white grainy stuff you'll find in gummy bears, chocolate, Coke, and most desserts, is sugar minus the fiber that surrounds it in nature. What you're left with is a sweet but highly caloric food that your body absorbs very rapidly, causing a "sugar rush." This "rush" is a temporary imbalance in your system that your body tries to regulate—a spike of energy followed by a lull.

But your body hates the lull, so to bring you back up, it'll crave, you guessed it, more sugar. It's an ugly cycle, considering refined sugar's only nutritional value is similar to a nitrous injection in a race car—a quick burst of energy that burns right out. This might be a good thing if you're in a drag race (or, in human terms, if you need an extra burst of energy during a workout), but it's a bad thing any other time because, if you don't put that excess sugar to use, it gets stored as fat.

Bottom line: Refined sugar is okay for sports performance (while you are skiing, bicycling, running, and so on), but it's bad at all other times. Unfortunately, we tend to want it at all other times. Therefore, straight sugar consumption should be limited.

Now you're probably wondering, "So the best time to eat gummy bears would be during a marathon instead of at night in front of the TV?" The answer is yes, absolutely.

And now you're probably thinking, "But I want dessert after dinner!" Right, we all do. Something sweet after a meal is pretty darn ingrained in our society.

Artificial Sweeteners

I'm not going to do a breakdown of the artificial sweeteners on the market—because we already have. I recommend that you read "Sweet Nothing," which will only take you a couple of minutes. Essentially, there are a bunch of different artificial sweeteners to choose from. Most are made of various chemical reactions that your taste buds think are sweet but aren't used by your body and have zero calories.

There are also some, called sugar alcohols, which have fewer calories than regular sugar because they've been combined with an artificial fiber that you can't digest. These have "-tol" at the end of their names, like "xylitol."

One, Stevia, or "sweet leaf," is natural. It's basically a, well, sweet leaf that you can chew on or that we can grind into a powder, like sugar. Now you might be thinking, "This all sounds great! What's the catch?"

The catch is that a lot of recent science is showing us that calories might not be the only reason we're fat. In fact, a handful of studies cited in "Sweet Nothing" concluded that those using artificial sweetener regularly tended to be more obese than those who used regular sugar.

Then there's the little fact that sweeteners may not be safe. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved some, but given their track record (Vioxx, etc.), we can easily—and should—be a bit skeptical. With a cursory search of the Internet, you can find both pro and con studies for each alternative sweetener. The FDA is highly influenced by lobbyists and does not accept all viable studies, meaning that you might want more than FDA approval before blindly trusting what you put into your body.

So let's use some logic to try to assess how best to choose a sweetener. By adding two and two together, we should be able stack the odds in our favor.
  • Time. Saccharin is the most maligned of this bunch, yet it's been around for more than 100 years and is still on the market. Sure, there is some negative research out there, but it can't be that bad! A lot of people consume a lot of different artificial sweeteners. If people were dropping like flies, we'd probably hear about it. In fact, sweet leaf has been used for thousands of years. FDA approval or not, that's what I call time-tested.
  • Research. If one of these sweeteners were so good, why would other people keep trying to come up with better ones? From this fact alone, we know that at least some of those negative findings must have an inkling of merit.
  • Money. The influence of big business can keep need-to-know information from the public (again, Vioxx, etc.). Most sweeteners have become American staples, such as aspartame in diet soda.
  • Artificial or natural? "Artificial" sounds bad and "natural" sounds good. But just because something is natural does not mean it's good. Tobacco and opium are natural. So, the claim that Stevia is good because "it's natural" bears little relevance. Many very beneficial drugs are artificial. However, you generally don't want to take them habitually, which is how some people use artificial sweeteners. Artificial doesn't mean bad, but it should mean caution.
  • Anecdotal. I'm going to share two quick stories:

    First, my sister is a sweet leaf proponent. It's time-honored and natural but lacks FDA approval. She lobbied Starbucks for a natural alternative to Splenda (chlorinated sugar). She got a long line of positive responses up the chain of command until, finally, they stopped returning her calls. A short time later, her local market (a chain that she used as an example for Starbucks) was forced to stop offering sweet leaf with their coffee and only sell it as a "supplement." Coincidence or a blatant case of big business (Starbucks and/or the folks who bring you Splenda) using strong-arm tactics against someone who truly cares about your health? In the wake of the FDA scandal, it's hard not to at least harbor a little suspicion.

    Next is a female athlete whom I trained; she could not lose weight, despite being in great shape and eating a strict diet. Her vice was about 100 ounces of no-cal soft drinks per day. She would eye double Big Gulps like a junky does crack. When we were able to get her off the stuff—she even drank some sugared soft drinks to do so—she lost 15 pounds. This example is now being echoed with science. Two large-scale studies spanning many years have shown a link between artificial sweeteners and obesity.

Bottom line: There is no hard evidence that any one sweetener is better than the others. Most likely the stuff won't kill you, at least not quickly. But given that we also know it's not 100 percent safe, it would seem wise to limit your consumption as much as possible.

So now that we understand that sugar should be limited, let's look at some ways to do it.

5 Ways to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth

So what's a dessert-loving health seeker to do? Here are my five favorite ways to cut your sugar consumption without ruining all of your fun:
  1. Portion control. I recently saw a sign in a Denny's window saying, "Remember, an apple a day." The sign was of an apple surrounded by about 2,000 calories of sugar and fat. Our society has gone crazy for "bigger is better." After dinner, your body is not hungry. You don't need 2,000 extra calories. You don't need 200! If you savor a square of chocolate or a tablespoon of Ben & Jerry's slowly, it will curb your cravings without a noticeable effect on your diet.
  2. Don't snack on artificial sweeteners. Gum is probably the worst snack because it creates a stimulus-response action that causes you to crave sweet stuff constantly.
  3. Add some fruit to your sugar or artificial sweetener. Fruit is both sweet and good for you. However, I realize an apple might not be enough all by itself to satiate your sweet tooth. But you can dress up fruit with a very small amount of a "real" dessert and make it pretty darn decadent.
  4. Make sure you have some complex carbs in your diet. This sounds boring, but complex carbs, like whole grains, sweet potatoes, rice, beans, 'n' stuff, all slowly break down into blood sugar. If your blood sugar is steady, you won't crave sugar. You might still habitually crave it, but that's a ton better than a sugar-crash craving, which will likely lead to bingeing.
  5. The protein powder trick. Most protein powders have a small amount of sugar and a touch of artificial sweetener, and are 90 percent protein. If you can find one you like (our Whey Protein Powder is fantastic, ahem, ahem), you might be able to curb your cravings with a high-protein snack. Chalene Johnson, the creator of Turbo Jam®, uses chocolate protein powder as a base for pudding, and Beachbody® advice staff member, Denis Faye, sprinkles it on cereal. If you get creative, the possibilities may be endless.

By Denis Faye

Thirsty? You should be. If you're reading this, it probably means you're working your tush off every day with Slim in 6®, P90X®, ChaLEAN Extreme®, or another fine Beachbody® program. And when you do that, you perspire. And when you perspire, you need to replenish the water in your system.
Sadly, you may be one of those lost souls who can't stand the taste of water. Sure, you could hydrate with juice or sports drinks, but then you'd be adding a bunch of sugar or artificial sweeteners into the mix. Yes, these drinks can play a role in a healthy diet, but 8 glasses a day of orange juice would be far more vitamin C than you need, as well as hundreds of sugar calories that you shouldn't be consuming—calories completely unchecked by the fiber you get from eating actual oranges.

Actually, water is the way to go, so to help you get the stuff down, we've come up with a few simple tips. But before we get started, we'd like to make a preemptive response to all of you who will write in to "inform" us about that widely touted 2002 study in the American Journal of Physiology that discounts the old 8-ounce-glass-of-water, eight-times-a-day rule. According to the study, a normal, healthy adult just needs to drink when he or she is thirsty to stay hydrated.

Well, before you hang up your squirt bottle, keep in mind that the study includes a huge disclaimer: the light-and-easy hydration rule doesn't apply to people with medical conditions requiring fluid control, athletes, people living in extreme conditions, and people involved in prolonged physical activity. The way I see it, if you're doing P90X, that's going to put you in at least one of those groups, if not two or three.

In other words, here are seven ways to make water more palatable. Use 'em.
  1. Get fruity. A squish of lemon, lime, or orange goes a long way toward giving water a little zing. It's almost calorie free, and you get a bonus blast of vitamin C. Furthermore, if you happen to be doing our programs while you're out at sea, it can help with any unwanted scurvy.
  2. Herbify yourself. Make yourself a big tub of caffeine-free, herbal tea, or "tisane," as the French call it. Technically, it isn't made from the Camellia sinensis (aka "tea") plant, which means it doesn't have the antioxidants of tea, but it tastes good and has no negative effects. There are hundreds of flavors to choose from. Mint and raspberry are a couple of our favorites.
  3. Bubble up! According to a 2001 study out of the Creighton University Osteoporosis Research Center in Nebraska, the notion that carbonated water leaches calcium from your bones is completely untrue. So, if you want to hydrate with a big glass of Perrier, go for it.
  4. Minty fresh. Crushed mint is another great way to liven up your water. If you want to get the most out of the leaves, put them in the glass first and grind them down. This will release a ton of flavor. Mint is also known to soothe upset stomachs and, more importantly, freshen your breath. Mix the mint with the lemon for a real taste sensation!
  5. Filter flavor. It's a subtle shift, but sometimes the filtration process can alter the taste of tap water. Get yourself a Brita filter or similar brand and give it a go. Even if the flavor doesn't change, you'll be drinking purer stuff.
  6. Brush your teeth. A good scrub of your teeth and tongue overpowers the taste of almost everything you put in your mouth for several minutes afterward. Take this opportunity to knock back a glass of H2O. You won't taste a thing.
  7. Cuke you. This one is a little wacky, but if you like new tastes, give it a shot. Chop up a cucumber (yes, a cucumber). Add it to a pitcher of water and chill it for 2 to 3 hours so that the cucumber flavor can permeate. Serve the water with ice. It's the perfect refreshing drink for a hot, summer day.

By Steve Edwards

Welcome to part V of our oh-so basic nutrition class. So far, we've discussed marketing slogans and how they can affect your eating habits, and the basics of what we should eat. If we've made one conclusion, it's that we need to understand food labels to get out of the supermarket without a bunch of garbage masquerading as food. Since we probably won't scrutinize each item we toss into our shopping carts, let's take the CliffsNotes approach.

Today's lesson: How to judge a food in 15 seconds or less!

You should learn how to read a label in depth because, sometimes, that's the only way to tell what you're really eating. Denis Faye wrote a great piece way back in issue #101, "Judging a Book by Its Cover: Learning to Read Food Labels", explaining this process in detail. He dissects a label from top to bottom, something you should eventually do with each of the staple foods you buy.

When in a rush, however, you can still benefit greatly from a cursory glance at a label. I can't tell you how many times I've decided to "just make sure" an item was as healthy as it appeared, only to find out it had an appalling amount of something I had no interest in eating. Here is my quickie checklist. These five steps will barely take enough time to slow the movement of the product from the shelf to your cart and will more than make up for it by extending your life on the back end.
  1. Trans and saturated fats. In the U.S., all packaged foods come with a nutrition facts label. The first place my eyes go is to the fat content. I draw my personal line in the sand at trans fat. We don't need it, and there is always another food option without it. Trans fat is man-made fat that comes from dubious preparation processes. If an item has any, it goes back on the shelf. Next, I look at saturated fat. We don't need much of it, and if we eat meat or dairy products, then we have probably met our requirements without it needing to be in our other foods. Next to the number of grams, you'll see the percentage of your daily requirement that the food contains, eliminating the need for math. If that number is high, be wary. Of course, you must evaluate what you're buying. Olive oil, for example, is a fat, so it's going to have a high number. However, you don't use much. Potato chips, on the other hand, would have a lower number, but you might eat the entire bag, so you should consider that. But that's obvious stuff, right?
  2. Sugar. The grams of sugar are listed right below "carbohydrates," near the top of the label. Get instantly suspicious if this number is high. Sports foods are supposed to have sugar because you want to quickly replace blood glycogen lost during exercise. All other foods don't need it. If you're buying a dessert item, you'll expect a high ratio of sugar, but for anything else, you're probably getting a cheap product that's poorly produced. Remember that many "low-fat" foods have a lot of sugar—it's not technically fat. It just makes you fat.
  3. Sodium. Prepared foods are usually laden with sodium, and you'll find the amount in plain sight high on the label. Oftentimes, you can find an "organic, nonfat, low-carb," purely healthy sounding food item that has over 1,000 milligrams of sodium, which is around half of your "recommended daily allowance" (RDA). What you're generally looking for from these three "s" ingredients (saturated fat, sugar, and sodium) is a low number, and it only takes a few seconds to figure it out.
  4. Fat, protein, and carbs ratio. Here's your first math test, but it's a simple one. When choosing a food, you probably already know a few things about it. If it's butter, you'll expect all fat; candy will be high in sugar; and things that sit on a shelf may have a lot of sodium. For meals, however, you'll want to take a quick notation of the amount of fat, protein, and carbs. If you're on a strict diet, this ratio is very important, but if you're not, you just want some balance. A nice round number is 40 percent carbs, 30 percent protein, and 30 percent fat. You can then assume that your prepared "meals" would be better if they reflect a similar balance. Proteins and carbs have 4 calories per gram, and fats have 9. So you want the number of fat grams to be less than the other two. A quick method is to use a 1:2:3 ratio, with fat being 1, protein 2, and carbs 3.

    Now let's analyze. Since we're shopping for a meal that's low in fat, it's probably because we know that we get enough fat somewhere else in the day. Most of us have no problem getting fat in our diets, so this would be normal. A quick glance at the fat and sugar contents leads to a big thumbs up. Notice that I've skipped looking at calories. That's because it's calories per serving. We may not know what a serving is, and remember, we want to do as little math as possible. We can just assume we'll eat in servings, so that's what we're analyzing. You will want to check what a serving is later, but for now, we're trying to buy healthy foods and not determine how much of them to eat. Next is sodium, which we expect to be a bit high because it's a prepackaged food. As one of five meals in a day, 500 milligrams is 20 percent of the RDA (they do the math for you), which is fine. Finally, the burrito doesn't follow the 1:2:3 scale, but we were already expecting this to be off because it's "low fat." The protein-to-carbs ratio of 12 to 20 seems pretty close to 2 to 3, so check it off. How close is "close"? There is no rule, but if the numbers were, say, 10 and 60, we might look for something else, unless this was to be served with a pure protein dish. Total time investment, so far: about 10 seconds.
  5. Length of ingredients list. Now just take a quick glance at where it says Ingredients. If it's under about 10 items, I won't even look at it. If it's so long that I don't want to spend the time reading it, I put the item back because I know this will mean a long list of things I can't pronounce, and I don't want to eat things I can't say. If it's somewhere in the middle, I may take a closer look and exceed my 15 seconds, but, in general, I keep this act simple. There are a few "evil offender" ingredients that people tend to look for, but we've covered them. By checking off the trans fat, sugar, and sodium listed above, we're assured there won't be any MSG, high fructose corn syrup, or hydrogenated oils in this section.
By adding a mere 15 seconds per item, you may not have the perfect diet, but you can certainly make sure it's not terrible. This is not an exact science, but your diet doesn't have to be either. Eat better and get more exercise. Beyond this, we're nitpicking. Sure, we're talking CliffsNotes fitness only. Unfortunately, that's often all we have time for. Fortunately, it's more than half the battle.

And speaking of time, that's it for today. Next time, we'll talk about your sweet tooth and how to deal with it, and take a look at how artificial sweeteners affect your diet.

By Gregg Rossen

Just as February has its own odd tradition (the societal stalking of a Pennsylvanian rodent to see if it can spot its shadow), March also has its own distinctive seasonal rite—spring break, when college students (and families, too) set out to have some fun in the sun and take a break from northern chills. Panama City, South Padre Island, Pensacola, Rosarito . . . These are just some of the legendary names in the pantheon of spring break destinations.

If you've watched the "Healthy Eats" disc of the ChaLEAN Extreme® program, you know that Chalene and her husband Brett made a commitment to teach their son Brock and daughter Sierra the benefits of a solid diet. Here, in Chalene's words, is a little insight on how they did it.

But hitting the road and taking part in this yearly tradition contains pitfalls that have little to do with sunburn and flat tires. Actually, instead of flat tire, think "spare tire," and you're on the right track, as spring break offers the uninitiated dieting pitfalls that can affect how summer is going to shape up—literally. With this in mind, whether you're a college senior headed to Cabo or a senior citizen headed to New Braunfels, here are five ways to avoid spring break diet disasters.
  1. Stick to your nutritional road map. Some spring breakers believe that nothing starts a road trip off better than a Big Gulp, a gas station hot dog, and a family-size bag of Cheetos. Others might believe that it isn't a vacation until the RV is pulled over to sample the roadside temptations that each highway exit has managed to brand as a "local specialty" (pecan logs, saltwater taffy, "homemade" fudge, etc.). But starting a trip with an eye on which high-calorie, high-fructose-corn-syrup, and high-fat items you can suck down is also a great way to get a head start on having your belly hang over your belt. Sure, we all know that what these food items lack in nutrition they make up for with calories, but never underestimate the power of the self-deluding mantra, "Hey, I'm on vacation."

    Ah, the sad conundrum. While relaxing is vitally important to the overworked, stressed-out rats-in-a-maze that many of us have become, sadly, our metabolisms don't know the difference between vacation mode and every other day of the year. So as tempting as it might be to throw caution to the wind, a little restraint is in order. Sensible dining options DO exist on the interstate, even when fast food is the only choice. Fruit plates and salads can be found in many fast food chains, and avoiding deep-fried mozzarella sticks, french fries, and onion rings always makes sense. It's all in what you order. Even if the mini-market at the gas station is your only dining choice, healthier options might exist. Check out "Best and Worst Gas Station Cuisine" in the Related Articles section below for some hints about sensible snacking—and what to avoid—while on the road.
  2. Pass on the Panama City pizza party. So you've reached your destination and you're ready for some fun. Just don't forget that spring breakers subsisting on a diet of pizza and beer are ingesting around 270 calories for each slice of cheese pizza and 150 calories per beer. To its credit, pizza does an adequate job of delivering calcium and some other nutrients, but overall, pizza makes for a relatively high-sodium, high-carb, and high-calorie meal—not something to be eaten daily for a week. Likewise, those of the noncollegiate set who are out for a little spring adventure might find all the adventure they can handle on their dinner plates instead, when they unknowingly order a 1,000-calorie entrĂ©e (think the Olive Garden's Chicken Marsala, which weighs in at 973 calories).

    The solution for all sets of travelers is to make the same sensible choices you might make at home. Salads (with dressings on the side) are a healthy alternative to fried appetizers. A meal with a low-fat protein (skinless chicken or fish) and low-glycemic-index carbs (like broccoli or other vegetables) can make a delicious substitute for, say, cream-based fettuccine Alfredo (which might sport 1,370 calories per serving as it does at Macaroni Grill). And light beer makes a great alternative to regular beer, with almost half the calories. Buying fresh food at a local grocery store as an alternative to fast food and restaurants might prove to be the best solution of all. Not only is it less expensive, but the sushi, salads, sandwiches, and fruit from nearby supermarkets give you the chance to see exactly what is going onto your plate, and into your body.
  3. Avoid drinks with little umbrellas. Okay, that's mean. The little umbrellas aren't responsible. They didn't do anything other than get brought into this world in some factory—and now they're being singled out for harassment! Well, no. The umbrellas are fine—you're not going to drink them (hopefully)! But the other elements that go into the sorts of drinks which usually have umbrellas in them, well, those bad boys often combine into cocktails with absolutely staggering calorie counts. For those who find a dram of something helps put them in the vacation spirit (never while driving any sort of vehicle, of course), these extra calories can mount up and quickly. An 8-ounce daiquiri will ring in at around 450 calories, while a margarita with 2 ounces of tequila, 2 ounces of margarita mix, 1 ounce of triple sec, sugar, and lime can come in at around 550 calories. These drinks are tremendously high in calories, not to mention that you could find yourself drinking more than one drink per sitting. In two drinks alone, an unwary reveler could approach half of his or her daily caloric needs.

    Don't worry, though. You can enjoy alcoholic beverages while you're on vacation, beverages that do not rack up such massive calorie counts. For starters, stay with simpler drinks which don't blend in cream, fruit, or large amounts of sugar. "What's wrong with fruit?" . . . Nothing is wrong with fruit. However, the fruit-flavored syrups used in many blended drinks have a large amount of high fructose corn syrup and calories. Drinks that already have a lower calorie count (like a gin and tonic, with around 150 calories) can have their calories reduced further by substituting club soda for tonic, which reduces the overall count by around 50 calories. Wine is an excellent alternative to these other drinks as well, and a wine spritzer (4 ounces of white wine and club soda) comes in at only 80 calories. Of course, one way to avoid any of these calories is to go dry, and if that's in your vacation planner, more power to you.
  4. Go to bed. Late nights, dancing, partying, hanging out—these seem like innocuous hallmarks of the spring break experience, right? Actually, these sorts of late nights could easily take a toll by making you pack on extra vacation pounds, as several recent studies have drawn interesting connections between the amount of sleep people get and obesity rates. According to studies conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics (part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), those who sleep 5 hours a night are 73 percent more likely to become obese than those who sleep 7 to 9 hours per night.

    Some scientists point to how inadequate sleeps interferes with the production of hormones that play a role in communicating hunger and satiation. In studies, when test subjects were denied sleep, the hormone leptin (which conveys the message of being "full" to the brain) decreased while the hormone ghrelin (which conveys the message of hunger) increased. The end result is that partying into the wee hours and getting irregular sleep can result in a perfect storm, making you put on extra pounds. So when you're on vacation (or when you're at home, for that matter), get a good night's rest to fortify your body's hormonal metabolic rhythms.
  5. Dance, dance, dance. One of the best things about vacations is the way they get you out of your rut and into an environment where moving your body can take many forms, all of them healthy. Take dancing, for instance—a staple of spring break (or at least movies about spring break). Dancing on tables, dancing on the beach, dancing under the limbo pole—wherever you choose to dance, you'll be burning anywhere from 60 to 110 calories every 15 minutes. Oh yeah, it's also fun and an excellent way to relax. And you can even dance in your hotel room—just Push Play with Shaun T's Hip Hop Abs® or Rockin' Body®.

    If dancing's not your thing, there is no shortage of other vacation activities that offer ways to burn calories while relaxing. While scuba diving might be available in Boston, for example, most of us are far more likely to give it a try in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico—and, in the process, burn as many as 490 calories an hour. Gentler activities play their parts, too. Frisbee burns 210 calories an hour, the equivalent of two light beers, as do other quiet beachside pastimes like horseshoe tossing or shuffleboard. Few activities provide as much bang-for-the-calorie-burning-buck as swimming, as even leisurely swimming can burn well over 500 calories an hour. The point is to avoid parking yourself on a chaise lounge and flipping through Us Weekly while sipping on a 500-calorie daiquiri. It might feel good, but so will going into summer without carrying extra weight.