Oligofructose…an excellent substitute for sugar and artificial sweeteners

I just did a search on PubMed for “artificial sweeteners” and came up with 162,789 resulted published articles.  Wow, it’s no wonder there are so many questions out there about which artificial sweeteners are safe and how much is too much.  I haven’t even sorted all that out yet myself- except to say that moderation is the key with sugar and artificial sweeteners alike.

However, I have come across a natural plant fiber used as a sweetener called inulin or oligofructose.  The main sources of this are Jerusalem artichoke and chicory.  It’s a sugar free sweetener with a glycemic index of approximately zero!  This means, it does not cause any surges in your insulin levels after eating making it very different from sugar or complex carbohydrates.  Studies have shown it to be helpful in stimulating the immune system, decreasing the bad bacteria in the intestine, alleviating constipation, lowering the risk of osteoporosis (by increasing the absorption of calcium in the gut), reducing the risk of plaques building up in your arteries and lowering the risk of colon cancer. In fact it seems to act very similar to dietary fiber in our bodies and some have even proposed classifying it as dietary fiber instead of it’s current classification as a carbohydrate.

If you’d like to try it out for yourselves, check out these ChocoPerfection bars.  They are sweetened with oligofructose.  That is definitely the best “sugar-free” chocolate I have ever tried with none of the side effects of sugar alcohols.  If you’re looking for a way to satisfy your sweet tooth without the sugar rush followed by the inevitable crash, try these. Absolutely delicious!!

The 10 leading causes of death and what you can do to help prevent them.

Here’s a list of the 10 leading causes of death as determined by the CDC for the year 2006:

Diseases of heart (heart disease)
Malignant neoplasms (cancer)
Cerebrovascular diseases (stroke)
Chronic lower respiratory diseases
Accidents (unintentional injuries)
Diabetes mellitus (diabetes)
Alzheimer’s disease
Influenza and pneumonia
Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome and nephrosis (kidney disease)
Intentional self-harm (suicide)
Chronic liver disease and cirrhosis
Essential hypertension and hypertensive renal disease (hypertension)
Parkinson’s disease
Assault (homicide

1.Heart Disease



4.Chronic lung disease (like COPD)

5.Accidents (unintentional injuries)

6.Diabetes mellitus (diabetes)

7.Alzheimer’s disease

8.Influenza and pneumonia

9.Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome and nephrosis (kidney disease)

10.Septicemia (infection in the blood)

Now here’s a list of the top 10 things you can do to maintain your health.  If you do the things on this list, you’ll be reducing your risk of all of the diseases on the list above.  Do your part to take care of yourself!  Don’t wait until you are sick to make changes in your lifestyle.  Prevention is key!

1. Do not smoke.  If you smoke, quitting is the single best thing you could do to improve your health. (Click here for more info.)

2. Limit your Alcohol intake to 2 drinks a day for men and 1 drink a day for women.

3. Maintain a healthy diet and lose weight if you are overweight.

4. Exercise 30-60 min 5 days a week.

5. Don’t sunbathe or use tanning booths.

6. Practice safe sex.

7. Control your cholesterol and blood pressure with diet, exercise and medication if needed.

8. Keep your shots up to date, including flu and pneumonia (if over age 65).

9. Have yearly health screenings with your primary care doctor even if you don’t feel sick.  (You may need to be seen several times a year if you have chronic diseases like diabetes or heart disease).

10. Get help if you are suffering from psychological problems like depression, anxiety, or excess stress instead of turning to addictive habits like smoking, alcohol, drugs, overeating or other self destructive behaviors.

Vitamin B12- who needs it and are pills okay?

Vitamin B12 is an important vitamin mostly obtained from dairy products and meat.  It is a critical ingredient your body needs to make red blood cells and also helps your nervous system work correctly.  If you have low B12 levels, you might have anemia, depression, dementia or neuropathy (pain, burning or tingling sensation).  Some people with low B12 also have high levels of homocysteine which may increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.  Your doctor can run a simple blood test to see if your B12 level is low.

The most common reasons for low B12 are 1) not taking in enough in your diet or 2) a problem with your stomach or intestines that prevents you from being able to absorb the vitamin.  This includes Pernicious Anemia (where you do not have the cells needed in your stomach to absorb B12) or long standing heartburn or ulcers or having had surgery on your stomach or intestines.

In the past, everyone who needed B12 supplementation was given shots- initially given several times a week for a couple weeks and then once a month. Now we know that unless you have a problem absorbing B12, it is just as effective to take a daily pill instead of getting a shot.  Over the counter Vitamin B12 pills do not have enough B12 to increase your levels- you need to take at least 1000 mcg of B12 everyday.  You can get a prescription for this high dose from your doctor if you levels are low.

Even if you’ve been getting Vitamin B12 shots for years, you can switch to the pill and it will be just as effective unless you have a problem absorbing B12 from your digestive tract.

Where do you spend most of your time in the grocery store?

Here’s one thing I have noticed about the grocery store.  The healthiest foods are located around the periphery of the store.  That’s where the dairy, meats, fruits and vegetables are found.  The aisles are typically filled with pre-packaged, processed carbohydrates and bad fats.  Think about your trips to the grocery store- do you find most of the items on your list around the periphery in the produce and refrigerated sections or do you spend most of your time weaving your way through the aisles?  More “aisle time” probably reflects the amount of unhealthy food you are stocking your pantry with which almost certainly reflects what you are eating.  Except for an occasional trip to an aisle for a specific item like beans or legumes for example, try spending your next trip to the grocery store only around the periphery and notice the difference in what’s in your refrigerator when you get home.

Makeover your kitchen

Wanting to make over your body?  The best place to start is your kitchen.  Good nutrition is in part about knowing which foods are good to eat but it may be more about altering lifestyle habits.  Even if you know what’s good to eat, if those foods are not around, you won’t eat them!  So how do you start establishing a lifetime of good nutrition?  Well, start at home!  Your dietary willpower and discipline will be frequently challenged at potluck dinners, social events, lunch meetings at work, etc.  But, what matters more than an occasional non-nutritious meal is the other meals you are eating the majority of the time.  Start by making your home a “safe place.”

Here are some excerpts from Gourmet Nutrition by John Berardi, PhD, founder of Precision Nutrition.

“If a food is in your possession or located in your residence, you will eventually eat it.   That’s right, if you wish to be healthy and lean; you must remove all foods not conducive to your goals from your residence and replace them with a variety of better, healthier choices.  Now, before you go thinking that this is just a suggestion- one way to improve your body- we want to make it clear.  This is the only way to improve your body….We assure you that once you makeover your kitchen, your body will follow.”

Take a look in your fridge and pantry- is it filled with soft drinks, fruit juices, processed foods wrapped in colorful wrappers, boxes and containers?  If so, it may be time for a kitchen makeover.

Tanning to get more Vitamin D???

You may have heard in the news or from your doctor that there have been studies done that associate a low blood level of Vitamin D with some types of cancers, neurologic disease, autoimmune disease and cardiovascular disease.  Let me emphasize- the studies show an association, not that a low level of Vitamin D causes these diseases.  However, based on these studies there was an emphasis placed on educating patients to have their Vitamin D levels checked or talk with their doctor about getting more Vitamin D.

The two sources of Vitamin D are through the sun’s UV rays or through our diet by either food or supplements.  Some doctors had recommended that people spend more time in the sun without sunscreen to increase their levels of Vitamin D.  The American Academy of Dermatology has recently ammended their position on Vitamin D.  It is NOT recommended that people increase their unprotected UV exposure from the sun or tanning beds in order to increase Vitamin D.  Sun exposure and tanning are known causes of skin cancer.  Since there is another method of increasing Vitamin D in our systems through our diet, this is clearly the better choice.

There are currently ongong studies to determine if the current recommended adequate intake levels should be revised but for now we are using the levels shown in Table 2 of this link from The National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine (IOM) guidelines for vitamin D.

Some people with higher risk of having Vitamin D insufficiency are “dark skin individuals, elderly persons, photosensitive individuals, people with limited sun exposure, obese individuals or those with fat malabsorption.”

See the official statement here for further details: American Academy of Dermatology Position Statement on Vitamin D.

One small change in your diet that can have big changes on your waistline

When patients ask me what they can do to lose weight, the first question I ask is, “What do you drink?”  It is amazing to realize how much of your daily calories can be “used up” in what you are drinking.  For example, if you drink 2 regular cans of coke a day that’s an extra 280 calories to your daily total.  If you do that every day for two weeks that adds up to 3920 calories just from cokes!!  3500 calories is about equivalent to 1 pound of weight gain.  If you’re not burning that off in your calories expended during the day, you’ve put on an extra pound in two weeks just from a modest 2 cokes a day, not to mention the hamburgers, fries and sweets that you are likely washing down with your cokes, sweet teas or other sugar filled drinks.  Extrapolate that over the  year and those cokes have added up to 26 pounds of weight gain if  not balanced with exercise.

I often recommend the first change you make in your diet is the zero-calorie drink rule.  Save your calories for your food and drink water or other zero-calorie drinks like diet cokes or crystal light.  I’ve seen people lose a fair amount of weight just by adding in some exercise and adhering to the zero-calorie drink rule.  Next time you pick up that coke or sweet tea, ask yourself if that 12 ounces of pure sugar and preservatives is really worth it?

Low fat versus good fat diet

It is recommend that about 30% of our diet come from fat but more important than maintaining a “low-fat” diet is the balanced intake of saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat.  Here’s a quick breakdown of the types of fat, their effects and where they come from.  Use this to help you choose about 1/3 of your total fats from each category.  It doesn’t have to be that scientific- just focus on adding more of the healthy monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats into your diet and less of the saturated fats and your dietary fat intake will balance itself out.

  • Saturated Fats- found mostly in dairy products and meats, also coconut oil and palm oil; raises your risk of coronary heart disease and possibly prostate and colon cancer.
  • Monounsaturated Fats – found in olive oil, canola oil, nuts and nut butter, avocado, also in beef and chicken; lowers risk of coronary heart disease
  • Polyunsaturated Fats – these are the omega 3 and omega-6 fatty acids, found in fish oil, flax seeds and oil, nuts and nut butter, vegetable oils; important in brain and retinal development, decrease risk of coronary heart disease, lowers triglycerides, may improve body composition, stabilize mood and improve depression.

So, next time you are reaching for the whole millk, try almond milk instead…ever tried it?  It’s delicious. I have started using it as a base for my protein shakes and even on cereal.   And, it’s really not that hard to take 6 grams of fish oil capsules a day- I’ve seen my triglycerides drop to 56 by doing this!  Small changes can make a big difference in affecting the overall balance of fats in your diet.