Guts and Glory: The battle of bacteria and artificial sweeteners

  • By Alyssa Grams
  • 21 Jun, 2017

Artificial sweeteners may upset the balance of bacteria in your gut. Here's what you can do to tip the scales in your favor.

Last week’s article touched on the different types of artificial sweeteners that are meant to work as sugar substitutes. We also talked about some of the reasons it may be a good idea for diabetics to stay away from artificial sweeteners. Now, we will dive a little deeper into the problems these sugar substitutes could have on your health and the balance of the good bacteria in your gut.

The most popular study to make this claim happened in 2014. The study showed that mice who ate saccharin (a component of some artificial sweeteners) developed a glucose intolerance. The sweeteners created an imbalance in the gut bacteria of the mice. These bacteria are responsible for converting food to fuel or fat.

The team wanted to make sure this also applied to humans, so they continued the study on seven healthy people who consumed the maximum serving of saccharin suggested by the FDA for six days. Four of these individuals were on the road to glucose intolerance—a step towards a diabetic diagnosis.  

The team concluded that this was only a preliminary study but did create grounds to explore this research further.


Let’s get into some quick and dirty biology to make sense of how the human gut works and how artificial sweeteners would be able to affect it.

All the bacteria that live in your gut play a role in your digestion. You’ve probably heard of protobiotic bacteria, which are helpful bacteria that salvage energy from fats (so that the fat isn’t stored), ferment carbs, and keep the digestive tract in working order. However, probiotic bacteria need to be balanced or else you can experience digestive problems. Artificial sweeteners may be one of the causes to this unbalance as they inhibit the breakdown of carbs into energy and instead store them as fat.

Physician and biologist Jeffrey Gordon tells us that 90% of our gut is made up of two types of bacteria—Bacteroidetes (which we will now refer to as bacteria B) and Firmicutes (which we will now refer to as bacteria F). Bacteria B is responsible for turning carbs into energy. One of his studies showed the obese mice don’t have the capability of producing leptin—a hormone that suppresses our appetite. This is because there is an imbalance of bacteria in the gut: there are more bacteria F then there are bacteria B. So carbs get stored as fat rather than energy and glucose intolerance occurs. Even when bacteria F was transferred to healthy mice, they started to store more fat due to the imbalance they were then experiencing.

But what does this relate to our human situation?

Gordon thinks a similar concept happens in obese people. Overweight individuals who lost weight through a low-fat or low-carb diet started to experience balance in their gut because the amount of bacteria B increased. This could mean the bacteria in our gut can extract calories and burn them off as energy, as well as shape our eating behaviour as more of the leptin hormone is produced and suppresses our appetite.

The result: Artificial sweeteners may cause glucose intolerance when there is not enough of the right kind of bacteria to break down the carbs we eat and so it will be stored as fat.

Additional studies make compelling arguments that artificial sweeteners may indirectly contribute to glucose intolerance by promoting appetite when consumed near meal times and creating a taste preference for sweeter foods compared to healthy foods.

There have been arguments made against the 2014 study with arguments saying it was only a prelimary trial on humans, the genetic makeup and environment is completely different in every individual human compared to lab mice, and that the effects of artificial sweeteners on the mice and human subjects were reversed with antibiotic treatment .

This puts diabetics in between a rock and another insulin shot. With all this conflicting research it can be hard to know exactly what is best for you, but we say trust your gut! If something is working for you, keep doing it, and if you’re having digestive or weight problems, consider changing your diet.

To practically take care of your gut, you may want to follow these ideas:

  • The FDA suggests limited consumption of artificial sweeteners. Stay well below these levels to reduce the possible glucose intolerance.
  • Only use artificial sweeteners in-between meals (during snacks or for your morning coffee) to avoid increasing your appetite during mealtime and consuming more calories to compensate.
  • Cycle on and off artificial sweeteners to give your palate a break from craving sweet foods
  • Take a probiotic that contains useful amounts of Bacteriodetes bacteria (Acidophilus, Bifidobacterium, etc.) to restore balance to your gut.

More research is needed, but because diabetes is a condition that can worsen with time, the best solution is to be proactive!

#ABfoodfight

By Alyssa Grams 26 Nov, 2017

You’ve heard the joke a million times. And with Christmas around the corner, you’re bound to hear it a whole lot more: “With all those sweets, you’re going to give us all diabetes!”

It’s funny, but most people do assume there’s at least a hint of truth to it. Is eating sweets today going to give me diabetes tomorrow?

We all know diabetes is linked to high levels of blood sugar, so it may seem logical to assume that overdosing on the sweet stuff is why so many people are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. But of course, it’s not that simple.


Diabetes, By The Numbers

Diabetes does not have one cause, per se. It happens when your body is not able to make enough insulin or effectively use the insulin it has.

This can happen for a couple of different reasons. In people with type 1 diabetes, the immune system destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Without insulin, the body isn’t able to use glucose as fuel, and blood sugars rise to dangerous levels.

For people with type 2 diabetes, muscle and other cells stop responding to insulin. Without insulin telling the cells to let glucose in, blood sugars remain high and cells aren’t able to get the fuel they need to function properly.


The Things you Can Control

Of course, type 1 diabetes is due to factors we can’t control, like our genes and some viruses.

Type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, is due to a mix of things we can and can’t control. While we can’t do anything about our genes, our age or our ethnicity, we can control our weight, our diet and how physically active we are.

Now to the sugar: Although excessive sugar intake is not a direct cause of type 2 diabetes, excess calories lead to weight gain, which increases your diabetes risk. And since added sugars are one of the largest sources of excess calories in our diets, it’s crucial to keep tabs on your sugar consumption.

A diet including lots of extra calories from any source can lead to weight gain and diabetes. What’s most important is to maintain a healthy weight and embrace a lifestyle that emphasizes a diet rich in vegetables, fruit and whole grains and regular physical activity.


A Sweet Proposition

Bottom Line: If you have diabetes, you need to watch your sugar and carbohydrate intake to properly manage your blood sugars. However, if you do not have diabetes, sugar intake will not cause it.

Are you worried about your risk? Take the Canadian Diabetes Risk Questionnaire . Knowing your likelihood can help you make healthy choices to reduce your risk or even prevent you from developing diabetes.

 

By Alyssa Grams 13 Nov, 2017

So you’ve been recently diagnosed with type-2 diabetes. It can be a scary and confusing time, with lots of information to take in. Of course, many people are afraid of what that means for their eating. Am I doomed to a life free of dining delights, you may wonder.

While it’s no surprise diet is of the essence, diabetes isn’t a life sentence of bland food.  Truth is, a healthy eating plan for diabetes is a healthy eating plan for everyone. And it doesn’t mean a lifetime of choosing cardboard over carbonara and never enjoying another meal again.

By following a simple recipe at each meal and snack you can enjoy delicious, nourishing food while still managing your blood sugars.

All you have to do is toss in the right ingredients, whip them up with the proper amounts, add a pinch of good timing and season to taste.

 Step One: Ingredients

This may take just a dash of patience, but bear with me—and trust me when I say there are no secret ingredients. All you need is real, wholesome foods like fruit and vegetables, whole grains, low fat dairy, fish, lean meat, eggs, nuts, seeds and legumes. Just eat and repeat.

Eating nutritious whole foods at every meal will go a long way in ensuring you get the right amounts of carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats. Don’t forget, all these foods come with a generous side of vitamins, minerals and fibre!

Step Two: Portions

There are a few different steps to this, but I promise it’s as easy as 1,2,3. How much of each ingredient may vary depending on your age, gender and activity level. But in general, there are two ways to be sure the recipe can’t be beat.

1.    Plate method

Using a 9-inch plate, fill half your plate with vegetables, fill one quarter with meat or another protein and finish it off with a whole grain or fibre-rich starch. Bon appetit! Feel free to add a small piece of fruit and a small glass of milk into the mix, depending on appetite.

2.  Portion it yourself

Sometimes the best solution is right in the palm of your hands; other times, the best solution is  your hands. Here are a couple good rules of thumb that will have you eating well-portioned meals in a pinch:

  • Aim for the size of your fist in grains, starches & fruit
  • Eat as many vegetables as you can hold in both hands
  • Look to your palm when it comes to meat, fish and poultry (thickness of your little finger)
  • Add just the tip of your thumb in fats & oils

Step Three: Timing

It’s not as simple as setting a timer, but eating regularly during the day helps stabilize your blood sugars, helping you rise to any occasion. It also prevents overeating by managing your hunger.

You’ve heard the advice before, but it’s as simple as this: Eat three meals a day at regular times and space them no more than six hours apart. Make sure to eat breakfast every day and include 1 – 2 small snacks as needed.

Step Four: Season to Taste

Just like any good recipe, this one also leaves room for a pinch of your favourite flavours. While it’s important to watch added sugar, salt and fat, that doesn’t mean they’re completely off the table. Just save them for special occasions, be sure to monitor your portions and savour every last bite.

As you can see, healthy eating for diabetes is a healthy way of eating for everyone. You don’t need separate meals or special “diabetic” foods. All you need is a healthy appetite for fresh, wholesome ingredients and of course, a recipe for success.

For more information on:

  1. The healthy plate method: Health Canada's Eat Well Plate .
  2. Handy portion sizes: Diabetes Canada's Portion Guide .
  3. Fresh, Alberta-grown food, practical menus and a healthy lifestyle: Pure Prairie Eating Plan.

 

 

By Keighla Lutes 05 Oct, 2017

It’s no surprise that Albertans go cuckoo over chicken. Not only is it a healthy protein source; it’s also delicious, versatile and easy to prepare. Since September has been hailed as National Chicken Month  , it seems like the perfect time to sing the praises of this popular poultry.

The Inside (S)coop

If you’re looking for a high-quality lean protein, the bird’s the word. One serving (75 g or 3.5 oz) of roasted, skinless chicken breast clucks in at about 124 calories, 3g total fat and 1g saturated fat ( 1  ).

And that lean serving is also packed with protein, dishing up 23 g per serving! Protein   is key to helping you feel full longer after eating, which helps stave off hunger and prevent overeating. A protein-rich diet also helps slow age-related muscle loss and maintain healthy bones.

Chicken also rules the roost when it comes to iron, B-vitamins, bone-building phosphorus and immunity boosting selenium and zinc. People with diabetes are at a higher risk for infections, so it’s extra important to keep the immune system strong.

No Paltry Poultry

Do you feel like chicken tonight? If so, you’re in (c)luck! There are as many ways to eat chicken as there are hens in the henhouse. Don’t be afraid to wing it. Just make sure you always remove the skin and choose healthy cooking methods like roasting, broiling or braising to keep the fat content down.

And don’t ruffle any feathers over light vs. dark meat—there’s nothing fowl about the dark stuff.  Although it’s higher in calories and fat, dark meat also contains more iron, zinc and certain B-vitamins than white meat, which means all cuts can be part of your healthy diet.

Also don’t fret over hormones   or steroids. Fun fact: their use in chickens has been banned in Canada since the 1960s.

Bird Bath

With cold and flu season just around the corner, many of us will turn to chicken noodle soup. Next time you feel a sniffle coming on, whip up the Chicken Noodle Bowl from the Pure Prairie Eating Plan  . It’ll be just what the doctor (and the dietitian) ordered!



References

1) Canadian Nutrient File (2015). Nutrient Profile: Chicken, broiler, breast, meat, roasted. Retrieved from: https://food-nutrition.canada.ca/cnf-fce/serving-portion.do?id=842


By Keighla Lutes 04 Oct, 2017

The weather may be cooling down, but your healthy fall food choices are heating up! It’s time for all of us to fall in love with fall—because, frankly, we don’t really have another choice!

By using these four simple tips (along with the Pure Prairie Eating Plan ), you’re sure to make fall feasting healthier than ever before.

1) Fall in love with your autumn fruits and veggies!  Alberta’s growing season is short. That means buying seasonal produce is key to saving money and getting the freshest and most nutritious foods. Plus it’s a great way to support our local farmers!

  • Check out your local farmers’ market or community garden.
  • Include seasonal fall foods in your meal plan, like beets, broccoli, carrots, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, corn, kale, potatoes, pumpkins, squash, turnips, cauliflower, zucchini, apples and pears.
  • Stock up on seasonal fruit and veggies and freeze or can them so you can enjoy them year round.

2) Settle back into a routine! As the days get shorter and schedules get busier, it sometimes seems like there isn’t enough time to put together a nourishing, home-cooked meal. But simple ways of establishing a routine can do wonders for making your life simpler and healthier.

  • Make a meal plan and a grocery list to prepare for the week. The Pure Prairie Eating Plan ’s easy-to-follow menus and shopping lists make meal planning a cinch.  
  • Use your slow cooker to save time and money. Slow cookers also allow you to control the amount of added fat, all while boosting the flavour of your home-cooked meals.
  • Make a plan for leftovers. Freeze extra soups, stews and casseroles for easy, pre-portioned meals down the road.

3) Have a couch day game plan!  Whether you’re a sports fan or just want to catch up on fall programming, some simple swaps can help you eat healthier —even when you’re vegging out.  

  • Mash green peas into guacamole to cut down on calories and boost fibre and nutrients.
  • Make your chilli vegetarian or use low-fat ground turkey in place of beef.
  • Serve pita wedges and veggies with hummus instead of the standard cheese and crackers.

4) Get back in the kitchen!  Is it cold outside? Stay in and get cooking! Nothing warms up a fall night like experimenting with delicious, Alberta-grown foods. Try some of the following:

  • Pumpkin is more than just delicious pie filling. Whip up pumpkin soup, pumpkin muffins or even a pumpkin smoothie.
  • Use chopped apples as a salad topper or mixed into warm oatmeal. Or simply cut an apple in half, sprinkle some cinnamon and bake in the oven for a nutritious dessert.
  • Hearty fall soups are filling, easy to make and a great way to use up veggies that might be nearing the end of their shelf life. Use broth instead of cream and add lots of veggies for a satisfying meal that the whole family can enjoy.

For an array of tasty recipes that feature your homegrown harvest ingredients, look no further than the Pure Prairie Eating Plan Cookbook . All recipes are 100% dietitian approved and sure to satisfy. Happy Harvest!

 

By Alyssa Grams 13 Sep, 2017

While Alberta’s summer yield may be running dry, it is harvest time for many delicious fruits and vegetables. It’s also the perfect time for an early fall favourite: Zucchini!

Also known as summer squash, this versatile veggie may come late in the season, but its comeback game is strong. Low in calories and loaded with vitamins and minerals, this valiant vegetable always squashes the competition.

Zucchini for the Win!

Zucchini is 95% water, making it naturally low in calories and an excellent choice if you’re watching your weight. One serving (½ cup) contains 0.7 grams of protein , 1.9 g carbs  and 0.6 grams of fibre . That’s a steal of a deal when you consider it’s only 10 calories! And since zucchini is a low-glycemic  food, it won’t cause sharp spikes in your blood sugar ( 2 ).

And that’s not all! Along with vitamin A , potassium  and other important nutrients, zucchini also provides 15% (11 milligrams) of your daily vitamin C  needs ( 1 ). Vitamin C is best known for boosting the body’s immune system, which is extra important with flu season right around the corner.

It’s health benefits don’t stop there! As a powerful antioxidant, vitamin C also helps squash free radicals in the body, which helps our bodies repair damage and fend off conditions like heart disease and cancer.

Get Squashed                

A favourite among Alberta’s gardeners, zucchini has a mellow flavour, soft edible skin and a creamy white flesh that makes it a delightful addition to any dish.

It can be sliced, diced or shredded and is delicious pan-fried, baked or raw. In addition to its tasty flesh, female zucchini plants also produce large yellow blossoms, which can be eaten raw or cooked.

Move over cuke, it’s time for the zuke! Here are some tasty ways to enjoy this fall favourite:

  1. Sauté a handful of chopped zucchini and add it to a veggie omelette
  2. Add diced zucchini to homemade or canned vegetable soup
  3. Toss matchstick or cubed zucchini into a curry or stir-fry
  4. Layer grilled zucchini, tomato and partly-skimmed mozzarella on a panini
  5. Thinly slice into “zucchini noodles” and toss in your favourite tomato sauce

Okay, so let’s say you just brought in your garden harvest and have no idea what to do with those monster zucchinis. Try grating them up and adding them to baked goods like muffins, loaves or chocolate cake. It may sound like baking blasphemy, but they add an extra dose of nutrition, a moist texture and a surprisingly delicious flavour.

For a breakfast muffin brimming with flavour and nutrition, try the Breakfast Zucchini Muffins in the Pure Prairie Eating Plan .

References

1) Canadian Nutrient File (2015). Nutrient Profile: Squash, summer, zucchini, raw. Retrieved from: https://food-nutrition.canada.ca/cnf-fce/serving-portion.do?id=2225

2) University Health News Daily (2017). Glycemic Index Chart: GI Ratings for Hundreds of Foods. Retrieved from: https://universityhealthnews.com/daily/nutrition/glycemic-index-chart/

By Alyssa Grams 06 Sep, 2017

Every good parent wants to take a bite out of their kids’ hunger by offering up a nice, hearty granola bar. They’re small, portable and easy to toss in a backpack or keep in your car for when you’re stuck in traffic. But just because the right bar is perfect for almost any occasion doesn’t mean any bar is perfect for you.

Many of these bite-sized snacks are packed with more sugar than a donut and are so low in fibre and protein  they don’t stand a chance against your growling stomach.

So when faced with an ever-growing assortment of granola bars, how do you pick a smart snack over a chocolate bar in disguise?

By Alyssa Grams 09 Aug, 2017

Protein is a source of endless debate. Some bodybuilders say if you’re trying to bulk up, it should be the bulk of everything you eat. Others say the power of protein is overestimated. How did we get so mixed up about a few amino acids?

The fact is, it’s an essential nutrient that keeps your body functioning well by building and repairing muscle, hormones and enzymes, as well as your skin, nails and hair. But obviously there’s some confusion so I offer this to you: a protein primer.

By Alyssa Grams 01 Aug, 2017
Article by Robyn Braun, PhD
By Alyssa Grams 25 Jul, 2017

One of the first projects funded by the Alberta Diabetes Foundation when it was founded in 1988 was the clinical research of Dr. Ray Rajotte, which it funded for 12 years. Dr. Rajotte pioneered the first-ever islet cell transplant, which was the biggest breakthrough in diabetes research since the discovery of insulin. That work, plus an expanded islet cell transplant team and the addition of anti-rejection protocol, ended up becoming the international standard of care for islet cell transplantation.

Since 2000, when the protocol was developed, Alberta Diabetes Foundation has invested in a capital campaign to build the world-class building that now houses the Alberta Diabetes Institute. Since then, the Foundation has endeavoured to continue to invest in world-class research for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes right here in Alberta.

Alberta Diabetes Foundation works in tandem with the best-in-class Alberta Diabetes Institute to allocate funding where and when it is needed most, ensuring that important diabetes research and projects do not become stalled. The Alberta Diabetes Foundation is able to fund projects, even at early stages, often filling in gaps left by traditional granting organizations. The researchers in Alberta are confident that a world without diabetes is possible and, today they are doing more than providing sustainable solutions to treating diabetes -- our researchers are on their way to a cure.

By Alyssa Grams 19 Jul, 2017
Article compiled by Breanna Mroczek  with information from Dr. Mathew Estey, Clinical Chemist and Co-Director of Chemistry at DynaLIFE Medical Labs, and Dr. Christopher Naugler, Calgary Zone Clinical Department Head, Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Medical Director
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