Thursday, March 26, 2015

New to the Atkins Diet? Advice for Beginners You Won't Want to Miss!

Blue tape measure and wood cutting board


If you're new to the Atkins Diet, getting through the first month or two can be a bit confusing or overwhelming. I get a good amount of email from people who are just beginning a low-carb diet plan and are confused about the way it works. For some people, the diet isn't living up to their expectations. Instead of buying Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution and reading it, they are trying to implement the diet from what they've read online.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of tripe on the internet. Same goes for the media. Everyone thinks they know what a low-carb diet plan is and what it can do to you. The Atkins Diet isn't bacon and eggs, greasy cheeseburgers, and T-bone steaks. Fears vary but range from Atkins causing kidney problems and high cholesterol levels to low-carb, high-protein diets being responsible for gallstones and heart attacks.

Most of what you hear or read online is a myth, misconception, or pure marketing hype.

Very little of it is true -- and that includes the miraculous claims of how quickly and easily you're going to lose weight by drastically lowering your carbs. Dr. Atkins' diet is healthy, safe, and nutrient dense, but it does need to be followed correctly. It isn't magic. Although beginners often experience quick weight loss . . .

Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Truth About Sugar Substitutes

I get a lot of questions about sugar substitutes.

Tray of sugar substitute packets
What is the Truth About Sugar Substitutes?
(photo by frankleleon, flickr.com, CC BY 2.0)
In general, sugar substitutes are allowed and even encouraged on low-carb diets. Low-carb diets claim that sugar substitutes don't raise blood glucose levels, and therefore, can't interfere with fat mobilization. The only caution I've heard over the years is to not use aspartame and count the little packets as 1 carb each. On Atkins Induction, the packets are also limited to 2 per day.

  • But is any of that true?
  • Are low-carb advocates telling us the truth about sugar substitutes?
  • Or are they just trying to sell us something?


I'm a follow-the-money type of person. I'm always wary when it comes to those trying to sell me on an idea that is to their financial interest for me to swallow and believe. Because of that, and because it's been years since I wrote about the truth of sugar alcohols on this blog, I did a little more research into the whole topic of sugar substitutes over the past few days. I was looking for new information and concerns. While most of what I found, I already knew, there were a few surprises.

Can Sugar Substitutes Cause Weight-Loss Stalls?


Most of the people who write to me want to know if these substitutes could be causing their stall. They have been told by other low-carb dieters that giving them up can get the scales moving again. Unfortunately, anecdotal evidence within the low-carb community is mixed. Some dieters have found that sugar substitutes can interfere with weight loss. Others say they haven't experienced any problems from using them at all.

Me? After doing a round of the hHCG diet where I didn't use any sugar substitutes, I started severely reacting to all forms of artificial sweeteners, including stevia. For that reason, I don't use them today.

Determining whether sugar substitutes are interfering with weight loss isn't easy. There are a lot of factors involved.

  • Which sugar substitute are you using?
  • What form of that substitute do you use?
  • What are the fillers and bulking agents in the particular brand you're using?
  • How does your body react to a sweet taste in the mouth?
  • Are you sensitive to GMO corn or sugar beets, wheat or rice?
  • How much sugar substitute are you eating daily?
  • Is your blood glucose response normal, or do you have pre-diabetes or diabetes?
  • Do you have insulin resistance and/or metabolic syndrome?
  • Do you have any autoimmune issues?
  • Do you have food sensitivities?


Unless you're sensitive to corn or have autoimmune problems, most liquid forms of sugar substitutes come with a zero or nearly zero glycemic index rating and won't raise blood glucose levels. For that reason, they aren't supposed to interfere with weight loss, but balancing glucose levels is only one aspect of correcting metabolic issues. There are lots of other problems attached to sugar substitutes.

Sweet Taste Can Cause Insulin to be Released


Diet Dr. Pepper Cherry Chocolate Soda
Sweet Tastes Release Insulin
(photo by Tony Webster, flickr.com, CC BY-SA 2.0)
People who react to a sweet taste in the mouth will have a first-stage insulin response before they even swallow something that tastes sweet. Food and beverages don't have to have lots of carbs for the body to dump a hefty amount of insulin into the bloodstream. The taste itself tells it that sugar is on the way. Sometimes, just looking at food or browsing through food pictures is enough to trigger an insulin response. The danger is that excess insulin in those with normal blood glucose response will result in lowered blood sugar, which will set off hunger and cravings.

That's why some low carbers can give up drinking diet sodas or using sugar substitutes and find their weight-loss stall reversed. The body was preparing itself for a sugar load as soon as the diet soda or sugar substitute hit the mouth, even though no sugar was actually being consumed.

There is No Natural Sugar Substitutes


The word "natural" isn't regulated by the FDA. Manufacturers can use the term to mean anything they want it to. In the context of sugar substitutes, it generally means that a form of the chemical composition of the sugar alternative is found somewhere in the body, most likely in a much lower dose, but since it's there, somewhere, that means the concentrated form you put into your digestive system is also natural.

The body is truly miraculous at adapting to a wide variety of adverse conditions, but anything it deems to be foreign or unrecognizable, will be tagged for attack by the immune system. There is no workaround for that. Once a manufacturer extracts a chemical or natural substance from a particular food or plant, it is no longer natural. Especially, if they are concentrating it, refining it, and doing odd things to it after it's been extracted.

A good example of that is crystalline fructose. Fructose is a supposedly natural sugar found in fruit, but once it's extracted and concentrated, and then refined into a crystalline powder, the liver doesn't have a way to deal with the onslaught of that much fructose -- other than to store it as fat. In addition, all of the fructose produced in the U.S. today is made from GMO cornstarch or GMO beet sugar. It's not even made from fruit. The abnormal sugar is then enzymatically hydrolized to separate it into its two components of sucrose and fructose.

While some sugar alternatives are better than others, such as stevia, even stevia is hyped to be natural when the only forms available to consumers are either a highly-refined "white" powder (real stevia is green and bitter, not sweet) or a liquid concentrate. Truvia is advertised to be stevia, but is actually erythritol with a spec of ribiana added, just enough to legally say there is stevia in the product.

Sugar alcohols are tooted to be special cases since they generally pass out of the body completely intact, but that isn't always the case. Plus, sugar alcohols in the U.S. are not even made from plants. They are processed from sugars and starches. For instance, erythritol, the most popular low-carb sugar alcohol, is made from fermenting glucose derived from GMO corn with various yeasts. Supposedly, 90% of it is absorbed into the bloodstream before it passes into the colon, which is why low carbers find it attractive, but I have never found that to be the case.

Watch Out for Bulking Agents and Fillers


This is where a lot of low-carb dieters get taken for a ride. A particular sugar substitute, such as sucralose, is zero or nearly zero on the glycemic index. It is advertised as such. It won't raise blood glucose, therefore you can use it freely. However, once it's packaged, it's bulked up with maltodextrin and/or dextrose, which sends it's glycemic index and ability to raise blood glucose and insulin levels through the roof.

Dieters are chowing down on sugar substitutes in baked goods, candies, and desserts thinking they are doing their body a favor. They're following their low-carb diet. They're only eating 20 net carbs a day, or less. But are they? Did you know that bulk Splenda has 24 grams of carbohydrates per cup? And that when you mix sucralose with maltodextrin, the highest glycemic ingredient there is, the glycemic index jumps from almost zero to 80?

The global market for sugar substitutes is HUGE. It's worth over 9 billion dollars per year. These manufacturers have a vested interest in keeping you ignorant to the truth about sugar substitutes and thereby keeping you fat. That's how they make their money. They don't really care about your health. Their only interest is to convince you that using sugar alternatives is to your advantage, so you'll buy and keep on buying their product.

Maltodextrin and dextrose are not your friend. They are made from GMO corn, the same as Erthyritol, Maltitol, Sorbitol, and Yacon syrup. In addition, maltodextrin is absorbed through the gut and processed in the liver, like fructose, so it is metabolized slower than dextrose is. That's why there is a lot of misinformation on the web. Manufacturers of Splenda will tell you that the rise in blood sugar you get from using their product is negligible, but that's deceptive.

The blood sugar rise from Splenda comes hours after normal testing. Like Dreamsfield pasta, the maltodextrin in Splenda will eventually be turned into glucose and processed, but that doesn't usually happen before the traditional 2 hour post-meal testing period. If you're only testing your blood sugar 2 hours after eating it, the test won't be accurate. The glucose bonds have to be broken down in the liver first, so it's digested slower.

Chocolate Cake Low Carb
Chocolate Cake Low Carb
(photo by Deb Nystgrom, flickr.com, CC BY 2.0)

The Glycemic Index of Sugar Substitutes


The glycemic index measures how blood glucose responds to food and beverages. The index ranks foods on a scale of 1 to 100, with 100 being glucose for comparison purposes. However, maltodextrin and maltose tested above 100. Foods and beverages that fall below 55 on the scale are considered low-glycemic. This is where the idea of berries and other low-glycemic fruits being okay to eat during the weight-loss phase of Atkins came from, and why Dr. Atkins has always said that carbohydrates are not alike. Foods and beverages that rank 70 or above are considered high-glycemic and should only be used with extreme caution.

In real life, the glycemic index of a food, beverage, or ingredient depends on the amount of carbohydrate that is in the serving, the type of carbohydrate you eat, and the presence of fat and fiber -- which slows down digestion. Some sugar substitutes, including liquid ones, have fiber added to slow the rate at which they are digested, but carbohydrates are still metabolized as carbohydrates, and they will eventually produce a blood glucose effect.

More important than the blood sugar rise is what this index shows about the average person's insulin response. A healthy insulin response will have your blood glucose level back to normal by the 2 hour testing period, whether you've eaten food, beverage, or straight glucose, but that isn't what those doing the testing are seeing.

Maltodextrin 130
Maltose 105
Dextrose 100
Glucose 100
Splenda 80
Sucrose/table sugar 65
Caramel coloring 60
HFCS - 55 58
Molasses 55
Maple Syrup 54
Honey 50
Cane juice 43
Lactose 43
Barley malt syrup 42
Coconut palm sugar 35
Maltitol 35
Brown rice syrup 25
Fructose 24
Agave syrup 11
Xylitol 12
Sorbitol 4
Isomalt 2
Mannitol 2
Erythritol 1
Yacon syrup 1
Sucrolose 1

The values above can be quite deceptive if you ignore the bulk fillers and the fact that a lot of popular sugar alternatives contain a high concentration of fructose. While I don't believe that fructose is as dangerous as most low-carb advocates claim, it will be stored as body fat once your glycogen stores are refilled, the same as any other carb.

The Bottom Line


Sugar alcohols, which are quite low on the index, have a reputation for providing severe digestive distress if taken in more than minute quantities. Most of the substitutes are made from corn, wheat, rice, potatoes, sugar beets, and other sugar and starches, so they are not going to be suitable for those allergic or sensitive to those foods. If you have autoimmune issues, you might find sugar alternatives extremely problematic since the body is already primed to seek out, attack, and destroy anything it doesn't recognize.

One of the biggest problems I see with the use of sugar substitutes is that too many dieters try to use them to imitate the diet that got them fat in the first place. Unable to leave their favorite foods behind, they turn to sugar alternatives to help them create delicious cakes, cookies, and other low-carb desserts. Unfortunately, the body was never designed to handle sugar or sugar substitutes in the forms and amounts we ask it to handle today, and that includes the better sugar alternatives. Plus, long-term use of substitutes has been known to cause serious issues with liver, kidney, and thyroid function even if they are low-glycemic.


That's not to say that sugar substitutes don't have their place in a low-carb diet. The truth about sugar substitutes is that they should be used mindfully and with care. Take the time to thoroughly investigate the sugar alternative you're using or thinking of using. Look at the research. Look at the ingredients, and then make the best choice for you.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

How to Work Low-Carb Vegetables Into Your Diet

Variety of Low-Carb Vegetables
If you listen to the media and other anti low-carb advocates, you're going to think that the Atkins Diet is nothing but greasy burgers, T-bone steaks, tons of full-fat cheeses and piles of bacon. While the foundation of a low-carb diet is an adequate amount of protein and plenty of healthy fats, the greatest volume of food you eat on a low-carb diet is vegetables.

That fact is usually ignored by those who believe low-carb diets are unhealthy. Mostly, because the Atkins Induction Diet originally used very few vegetables to get you into the state of ketosis quickly, and also because a lot of people who do low carb don't follow the diet protocol correctly.

In addition to staying at an Induction level of carbs, instead of getting most of their carbohydrates from vegetables, low-carb dieters often eat an abundance of other low-carb foods, such as:

  • nuts and seeds (including nut flours and ground flaxseeds)
  • low-glycemic fruits
  • tons of heavy cream, sour cream, and mayo
  • low-carb convenience foods
  • low-carb tortillas and pastas
  • low-carb flours and starches
  • lots of cheeses, heavy cream, and butter
  • low-carb condiments
  • low-carb desserts
There is nothing wrong with using these additional low-carb foods. In fact, the 1992 version of the diet gave dieters lots of freedom to design their own low-carb plan. However, the Atkins Diet in its true form is basically a meat-and-vegetable diet. It isn't a zero-carb diet. It isn't even a high-fat diet. Protein and fat in the same proportions as found in nature and fibrous low-carb vegetables are the mainstay of a low-carb diet.

Low-Carb Vegetables Confession


Low-Carb Ham and Green Bean Stew
I Haven't Experimented with Low-Carb Vegetable Recipes
I'm More Likely to Incorporate Vegetables Instead

While I've always recognized that vegetables form a large part of a low-carb diet, I haven't really experimented with a lot of low-carb vegetable recipes. The hubby isn't really fond of vegetables, although he will eat steamed or microwaved asparagus with cheese sauce or steamed brussels sprouts without kickin' up a fuss. He likes soups and stews, an occasional lettuce salad, sweet bell peppers and mushrooms, but overall, I wouldn't call him a vegetable eater. He tends to run in the other direction.

So, I've had to get quite creative with adding low-carb vegetables to our meals.

With hubby, lots of flavor is the name of the game. I can't get away with tossing broccoli, cauliflower and carrots into the steamer and calling it good. His tastes have changed a lot since he stopped smoking. What he used to like (or at least, put up with) just won't work anymore. Today, he wants his food to be colorful and tasty. That's not a bad combination though. Low-carb food can be quite colorful when you incorporate vegetables into your meals rather than just throwing them along side of a piece of baked chicken.

How to Work Low-Carb Veggies Into Your Meals


When my kids were little, I read a book about how to get your family to move from a typical American diet to one that was much more healthy. It talked about the importance of making small changes, rather than going cold turkey. Food is one of the most comfortable pleasures in life for a great many folks and disrupting and robbing your family of those comfort foods without something of equal value to replace them will only cause rebellion.

Instead of gutting the house of everything that isn't considered healthy by the latest health standard, it's far more effective to simply jazz up your low-carb meals to look so enticing, your family will want to eat what you're eating along with you. Make your food and meal prep a sensory experience. Think about sight/color, smells, taste/flavoring, texture, and sounds if applicable.

Chicken Fajitas
Make Low-Carb Meals a Sensory Pleasure

Whip up a sizzling frying pan of a colorful fajita mixture, perhaps chicken breast or beef slices, sweet peppers, onions, baby corn, avocado chunks and mexican spices such as cumin. Serve it on a plate topped with grated cheese and a dollop of sour cream. It will have the taste buds so salivating that the family won't even miss the refried beans and tortillas.

Add a scoop of cole slaw or a nice side salad, some marinated cucumber slices or a few baby carrots with Ranch-style dressing. Maybe, a dip-sized bowl filled with sliced berries and whipped cream, and you've got a meal they will ask for again and again.

It's as much about the presentation and sensory experience as it is about what we're used to eating.

Low-Carb Vegetables: Tips and Ideas


Roasted Vegetables: One of the low-carb vegetable mainstays I hear about over and over again is roasting your vegetables in the oven, uncovered, and drizzed with olive oil. The vegetables come out caramelized and sweeter than they would be if just covered and baked. But honestly? I've never tried this method. I can't wrap my brain around eating burned vegetables. I think I ate too many burned cookies when I was little to get much satisfaction out of roasting. The closest I've come to trying it is to cook an ear of corn still inside the husk on the grill. However, a lot of low-carbers swear by this method, so you might want to give it a try. The heat has to be hot. Something like 450 degrees in order to char the veggies.

Steamed Vegetables with Sauces: Cheese sauce is traditional, but you can start experimenting with other sauces you might not have used when you weren't eating low carb. Lemon sauce is very easy and tastes great over broccoli or asparagus. Just combine equal amounts of mayo and sour cream, then spice it up with lemon juice, lemon peel, basil, minced garlic, and some salt and pepper. Toss in a few capers for an extra treat. This is also an excellent sauce served over salmon.

Soups and Stews: This is one of my favorite ways to work low-carb vegetables into our meals. Soups and stews are quite versatile, and you can change the flavor and presentation by just changing the type of meat and vegetables you toss into the pot. You can even drizzle a beaten egg into the simmering liquid for a nice egg-drop soup. To keep things simple, I use "Better Than Boullion" chicken or beef base, as it's gluten free and makes an excellent broth. It also comes in ham flavoring, but I haven't tried that one yet.

Stir-fry frozen vegetables, lots of chopped garlic, some minced fresh gingerroot, chopped chicken breast, and a drop or two of sesame oil makes an excellent oriental soup. Some shredded cilantro is also good in this. If you aren't sensitive to gluten or wheat, you can break up some low-carb spaghetti noodles and add near the end of the cooking time for a super chicken-noodle soup. Turnips are fairly low carb and make a great substitute for potatoes in soups. Ham, green beans, chopped tomatoes, onion, and bacon also makes an excellent combination. Toss in some shredded cabbage and you won't be able to eat just one bowlful.

Kabobs: Thread various meats and vegetables onto skewers and bake or grill. I like them basted with barbecue sauce, but marinading the meat in Teriyaki sauce is also good. Just be sure that the meats and vegetables you choose take about the same length of time to cook to your liking. Mixing chicken breast and pork, for example, won't work out well. Neither will zucchini and mushrooms unless you like your zucchini squash to be on the crunchy side. Think of unusual combinations. Fresh pineapple chunks and sausage disks are great together, as are olives, mushrooms, and colorful onions.

Salad Bar Salads: When it comes to salad, don't fall into the trap of serving the same vegetable combinations everyday. Keep your salads interesting by thinking about what you like to top your salad with when eating at a salad bar. Try steamed cold broccoli, cold canned green beans, sesame seeds, dried cranberries, sliced strawberries, marinated cucumber slices or chunks, grated cheese, hard boiled eggs, bacon crumbles, peas, baby corn, olives, mushrooms, jalapeno, sliced red cabbage, marinated artichoke hearts, baby spinach leaves, cherry tomatoes, summer squash, cold asparagus or dill pickles. Even sauerkraut can turn that same-old salad into something special.

Chicken, Tuna, Egg or Ham Salad: Before low carb, tuna and chicken salad sandwiches didn't need a lot of vegetables to make them tasty. The type of bread I used went a long way to perk up the flavor. Without the bread, flavor really matters, so try to think outside of the box. Add nuts, green onions, leftover vegetables, jalapeno, grated cheese, peas, cooked or raw broccoli, bell peppers, asparagus, cucumber chunks, shredded spinach, mushrooms or bacon.

Lettuce Wraps: One of my favorite sandwiches is a bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich. When you use large lettuce leaves to hold your sandwich filling, the lettuce is already taken care of. Plop your tomato, bacon, and mayo down the middle of the leaf and fold it over to eat it similar to a taco. Lettuce leaves are great for ham and cheese sandwiches, tuna or chicken salad sandwiches, taco meat with grated cheese, egg salad, or any other sandwich filling you like.

Omelettes, Scrambles, Quiche and Muffins: Eating vegetables in your omelettes, scrambled eggs, crustless quiches and egg muffins can help you get extra vegetables into your meals. Mushrooms, green onions, broccoli, green chilies, peppers, and tomatoes make great omelette fillings. I like tossing leftover veggies from the night before into my scrambled eggs. Quiche recipes are usually low-carb if you leave off the crust. And egg muffins are simple and quick. You simply pour your scrambled egg mixture into well-greased or paper lined muffin cups and then bake at 350 for 20 minutes. Egg muffins make a great on-the-go breakfast idea.

Meat and Vegetable Stir-fries: Stir-fries are another great way to work more low-carb vegetables into your meals. You can buy frozen stir-fry vegetables or toss in whatever you have. Even veggies that are on their way out are useable in soups and stir-fries. But try not to rely on the same old vegetables you always use. While diagonally sliced carrots, celery, and sliced onions are traditional, don't forget about pea pods, shredded cabbage, mushrooms, baby corn, green beans, eggplant, asparagus, spinach, broccoli, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, and colorful peppers. Season the mixture with soy sauce (San-J is gluten free), garlic, minced fresh ginger, and sugar substitute. Sesame oil and toasted sesame seeds also add a nice flavor to stir-fries.

Bean and Vegetable Salads: When growing up, mom always made a salad she called 3-bean salad. It was made with kidney beans, green beans, and yellow wax beans. If you substitute a can of black soy beans for the kidney beans and use sugar substitute in the dressing, the salad is low carb. Add additional vegetables to the mixture, and toss in a few herbs and spices. Allow the mixture to marinate in the refrigerator overnight, and you'll have a wonderful, flavorful, low-carb salad that will rival any side-salad you can dream up. The dressing is easy: Just combine equal amounts of oil and vinegar, then toss in enough sugar substitute to dull the tartness of the vinegar. Add herbs and spices, similar to what you'd use in an Italian dressing. I like Mrs. Dash Herb & Garlic Seasoning Mix, basil, seasoning salt, seasoned pepper, and lots of chopped garlic.

Simple Low-Carb Vegetable Ideas


Steamed Asparagus
Sometimes, all it takes is just the courage to try a new vegetable you haven't eaten before, or to look at what other low-carbers have come up with. Low-carb foods and dishes don't have to be fancy or time consuming. They can simply be adaptions from similar dishes you used to eat. The following ideas are simple, but tasty ways to work more vegetables into your low-carb meals:

  • Canned green beans heated in bacon grease and tossed with bacon crumbles and green onion
  • Lasagna made in the normal way using sliced partially-cooked eggplant for the noodles
  • Fried cabbage with sliced sausage or chopped bacon and onions
  • Chicken and frozen broccoli baked with Alfredo Sauce
  • Stuffed mushrooms: stuff with sausage, cream cheese, and crushed pork rinds; then bake
  • Hot poppers: jalapeno peppers sliced, gutted, filled with cream cheese and wrapped in bacon; bake
  • Stuffed zucchini: hallow out the center leaving a shell; stuff with sausage and crushed pork rinds; bake
  • Cauliflower salad: make as for potato salad, using cauliflower or cooked turnips instead of potatoes
  • Sauteed mushrooms and onions
  • Steamed Articokes, dip leaves in mayonnaise
  • Wilted spinach seasoned with butter, garlic, and lemon
  • Spinach meat balls in a creamy sauce or mustard sauce served over french-cut green beans
  • Meatballs with a tomato sauce or dill white sauce served over spinach
  • Knockwurst steamed with sauerkraut
  • Corned beef and cabbage with turnips and carrots
  • Asparagus with creamy sauce: cream cheese, mayo, and chopped hard-boiled egg, heated
  • Raw veggies and homemade dip
Vegetables are nature's bounty. They are low in carbohydrates, low in calories, low in fat, low on the glycemic index, and loaded with vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and healthy antioxidants. Current medical thought is that we need at least 5 servings a day, with a serving equal to about 1/2 cup of cooked vegetables or 1 cup raw. That's pretty close to what Dr. Atkins recommended in 2002 as a starting point for his revolutionary diet.

Low-Carb Vegetables Exception


The only exception to all of these vegetables is if you are severely insulin resistant and need to go down to a very low level of carbohydrate in order to correct your metabolic defect. But keep in mind, that insulin resistance generally isn't that extreme and a very low carb diet doesn't include a lot of extras. It's when you're so metabolically resistant that you have to stay well below 10 grams of carbohydrate a day.

A typical low-carb diet that includes lots of low-carb vegetables will generally correct most metabolic problems and help you get your life back on track. You do need to be patient though. The body is hard-wired for survival and it can only process and use a finite amount of body fat per day to fuel the body. Fat losses are often masked by water retention, so don't jump to conclusions that you are sensitive to vegetables just because weight loss is slower than you would like it to be.

Give low-carb a fair chance to work before you start doing any tweaking.

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