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The Truth of Artificial Sweeteners: Part I- Are They Safe?

by GameChanger Strength and Nutrition Coach Rob Riccobonosweeteners

One of the most controversial nutrition debates is the safety and effects of artificial sweeteners, particularly the common sweetener aspartame. Artificial sweeteners are added to foods and beverages to give flavor, often without calories. The debate usually encompasses two questions:

1) Are they harmful?
2) Are they really calorie free?

In part I of this post, we’ll examine the first question of safety, to help you and your family make the most informed decisions for your health.

Why the Fear?
Safety concerns began in the 1970s when saccharin (the primary ingredient of Sweet ‘N Low) was linked to bladder cancer in lab animals. Congress mandated a label warning on products with saccharin: “Use of this product may be hazardous to your health. This product contains saccharin, which has been determined to cause cancer in laboratory animals.” No wonder people were concerned about using Sweet ‘N Low.

Follow-up studies showed these results applied only to rats, due to the physiological differences in human and rodent metabolism, so Congress revoked the warning. Furthermore, rats developed cancer from receiving high doses of saccharin. The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) lists an acceptable daily intake to limit people from reaching these doses. These daily FDA limits are:

These daily limits are about 100 times less than the smallest amount that might cause health concerns. Over 100 studies endorse aspartame’s safety for humans within the FDA and World Health Organization parameters.

Cancer Concerns Linger
There are additional studies that suggest possible cancer-causing effects from artificial sweeteners. These studies are in the minority, particularly regarding Splenda and aspartame, and draw conclusions such as “further studies have to be performed.” In 2005, a study from European scientists concluded aspartame caused cancer in rats at low doses. The scientists urged others to reevaluate aspartame’s safety. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) did so, and confirmed aspartame is not a carcinogen. The FDA verified this report based on “more than 100 toxicological and clinical studies regarding the sweetener’s safety.” The EFSA re-evaluated old and new data in 2013 and confirmed its stance.

Aspartame and Brain Damage
Aspartame has been linked to brain disorders such as brain cancer, seizures, learning disabilities, memory loss, migraines, and depression. Dr. Joseph Mercola’s website, one of the most influential critics of artificial sweeteners, lists numerous studies showing destructive consequences, mostly of the brain. Many scientists claim this research is faulty because most of it falls into one of these categories:

1) Demonstrates effects in rodents that cannot be interpreted to show similar effects in humans
2) Shows aspartame intake and brain disorders increasing at the same time in society, but other lifestyle factors could be to blameFurther correlation studies show no harm from aspartame.
3) Uses high intakes unrealistic for human consumption, or has other design flaws
4) Concludes “more research needs to be done”
5) Published in unreliable journals or websites

Follow-up research on humans does not show a between connection between aspartame and brain cancer risk.

Who Can You Trust?
Companies that produce and use sweeteners in their products fund most of the research that shows aspartame is harmless. Does their funding affect the research?

Skeptics believe governments and food manufacturers bribe health organizations to support their stance. This theory intimates the top governments, cancer and medical researchers, and even the World Health Organization are purposely endangering the health of all citizens with false information.

Conversely, many aspartame whistle-blowers profit from discrediting the safety evidence. Dr. Mercola sells supplements to “cleanse” the body of these additives and “claims they eliminate your risk of developing cancer in the future.” The FDA has ordered him to stop making false claims. Do aspartame detractors distort the evidence for their own gain?

Reading Between the Lines
Researchers use a “peer-review” process to distinguish credible studies from misleading ones. If a study appears on a website or news media outlets, but is not published in a reputable research-based journal, other experts probably determined it poorly constructed. There are very few peer-reviewed studies that show legal artificial sweeteners directly harm humans.

Examine.com is an independent organization that investigates nutrition and supplementation research. It receives no third-party funding, sponsorship, or donations. Its independent analysis of the research concludes there is currently no good evidence that aspartame, namely diet soda, causes health complications.

What Organizations Have to Say About Sweeteners
US government agencies like the FDA and National Cancer Institute assert that regulated sweeteners are safe. Non-American and International bodies such as the World Health Organization, European Union, Health Canada, and Food Standards Australia New Zealand also claim aspartame is harmless in its recommended doses.

The following non-profit organizations agree artificial sweeteners are safe, or that dangerous claims are unfounded: American Cancer Society; American Diabetes Association; American Heart Association; Mayo Clinic; Academy of Nutrition Dietetics; American Academy of Family Physicians; American Council on Science and Health; Alzheimer’s Association; Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America; National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Some groups suggest people should consume artificial sweeteners in moderation, or that more testing needs to be done to determine the long-term health effects. Very few reputable health organizations state artificial sweeteners and aspartame are dangerous.

The majority of scientifically accepted information shows legal artificial sweeteners like aspartame are safe. If there are dangerous effects, they haven’t been proven yet, just like with many foods and products we use.

It’s important to distinguish media claims and postulated theories from accepted scientific facts. Weigh this information as you see fit to make the best informed decisions for your health and lifestyle.

Stayed tuned for Part II where we examine the purported effects of artificial sweeteners on body fat and diabetes.

Additional Research on the Safety of Artificial Sweeteners

P.S Getting started at GameChanger is simple and easy. Email us at info@gamechangergym.com to schedule your free workout.

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Do This ONE Thing And Lose Weight

by GameChanger Strength and Nutrition Coach Rob Riccobono

lose weight

There’s no real secret to losing body fat. Just eat less and move more, right? But what else can you do to aid the process? There is one game changing tactic that you are probably familiar with but aren’t using: log your food intake.

Learn Your Excesses

Logging your food gives you a true picture of your diet, rather than what you think you are eating. Do you constantly utter the phrase “I’m eating right, but I just can’t lose weight.” Take a look at the actual layout of your meals, and you’ll likely find the issue. Food logging is most helpful for finding moments where you think you are eating a reasonable amount, but in reality you are consuming enough to feed two!

Maybe you keep a healthy diet during the week, and allow yourself more freedom on the weekends. Perhaps you allow yourself a cheat meal each week. Or you have a favorite meal or food of which you’re unsure of the nutrition information. Record these meals, find their calorie information, and learn if you’ve been splurging more than you realized.

Discover Your Deficiencies

Your nutrition might be ineffective because you are actually eating fewer nutrients and specific foods than you think you are. You might not be eating enough protein, vegetables, or fiber (all important components of fat loss nutrition). It’s very easy to have one day where you eat a large salad, a ton of vegetables, and a large piece of lean meat and think to yourself “I sure am doing a great job with my nutrition”, and then forget that you hardly had any of those foods for the rest of the week!

Have You Been Lying to Yourself?

Several studies show that many overweight individuals actually under-report how much food they intake. When people track their meals, their true diet comes to light. One study suggests the more overweight people are, the greater the chance they will misreport their diets. Another shows some subjects under-reporting their food by over 2000 calories a day!  Is this misreporting done intentionally or unintentionally? Some people consciously lie about their diets, but it is also very common for people to forget about food they eat. We cannot pinpoint the exact reasons that people misrepresent their diets (here’s a study that tried to find out), but we do know it’s one of the obstacles you’ll face, no matter how truthful and accurate you think you are.

Fitness is not just about the body. Emotions and intellect play just as much a part in the process. Here is just one tool that can help address the physical and mental challenges we contend with when trying improve our heath.

P.S Getting started at GameChanger is simple and easy. Email us at info@gamechangergym.com to schedule your free workout.

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Strength Training is Necessary For Your Best Life

by GameChanger Strength and Nutrition Coach Rob Riccobono

strength train live

You may think strength training is only beneficial for improving your strength, physical appearance, and athleticism. The truth is strength training is crucial for improving your overall health and your quality of life.

Live Longer and Move Better

Strength training is correlated with an increased lifespan. That’s right, lifting weights (more specifically, the increased muscle mass obtained from weight lifting) can actually help you live longer. I don’t know too many people who would turn down that opportunity. The specific cause between muscle mass and a longer life is not explicitly clear, but the connection can’t be ignored. You can read more about the relationship between muscle mass and life expectancy in this recent study from UCLA, published in the American Journal of Medicine.

If you’re going to live longer, you probably want to spend those years being able to move and do what you love, rather than being sick and confined to bed. Well, you’re in luck! Strength training increases bone density and prevents bone degradation. This can help stave off joint problems that usually occur later in life such as osteoporosis and arthritis. The research on this topic is too great to ignore, for both men and women. If you want your best opportunity to maintain strong bones as you age, weight training is must!   

Feel Better from Sustained Fat Loss

Strength training not only makes life easier by building muscle and bone, but also by removing excess body fat. We’ve already established why resistance training is integral to fat loss. Let’s examine how excess body fat impacts your quality of life. Carrying unneeded body fat is akin to wearing a weighted vest during every activity you do. If you can do the same daily activities without that vest, think of all the advantages you’d have. Walking up and down stairs would be easier, you’d have less stress on your joints, and you would not get tired so easily and would have more energy throughout the day. Even sleeping would be more comfortable.

Every Day Activities Are Easier

Think about how the strength and lean muscle mass obtained from resistance training can make everyday tasks so much easier, ones you never even thought about, such as: playing with kids; carrying groceries, luggage, or laundry; moving furniture and other large items in the house; doing yard work; walking the dog; assisting an elderly loved one. These are just a few daily scenarios that become so much easier, more efficient, and less dangerous when you are a physically stronger person. And there are plenty more examples that you or I probably have not even considered.

Nothing can definitely guarantee longevity, injury prevention, or freedom from disease, but there is evidence of ways to reduce the likelihood of ailments and improve how you feel! Strength training is linked with numerous health benefits, and equips you to handle almost any physical task life throws your way. Everyone can benefit from being strong. Everyone can benefit from being healthy. Everyone can benefit from strength training.

P.S Getting started at GameChanger is simple and easy. Email us at info@gamechangergym.com to schedule your free workout.

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Burn More Calories WHILE You Eat

by Game Changer Strength and Nutrition Coach Rob Riccobono

healthy food againDid you know you can actually eat the same total calories, but BURN more of them off by changing some of your food choices? You don’t always need to eat LESS to take in fewer calories.

How is This Possible?

Enter the thermic effect of food. The thermic effect is the calorie burn that happens during digestion. Yes, the act of digesting and breaking down food actually burns off some of the food you eat. Compare two 2,000 calorie diets (we’ll refer to them as Diet A and Diet B). Diet A is composed of many foods with a high thermic effect, while Diet B has very few high thermic effect foods. Although the calorie intake is equal, Diet A will cause you to burn more calories, without increasing your exercise.

What Foods are Most Thermogenic?

The most common way to determine the thermic effect of food is by looking at the thermic effect of each macronutrient. Approximately 25% of calories from protein are burned off during digestion, 6-8% from carbohydrates, and 2-3% from fat, as cited in The Lean Muscle Diet by Lou Schuler and Alan Aragon (and numerous other sources). This means that one quarter of the calories you eat from protein are actually burned off before you even exercise! A high protein diet not only supports muscle growth and suppresses appetite, but also increases your total calories burned. If your fat loss has stalled, and you aren’t consuming one gram of protein per pound of your goal body weight a day, strongly consider increasing the portion of your daily calories that come from protein.

Another way to increase the thermic effect of your food is to choose many of your carbohydrate sources from ones with lots of fiber. Fiber is very thermogenic since it cannot all be absorbed during digestion. Common fiber-rich foods include vegetables, potatoes, whole grain products, beans, legumes, and some fruits.

Another Tool in Your Fat Loss Tool Box

The thermic effect of food will likely not “make or break” your diet, but it does play a key role. According to nutrition coaching program Precision Nutrition, the thermic effect of food contributes to about 10% of the total calories you burn for the day. This is not an overwhelming portion, but it’s enough to affect change. If you’re attempting to lose body fat, or your fat loss has stalled, consider the points made in this post as ammo to make more progress.

P.S Getting started at GameChanger is simple and easy. Email us at info@gamechangergym.com to schedule your free workout.

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The Key To Your Success….

Having clear concise goals is the key to your success. Without knowing what you want , how will you know where you’re going? “People with goals succeed because they know where they’re going.” – Earl Nightingale.  When planned properly, your goals will provide the roadmap you need to get you from where you are now to where you want to be.

I’ve found that there are 3 specific questions you need to answer when it comes to setting goals:

# 1: What do you want? 

What is it that you want to achieve? If you’re an athlete maybe you want to gain velocity, run faster, jump higher or hit the ball with more power. If your adult maybe you want to build muscle, lose fat or just tone up.

Regardless of what it is you want to achieve, it’s important to set a clear goal. And the more specific you can get the better. So instead of just saying “my goal is to build muscle”, say “my goal is to build 5 lbs of muscle in the next 5 months”. Here’s another example. Instead of just saying” My goal is to gain velocity”, say ” I want to gain 3 MPH in the next 4 months”.The more specific you get, the more measurable and attainable the goal will be.

# 2: Why do you want it?

Without a big enough reason why you want to achieve your goal, it becomes infinitely more difficult to attain it. Finding your “why” isn’t easy and it will take some time and deep thought but when you do find it, you’ll have all the ammo you need to get there.

# 3: How will you get it?

Now that you know what you want and why you want it, you need to create the map to get you there. This is the part where most people get stuck because they try to find the right map before they know where the map is going.