“When a person has nothing to eat, fasting is the smartest thing he could do.” – Herman Hesse, Siddhartha.
I like that quote. It’s making (non-caloric) lemonade out of lemons, and for all the transcendental insights contained in Hesse’s book, this line strikes me as a really cool, no-nonsense way to make the best out of a bad situation. No doubt about that. But how useful is it, really, to today’s readers? Very few of us ever have “nothing to eat.” On the contrary, food is ever at our beck and call, with very little effort required to obtain it. Actually, that’s not completely true. Processed junk and fast food is readily available, while the good stuff – fresh meat and veggies, actual, you know, food - requires prep work, cooking, time, and the doing of dishes. But the main point stands: we rarely go without.
The issue of meal timing is a dense thicket of conflicting advice, a mix of conventional wisdom dispensed from USA Today articles, broscience on Internet forums, and confusing physiological feedback from a dysfunctional metabolism. How can one wade through it all and stay sane? You’ve been told your entire life that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but then you hear about intermittent fasting, Warrior Diets, and skipping breakfast while thriving. The buff/cut/shredded/ripped/insert-increasingly-violent-adjective-to-describe-one’s-leanness-here (what’s next, “flayed”?) dudes at the gym insist you should break up your eating into at least six small meals (and if possible, maintain a steady IV-drip of Muscle Milk throughout the day) to “boost” your metabolism. Some say three meals a day works just as well, while others say it’s even superior. Others try to simplify things. They suggest listening to your own body, to eat when hungry and fast when not, which makes sense, but what if you’re overweight and hungry all the time – can your body’s metabolic signaling really be trusted?
Today’s question comes from Ola and regards CLA, or conjugated linoleic acid. What is CLA? CLA is the “good” trans-fat that occurs naturally in meat and dairy, especially from grass-fed animals. In the stomach of ruminants like cows, sheep, or goats, millions upon millions of bacteria help the animal digest its food. They also help convert dietary linoleic fatty acids into saturated fatty acids. Well, that conversion takes several steps, and one of the steps is the creation of CLA, some of which never gets fully saturated and instead shows up in the animal’s body and milk fat. 28 different CLA isomers, or structural arrangements of the molecules, appear in CLA-rich animal fat. It’s very complex and quite different from trans-fat created by partially hydrogenating vegetable oils. Those lab-created trans-fats have definite negative metabolic and health effects, while the panoply of various CLA isomers from grass-fed dairy and meat seem to be beneficial. With that said, let’s get to the question.
The notion that artificial sweeteners (and sweet tastes in general) might produce an insulin response is one of those murky memes that winds itself around the blogs, but it’s never stated one way or the other with any sort of confidence. I briefly mentioned the possibility of non-caloric sweeteners influencing satiety hormones in last week’s diet soda post, and a number of you guys mentioned the same thing. Still, I’ve never seen unequivocal evidence that this is the case.
This whole idea first came to my attention some time ago when my dog Buddha got into a bottle of “alternative sleep assists” which contained, among other things, 5 HTP (version of l-tryptophan) and xylitol (sugar alcohol). Long story short, dogs can’t take xylitol because it causes a spike in insulin, which then severely depletes blood glucose. Buddha got past this with a trip to the vet’s at 10:30 Sunday night (thanks, Dr. Dean). But it occurred to me that the same effect might be seen in humans, which is why I pose the question today…
Do artificial sweeteners induce insulin secretion (perhaps via cephalic phase insulin release, which is sort of the body’s preemptive strike against foods that will require insulin to deal with)?
Before I begin, I want to make something clear: this is not your standard definitive guide to whatever. I’d like to be able to issue a proclamation regarding diet soda that stands the test of time immemorial, but I cannot. Research is still in its infancy, and exactly what diet soda does to those who drink it – if anything – is incredibly confusing. The one thing I can say with any certainty is that, while it’s unfair to say it will kill you or give your unborn child prenatal tumors or make you impossibly obese, you’re probably better off without diet soda. It tastes weird, the list of unpronounceable ingredients is too long for my comfort level, and I’ve seen one too many unsuccessful dieters that seem to live on the stuff.
There are two things to consider when making any conclusions about diet soda’s place in a healthy diet. Do the ingredients used in diet soda pose a threat to your short-term or long-term (or that of your offspring’s) health? Is it a kind of sugary methadone, impeding healthy eating by making it harder to kick the desire for sweet things in your mouth because, well, you’re constantly putting things in your mouth that mimic sugar? Let’s dig in.
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