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Tara’s Friday Bite: Artificial Sweeteners, Not So Sweet for Your Health

Since the introduction of the artificial sweetener in the 1970s, it has been riddled with controversy. Artificial sweetener has been credited for helping with weight loss but also blamed for everything from headaches to death. In order to understand the potential pros and cons of artificial sweeteners, it is important to step back to the time of the caveman and talk a bit about how your body works.

We are designed to sustain life and reproduce. Pain is associated with death and pleasure is associated with life. That’s why fire hurts and sleep feels good. From a dietary standpoint, we enjoy food highest in nutrients and calories – i.e. fat, sugar, starches, etc. When we get enough of these nutrients, we have hormones to turn off our hunger and cravings, which leaves us feeling satisfied.

Enter the world of artificial sweeteners. The main idea behind the “sweetener” is so you can get the sweet fix without the calories. Genius idea – but unfortunately it has not worked.

  • The American Cancer Society found that out of 78,000 women, 7.1% of those who used artificial sweeteners gained weight compared to non-users.
  • A San Antonio Heart Study followed 3,700 adults over 8 years and found that those who consumed more artificial sweeteners had higher BMIs (Body Mass Index), and the more they consumed the higher their BMI.

How could something that has zero calories cause weight gain? There are 3 schools of thought:

  1. Artificial sugars increase sugar cravings. Your body associates calories with sweetness. When your body doesn’t get these calories, it becomes “starved” and causes you to eat more calories.
  2. They damage the food-reward pathway that drives our desire to eat. The sweetness without calories approach of artificial sweeteners can ultimately cause an increase in sweet cravings.
  3. Artificial sweeteners are thousands of times sweeter than sugar. With regular artificial sweetener use, our body gets used to the flavor and isn’t satisfied until it finds this level of sweetness. Unfortunately, this can’t be found in regular food, leaving us unsatisfied and prone to overeating.

Artificial sweeteners have been linked to everything from headaches to depression to cancer. Now, I could find just as many well-funded studies that say artificial sweeteners have absolutely no negative repercussions and encourage weight loss. The point of this article is not to scare you or bash an industry, but rather increase your awareness of what you are putting in your body.

The first step is to know when you are ingesting artificial sweeteners. First, if a product says zero sugars or calories and is not water, it most likely contains an artificial sweetener (by patel at dresshead online). Second, check the label. Look for the following artificial sweeteners: Saccharin, Aspartame, Sucralose, Acesulfame K or Neotame.

If you have any concerns, try taking artificial sweeteners out of your diet for a month and see what happens. Do you still have sugar cravings? Did you lose weight? Do you still have headaches? You are the best judge of the way something impacts your body. You may find that nothing changes, or you may be surprised that what you turned to for a calorie-free sweet fix may in fact be the very thing that was sabotaging your diet.

Stay tuned for Tara’s next column with advice about natural sweetener alternatives …

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Tara Coleman

Tara Coleman is a Clinical Nutritionist in San Diego, CA. She blogs twice a month with “Tara’s Friday Bite.” Leave us your comments with ideas for future topics or email Tara directly


Tara’s Friday Bite – Stocking Your Pantry & Freezer

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Tara Coleman

Time and planning are the two biggest saboteurs of good nutrition. So what should you do when your week gets over scheduled and out of control? Always make sure your house is stocked with essential non-perishables. Having these healthy staples on hand will offer an on-the-go meal and can be the difference between a quick run through the grocery store or an hour long extravaganza!

(Quick note:  If you are wondering about the shelf/freezer life of these items, check out this article.)

Stock Your Pantry

  • Cold Cereal – Look for options with equal amount of sugar and fiber.
  • Hot Cereal – Slow cooked oatmeal is the best option.
  • Canned Tuna – Make sure it’s packed in water and not oil.
  • Brown Rice – A quick, healthy staple that accommodates most dishes.
  • Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) – This is a rice alternative that is high in protein.
  • 100% Whole Wheat Pasta
  • 100% Whole Wheat Bread/Tortillas – If you don’t eat these very often, keep them in the freezer.
  • Raw Nuts – Walnuts and almonds are my favorite. Watch the serving size!
  • Canned Beans & Lentils – Remember to rinse before you eat them to reduce the sodium.
  • Low Sodium Soups
  • Low Sodium Pasta Sauce
  • Low Sodium Soy Sauce – This still has quite a bit of sodium so combine it with an oil or vinegar.  A little will go a long way.
  • Almond Butter
  • Fresh Ground Pepper
  • Olive Oil
  • Vinegar

Stock Your Freezer

  • Frozen Chicken – Either individually frozen or separate them into freezer bags.
  • Frozen Fish – Again, separate into freezer bags before freezing.
  • Frozen Veggies – These are perfect to throw in a quick stir-fry and much healthier than canned.
  • Frozen Fruit – Great for a quick smoothie or a sweet snack.
  • Veggie Burgers
  • Turkey Burgers – These are great as a burger or you can break them up and mix them with sauce and pasta.

Remember, FRESH produce should be the foundation of every athlete’s diet. If you have these above staples on hand, you will always have something to combine with your fruits & vegetables for a quick and healthy meal!

Tara Coleman is a Clinical Nutritionist in San Diego, CA. She blogs twice a month with “Tara’s Friday Bite.” Leave us your comments with ideas for future topics or email Tara directly


Tara’s Friday Bite: Hyponatremia – Too Much of a Good Thing

Last week, I discussed my love of water and how simply increasing your hydration can improve everything from your hair to your heart. I’m staying true to my H2O romance, however, even with water, you can have too much of a good thing. This over hydration is called Hyponatremia and is becoming increasingly more prevalent amongst endurance athletes, especially during the summer months.

In order

for our bodies to function properly, we must have a certain level of sodium in our blood stream. If our sodium level drops too low, we are unable to transmit nerve impulses, we lose muscle function and the cells in our brain can begin to swell. During high intensity exercise we lose sodium through our sweat. If you rehydrate with too much water, you can dilute the sodium in your system and ultimately become hyponatremic.

Signs of hyponatremia are:

  • Muscle cramps
  • Nausea
  • Slurred speech
  • Confusion

At first signs of Hyponatremia, you should drink a sports drink containing sodium, like Gatorade, or have a salty snack. If your symptoms are extreme, you should consult a medical professional immediately. In the most extreme cases Hyponatremia can result in seizures, comas or even death.

Now this isn’t meant to make you fear water or get heavy handed with the salt shaker! Here are a few solutions to help keep you balanced (NOTE:  If you have high blood pressure, please consult your doctor before increasing your sodium intake):

  • Alternate between water and a sports drink containing sodium on your long, high-intensity workout days (e.g., longer than 60 minutes).
  • Increase your salt intake a few days prior to a long distance event (e.g., marathon, triathlon).
  • Avoid aspirin and ibuprofen (NSAIDS) as they may predispose you to Hyponatremia.

Most importantly, know your body! Are your clothes covered in salt after your long runs? Do you find that water goes right through you after working out? Have you determined your sweat rate so you know how much water you should be drinking? Training is not only meant to increase your strength and endurance, but also to help you recognize when your body is feeling great and when it is just a little off. If you stay in tune with your body’s signals, you can enjoy race season happy and healthy! You can also enjoy a few salty chips prior to your long training days because your nutritionist told you to!

If you have questions or concerns about Hyponatremia, email me at

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Tara Coleman

Tara Coleman is a Clinical Nutritionist in San Diego, CA. She blogs twice a month with “Tara’s Friday Bite.” Leave us your comments with ideas for future topics or email Tara directly


Tara's Friday Bite – Water is Your friend

We all know that drinking water is important, but with our busy lives and sugary, carbonated liquid temptations, most of us find it hard to stay hydrated. First, let’s take a look at a few of the many benefits of water:

  • Improves Your Skin – Your skin will be the first to show dehydration. You will either look dried out and fatigued, or puffy and bloated. Water flushes out the toxins and keeps your skin looking young and healthy.
  • Helps Your Heart – When you are properly hydrated, your blood is thinner making it easier for your heart to pump blood through the body. This means less work for your heart so it can keep ticking for much longer.
  • Flushes Toxins – Even though you are reading this blog, there’s still a lot of action going on in your body. You are thinking, breathing, digesting, etc. All of those actions create waste. A build up of that waste causes headaches, fatigue and cloudy thinking. It’s water’s job to flush that waste out of your body and keep you feeling healthy and energized.
  • Increases Your Metabolism – Last but certainly not least, dehydration causes you to burn less calories. Your body can confuse thirst with hunger so you may end up eating more throughout the day.

As a rule of thumb, you should be drinking half your bodyweight in ounces of water each day. So if you are 150 lbs, you should drink 75 oz of water, or about 9 glasses. If you aren’t drinking anywhere near this amount of water, don’t start all at once or you will be running to the bathroom every 15 minutes! Ease into it by adding an extra 8 oz every 2-3 days to allow your body to actually absorb the water rather then it just going through you!

I know this is easier said than done. Sometimes I’m so busy that I’m surprised I even remember to breathe, let alone drink 8 oz of water every hour. Seriously, who has time to think about that? So I take the thought out of it and keep a reusable water bottle with me at all times. You’ll be amazed how easy it is to remember to take a refreshing swig when you simply keep it in your line of sight.

If you find water gets boring to drink throughout the day try jazzing it up a bit. You can add some fresh fruit to flavor the water or brew a pitcher of cool iced tea for added antioxidants. With each delicious sip, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a clear skinned, heart healthy, toxin-free, calorie burning machine!

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Tara Coleman

Tara Coleman is a Clinical Nutritionist in San Diego, CA. She’ll be guest blogging twice a month with “Tara’s Friday Bite.” Leave us your comments with ideas for future topics or email Tara directly


Tara's Friday Bite: The Facts About Fiber

Fiber is one of those things that we all know is important, but few of us really know why? In fact, even the word makes many of us feel awkward. It brings up images of uncomfortable looking people on commercials or cereals that look more like kindling than actual food! So before we start force feeding ourselves bran muffins, let’s take a step back and really understand what fiber is.

Quite simply, fiber is a type of carbohydrate that cannot be digested by the body. That means, it is not absorbed into our blood stream but rather moves through your body picking up waste and then makes its exit. It is found in all plant based foods (i.e. fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes). There are two types of fiber:  Insoluble and Soluble.

Insoluble fiber’s job is to move bulk through our intestines. It’s the type of fiber that we typically think of because it promotes bowel movements and helps prevent constipation. It is primarily found in the following foods:

  • Skins of fruits and vegetables
  • Dark leafy greens
  • Whole-wheat products
  • Nuts and seeds

Soluble fiber actually forms a gel when mixed with liquid, which helps it bind with fatty acids and carry them out of your body. This is why soluble fiber is most typically associated with lowering cholesterol. It also slows the emptying of the stomach so it helps control blood sugar, which is extremely important in weight management and controlling diabetes. It is primarily found in the following foods:

  • Oats.
  • Beans
  • Barley
  • Fruits and veggies
  • Psyllium husk
  • Flaxseed

The FDA recommends the average person consume at least 25g of dietary fiber each day, although many health professionals (including myself) recommend adults shoot for 30-35g depending on your caloric intake. If you are unsure how much you are getting, try tracking your food for a day to get a ballpark idea. If you find you are falling short, try these tips:

  • Start with breakfast—I find this is the easiest meal to increase your fiber. Oatmeal is an ideal source but many cereals are starting to increase their fiber content – and not only the ones that look like twigs!
  • Eat raw—Incorporate more raw fruit and vegetables into your diet and make sure to include the skin.  Quick tip: produce with more skin surface area (i.e., peas, berries, etc.) tend to have more insoluble fiber.
  • More beans please—Try to incorporate one vegetarian legume-based meal a week. You’ll kick up your fiber and you may actually like it!
  • Top it off with some flaxseeds—Flaxseeds are a quick and easy way to add in fiber. Try sprinkling some on top of your salad or mixing it in with your yogurt or smoothie. You’ll hardly taste it and it will make your already healthy meal even more balanced
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Tara Coleman

Tara Coleman is a Clinical Nutritionist in San Diego, CA. She’ll be guest blogging twice a month with “Tara’s Friday Bite.” Leave us your comments with ideas for future topics or email Tara directly


Fighting Soreness with Magnesium

We’ve all felt it.  You start a new workout routine.  After the first day you are feeling tired, but also proud of yourself and feeling great!  Then you wake up the next morning and can hardly move.  You spend the entire day dreading getting in and out of the car and hoping that you don’t have to grab anything from the top shelf.  Some soreness is always to be expected when you are pushing yourself while working out but excessive soreness could be a sign of a diet low in magnesium.

Magnesium is “the relaxer” of the mineral world and is the 2nd most deficient mineral in the modern diet.  Particularly diets high in processed foods and alcohol.  Here are three ways you can increase the amount of magnesium in your system and help fight your soreness:

  1. Eat More Magnesium Rich Foods – these include beans, seeds, spinach, soy milk, salmon and halibut.
  2. Supplement with Magnesium Citrate – If you choose to take a magnesium supplement choose a Magnesium Citrate with Calcium and Vitamin D.  Magnesium, Calcium and Vitamin D all work together as a team and help the body utilize each other.  Taking them together will help ensure your body will absorb the nutrients and make the most of the supplements you are putting in your body.
  3. Soak in Magnesium – after a particularly tough workout I suggest taking a soak in Epsom Salts.  Epsom Salt is essentially magnesium that you dissolve into a warm bath.  The magnesium will soak through your skin into your muscles and help reduce soreness immediately!

Of course, Magnesium won’t cure you on its own.  Always make sure that you stay hydrated, focus on your post-workout meal timing, stretch and, most importantly STICK WITH IT!  It’ll get better, I promise!

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Tara Coleman

Tara Coleman is a Clinical Nutritionist living in San Diego, CA. She blogs twice a month with “Tara’s Friday Bite.” Leave us your comments with ideas for future topics or email Tara directly at


Tara’s Friday Bite – What Should I Buy Organic?

In a perfect world the answer to this question would be everything! However, organic foods can cost significantly more, which can be a limiting factor for all of us. Yes, nutritionists have budgets, too. A quick rule of thumb when deciding where to spend your money is to start at the top of the food chain and work your way down. Use this chart as a reference of where to spend and where to save:

Animal Products

If you are going to spend your money on one thing make sure you are buying organic meat and dairy. In order for an animal product to be labeled organic it cannot receive antibiotics or growth hormones. It also must be fed vegetarian grain that was grown without chemicals and come from a mother who was fed the same grain during the end of her pregnancy.

Produce Where You Eat the Skin

When produce is sprayed with pesticides it naturally hits the skin first and then soaks into the fruit or vegetable. Therefore produce where you eat the skin will give you a double dose of pesticides. Always choose organic when buying these “Dirty Dozen” – peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, pears, grapes, spinach, lettuce and potatoes.

Produce Where You Peel the Skin

Produce with thicker skin is less likely to absorb the pesticides and you will discard the skin before eating.  Here are some foods that you are safe to buy conventionally: asparagus, avocados, bananas, broccoli, cabbage, kiwi, mango, onions, papaya and pineapple.


Most grains have been shown to be very low in pesticides, with the exception of rice. So spend a little extra on organic rice and save your money on everything else!

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Tara Coleman

Tara Coleman is a Clinical Nutritionist living in San Diego, CA. She blogs twice a month with “Tara’s Friday Bite.” Leave us your comments with ideas for future topics or email Tara directly at