- Personal Development -

Some Kinds of Help

OK, I realize I’m dating myself here, but I’m hoping that at least some of you will join me in remembering that cult classic kids’ album Free to Be…You and Me . Masterminded by Marlo Thomas and Friends, and accompanied by a singalong book, it was played endlessly (to some parents’ chagrin) by a whole generation of kids in the ’70s, and as a result, it permeated our collective memory.

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I, for one, still quote lyrics from that album. One favorite line: “Some kind of help is the kind of help that helping’s all about. And some kind of help is the kind of help we all can do without.” The latter part of that phrase has been popping into my mind with some frequency of late.

Recently, for example, its recollection was triggered by the introduction of yet another sugar substitute — this time, a supposedly “natural” sweetener derived from select components of the stevia herb and marketed under the rather Orwellian name “Truvia.”

The new sweetener, marketed as “nature’s perfect sweetness” — and presumably developed in response to the public’s increasing apprehension about artificial sweeteners like saccharin, aspartame and sucralose — has been formulated into a whole array of new food and beverage products, including sodas.

Perhaps these products will prove helpful to someone somewhere, but I am more inclined to think that calorie- and sugar-free sweeteners only lull people into a continued, complacent pursuit of the sweet-addicted habits that got us into our epidemic of chronic disease and obesity in the first place. They also contribute to a “trick the body” mentality that inevitably backfires.

To date, there has been no convincing proof that calorie-reduced, sugar-free sweeteners help facilitate weight loss. In fact, there is a good deal of evidence that they actually contribute to weight gain — by perpetuating poor eating habits and confusing the body’s own food-intake-regulating sensors (for more on that, read “Poor Substitutes,” available in the December 2007 archives).

Clearly, what we most need to do is correct our out-of-whack sweet and carb cravings. And the best way to do that? Eating more plant-based whole foods and avoiding processed foods of all sorts — especially the white flours, processed grains and sweets that contribute to cravings and trigger both weight gain and bodywide inflammation. (For more on that, read up on our six-part functional wellness series with Mark Hyman, MD.)

Anyway, I was still processing all the Truvia news when my “some kind of help” alarm was triggered once again, this time occasioned by the July announcement of new guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics. They’re now calling for routine cholesterol screenings for children under the age of 10 and suggesting more aggressive use of cholesterol-lowering drugs in kids as young as 8.

Talk about help that we can do without! There is no evidence that suppressing kids’ cholesterol levels with drugs does anything to reduce kids’ health risks. And the Academy’s chief nutritional suggestion — reducing children’s intake of dietary fat and cholesterol — is troubling, too, both because the whole “lipid hypothesis” on which such recommendations are based has never been proven (for more on that, read “Cholesterol Myths,” available in the October 2004 archives), and because simply reducing dietary fats often has the unintended consequence of encouraging kids to eat more processed grains and sugars — the very foods that most forward-thinking health experts now agree are the real triggers for inflammation and weight gain and, thus, for elevated cholesterol levels.

Rest assured, we’ll be covering both these topics in more depth in upcoming issues of Experience Life, and offering expert guidance on negotiating the maze of information (and misinformation) surrounding them.

In the meantime, if you’re interested in some practical advice you can put to good use now, I hope you’ll consider some of the suggestions we’ve gathered in this issue. If you want to swap ideas and helpful perspectives with other Experience Life readers, visit our new and improved forums at experiencelife.com. And if you’re looking for insight with a particular health or quality-of-life concern, write us at the email below. We’ll do our best to offer the kind of help “that helping’s all about.”

Pilar Gerasimo is the founding editor of Experience Life.

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