More than 200,000 bariatric surgeries are performed every year in the U.S. alone. It’s hardly surprising that so many bariatric food products are emerging to meet growing demand. But in a market lacking regulations, how can patients sort out truly healthy meal replacement options from those merely parading as “healthy” foods?
In addition to more obvious ingredients like fat and sugar, some lesser-known ingredients may lead to detrimental outcomes for weight loss patients. Make sure you’re aware of these three potentially problematic bariatric food ingredients.
Some bariatric food options contain sugar alcohols. Says the International Food Information Council Foundation of these sugar replacers:
“Sugar alcohols are neither sugars nor alcohols. They are carbohydrates with a chemical structure that partially resembles sugar and partially resembles alcohol, but they don’t contain ethanol as alcoholic beverages do. They are incompletely absorbed and metabolized by the body, and consequently contribute fewer calories than most sugars. The commonly used sugar alcohols include sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, maltitol, maltitol syrup, lactitol, erythritol, isomalt and hydrogenated starch hydrolysates. Their calorie content ranges from zero to three calories per gram compared to four calories per gram for sucrose or other sugars. Most sugar alcohols are less sweet than sucrose; maltitol and xylitol are about as sweet as sucrose.”
While sugar alcohols can be useful for some individuals, including those with diabetes as well as those on carb-controlled diets, they can be less than ideal for postoperative patients.
Continues the IFICF: “Sugar alcohols are slowly and incompletely absorbed from the small intestine into the blood. Once absorbed they are converted to energy by processes that require little or no insulin. Some of the sugar alcohol is not absorbed into the blood. These pass through the small intestine and are fermented by bacteria in the large intestine. Thus, over-consumption may produce abdominal gas and discomfort in some individuals.”
For post-surgical patients, in particular, sugar alcohols can lead to bloating and diarrhea if eaten in excess. It can also have a laxative effect.
We all know that sugar should be avoided after gastric bypass surgery, but what about artificial sweeteners? While some bariatric diets allow artificial sweeteners, many experts recommend that post-op limit their consumption. For starters, artificial sweeteners are surprisingly high in calories. Additionally, there’s no evidence that these products help to promote or maintain weight loss.
Factor in that sweeteners such as aspartame and sucralose have been linked with extensive side effects including seizures, hallucinations, brain tumors, skin rashes, diarrhea, headaches and stomach pain, and they become a lot less appealing. Not only that, but sucralose is also associated with killing healthy bacteria, which can interfere with immune system health.
And then there's the fact that testing of artificial sweeteners on humans have been limited — meaning we really know very little about any their potentially long-term damaging effects. According to Harvard, not only does some evidence indicate that artificial sweeteners may increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes while actually hindering weight loss efforts.
“One concern about artificial sweeteners is that they affect the body’s ability to gauge how many calories are being consumed. Some studies show that sugar and artificial sweeteners affect the brain in different ways....The human brain responds to sweetness with signals to eat more. By providing a sweet taste without any calories, however, artificial sweeteners cause us to crave more sweet foods and drinks, which can add up to excess calories,” says the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
The takeaway? The downsides of artificial sweeteners may far outweigh the upsides when it comes to bariatric eating.
While caffeine may be linked with appetite suppression and calorie burning, many doctors recommend that it be avoided following weight loss surgery. Says Hallmark Health System: “After gastric bypass, you don’t absorb all of your nutrients. Caffeine may further decrease calcium absorption, which in turn may lead to osteoporosis and increased risk for fractures. Therefore calcium should not be taken with caffeine. Caffeine may also decrease iron absorption.”
Caffeine may also cause a of number of unpleasant side effects, such as nausea/vomiting, GI distress, dyspepsia, and an increase in gastric acid secretion leading to gastroesophageal reflux and diarrhea. And, contrary to common misconception, caffeine may even increase hunger in some people.
Caffeine is also a no-no given the increased risk of dehydration following weight loss surgery. Continues Hallmark Health System, “Caffeine causes increased urine output, which can increase the risk for dehydration, particularly during rapid weight loss.”
Cautions the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS), meanwhile, “Remember that caffeine often comes paired with sugary, high-calorie drinks, so be sure you’re making wise beverage choices.”
Ultimately, the best rule of thumb when it comes to avoiding bad ingredients? Stick with all things organic, natural and “real.” In doing so, patients not only set themselves up for short-term weight loss, but also build the skills of healthy eating that will support long-term success.