Artificial Sugars Can Have Negative Impacts on Gut Health

By Heide Kennedy, Arizona Farm Bureau Communications Intern

Have you ever come to a point where you decided to try cutting out sugar from your diet? Since it can sometimes be hard to not have something a little sweet now and then, you might have discovered the mysterious world of artificial sweeteners. These sweeteners are sweet like sugar but don’t have all the same effects of sugar, which sounds too good to be true! So you might be wondering, are artificial sugars really that perfect?

Well to answer part of that question, a recent study published in iScience has found that artificial sugars actually take a negative toll on our gut microbiomes. Dr. Ruchi Mathur, the author of the study, says that artificial sweeteners are not completely harmless. The study found that people who used sucralose (Splenda), saccharin (Sweet ‘n Low), or stevia tended to have less rich and diverse colonies of bacteria in their small intestines.

When aspartame (Equal) was studied however, researchers found that those who consumed it didn’t have a lessened gut microbiome like those who used other artificial sweeteners did. But what aspartame users did exhibit was an increased concentration of bacteria that produce a toxin called cylindrospermopsin. This toxin is known to have harmful effects on the liver and nervous system, and it is also a potential cancer-causing agent.

It might be worth taking a second look at the type and amount of artificial sugar that you consume. If you do pursue a sugar free diet, maybe consider either avoiding sweets as a whole, or opting for natural sugars like fruit, honey, maple syrup, or dates!

For more information about artificial sugars, check out this previous article from Fill Your Plate: Artificial Sweetener Linked to Higher Risk of Heart Attacks and Stroke – Fill Your Plate Blog

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The Connection Between Sleep and Gut Health

By Heide Kennedy, Arizona Farm Bureau Communications Intern


How’d you sleep last night? Your answer to this question can also tell you a little bit about how your gut is doing too. Gut health and good sleep are hot topics in the health and wellness world, and it turns out that the two are directly related. If your sleep is off then your gut health will be off, and vice versa. So, let’s look at the connections between the two, what can throw it off, and how you can take care of both!

According to Dr. Allison Brager, the gut microbiome, which is all of the bacteria that live in your small intestine, influences all sorts of brain functions, including sleep.  Specifically, the distribution of healthy bacteria in the gut impacts the health of our neurons, the speed at which they transmit signals, and their ability to regrow and regenerate post-stress. Another factor in the gut-sleep relationship is the presence of the hormone serotonin, which regulates your mood, emotions, and sleep. Serotonin is highly present in the gut and brain, but more so in the gut.

Since the relationship between the gut and brain goes both ways, a disruption to either can throw the other off as well. Dr. Wendy Hall says that sleep disruptions such as shift work and the irregular sleep times that come with it can have a profound impact on health. She notes that even small differences in health can result in changes to gut bacteria as well.

So, how do you avoid disruptions to your sleep and gut health? Dr. Shilpa Ravella says that the most important way to take care of your gut health is to eat a diet rich in whole foods rather than processed foods. Add more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats to your diet to keep your gut bacteria as healthy as possible. When it comes to sleep, stick with the basics, such as a regular bedtime and wake up time, staying off devices while in bed, and sleeping in a dark, cool, and comfortable environment.

The bottom line? Eat well and sleep well to promote a good relationship between your sleep and your gut health. For more articles about sleep and gut health, check out the Fill Your Plate blog!

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9 Realistic Tips for Healthy Living

By Heide Kennedy, Arizona Farm Bureau Communications Intern

Many of us think or talk about how we are going to start eating more healthfully or start living more healthfully in general. While these are great goals to have, let’s be honest. There is really no true definition to either of them, as everyone’s health and dietary needs can vary drastically depending on each individual’s needs.

So, when you read some articles about how you should “eat healthy” by cutting out all carbs, or by fasting for certain periods of the day, understand that while these methods might work for some, they don’t always work for everyone. With that being said, there are still some basic healthy eating tips to get you started in living a healthier lifestyle.

Registered dietician Jaclyn London suggests the following tips for eating healthy, with each one being just a guideline so that you can tailor it to your own personal goals.

  • Eat breakfast – This ensures you have an energized start to your day.
  • Check your beverages Drinks are a great hiding place for unnecessary sugars, and it’s easier to overdrink than to overeat, so choose drinks wisely.
  • Combine protein and fiber in each meal – Combining these two makes you feel fuller faster as both protein and fiber take longer to digest.
  • Eat meals and snacks regularly – Staying regular with eating times helps you to stay energized consistently throughout your day.
  • Add fruits and vegetables to each meal – Fruits and vegetables contain lots of the vitamins and minerals that our bodies need to function. Plus, they’re pretty delicious too!
  • Pay attention to your body’s needs – Eat when you feel hungry or get some water when you feel thirsty. Your body knows what it needs to function so listen to it!
  • Get nutrients from foods more than supplements – While supplements can be a great tool for getting extra vitamins and minerals that we might not be getting in our diets, getting as much of them as we can through our foods is a much better way to keep up on our nutrients.
  • Don’t forget to exercise – Staying physically active in some shape or form is essential to good health, as it keeps you strong, flexible, and burns excess calories!

London summarizes what healthy eating truly is by saying it is based on finding the balance of eating good foods that help you to feel your best both physically and psychologically. With that in mind, eating healthy doesn’t have to be that hard or unattainable. Just follow some basic principles and tailor to fit you own goals and needs.

For more articles about healthy eating, recipes for some delicious and nutritious meals, or information on finding fresh, locally grown ingredients, check out the Fill Your Plate website!

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Functional Foods Offer More Than Just Nutrition

By Heide Kennedy, Arizona Farm Bureau Communications Intern

You’re well aware that the foods that we eat and the nutrition that they provide have a large impact on how our bodies function throughout our lifetime. Certain foods can really benefit our bodies, while others can do some damage. But did you know that some foods offer benefits that go beyond just nutrition? These foods are called “functional” foods, and they offer lots of health benefits on top of their nutrition and great taste.

Registered dietician Leanne McCrate defines functional foods as foods that might have a positive effect on health beyond just typical nutrition. She notes that many functional foods have nutrients such as choline, omega-3s, alpha-linolic acids, flavonoids, lutein, folate, beta-carotene, and antioxidants. These nutrients are those that typically promote either brain health, or heart health, and they also lessen inflammation. Some of the best and the most common function foods that provide these nutrients include:

  • Nuts
  • Dark chocolate
  • Egg yolks
  • Chicken
  • Veal
  • Mushrooms (Shitake, golden oyster, and white button specifically)
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Broccoli
  • Turnip greens (In fact, a lot of your dark leafy greens)

This is just a small list, many other foods are also considered functional foods. Many of these are produced right here in Arizona! Nuts, beef, pork, chicken, veal, eggs, and all the vegetables on the list are all ones that can be found locally! Consider including some in your next few meals and enjoy not only their great taste and great nutrition but also some of the other health benefits that they offer!

For more health and nutrition articles or suggestions on where to find Arizona-grown products, check out the Fill Your Plate website!

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What Makes a Food Nutrient-Dense?

By Heide Kennedy, Arizona Farm Bureau Communications Intern

Whenever we read about eating healthfully, we often run into the phrase “Nutrient-dense.”  We can easily deduce that the phrase is referring to foods that are full of good nutrients. But just how much nutrient content does a food have to have to make it qualify as being “Nutrient-dense?”

To put it simply, nutrient-dense foods are those that provide a large number of vitamins and minerals relative to their caloric content. Registered dietician Grace Derocha says that nutrient-dense foods “…Offer vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, water, fiber, and more without adding empty calories.”


Calculating the nutrient density of a food is done by adding points for its content of good nutrients like vitamins and minerals, fiber, and protein. Then, points are taken away for their content of bad nutrients, such as excess sodium and sugar, unhealthy fats, refined carbohydrates, etc. After the points have been determined, they are divided by a unit such as 100 grams or 100 calories to get its nutrient density score.

The following categories of foods all contain nutrient-dense foods, but there are a few standouts within each.

  • Vegetables (Asparagus, bell peppers, broccoli, leafy greens, potatoes, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, yams)
  • Fruits (Avocados, berries, mango, pomegranates)
  • Lean proteins (Salmon, liver, eggs, beef, pork = pretty much all the protein meats)
  • Nuts and seeds (Quinoa)
  • Legumes

Eating nutrient-dense foods is important so that we can ensure that we are maximizing the amount of -nutrition we get from the foods that we eat. Arizona agriculture produces lots of these nutrient-dense foods! Look for locally grown products next time you’re out grocery shopping!

For more health-related articles, or for more information on where and how to find locally produced foods, check out the Fill Your Plate website!

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