The dangers of calorie-free sweeteners

The cracking sound of diet soda cans opening has become common during dance breaks at the studio. Calorie-free sports drinks have taken the place of water bottles, and lunch boxes are filled with low-calorie yogurt, Jell-O and juice. Blue, pink and yellow packets of sweeteners have become a staple.

Artificial sweeteners make dancers feel like they can have it all—a shortcut to satisfying cravings and maintaining energy without guilt. But these products are shrouded in controversy. Medical professionals are raising questions pointing to weight gain, dehydration and nutrient deficiency. What is most confusing about these products is that determining their safety isn’t exactly black and white. Health professionals are wary of the risks associated with these often chemically created products, yet they carry the stamp of approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Allison Wagner, a registered dietician who works with the Cincinnati Ballet, finds some fake sugars more alarming than others because of what they’re made from and how the body processes them. For instance, aspartame, commonly found in diet soda, is created by chemically combining two acids. “The body breaks aspartame down into formaldehyde. Do you really want that in your body?” asks Wagner. (See “Sugar Substitute Breakdown” on this page.)

But the greatest and clearest danger of low-cal or calorie-free sugar substitutes is the effect they have on dancers’ nutrition practices. The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, has examined data suggesting artificial sweeteners may increase sugar cravings and result in poor food choices. This can cause weight gain, since it’s common for dieters to overeat once they’re exposed to the foods they have been limiting. And by not adding real sugar into coffee or tea, they may assume that they have been saving large quantities of calories, though skipping it saves next to nothing. A sugar packet holds just 15.

Leslie Bonci, a sports dietetics specialist for Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and the Pittsburgh Steelers, says that dancers get into trouble when caffeinated, sugar-free drinks and snacks start to replace high-energy foods. Worse is when they take the place of water, promoting dehydration, since these soft drinks often cause dancers to drink less of the replenishing fluids they need in their daily diet. Plus, soda can cause calcium deficiency. “Phosphoric acid in soda leeches calcium from your bones,” says Wagner.

A studio environment should promote healthy habits to help students succeed. “It saddens me when I work with these kids on a regular basis and then find out that they were given soda or candy at a recent dance competition for energy,” says Wagner. She feels strongly that these items should not be found anywhere in a dance environment, including studio vending machines or snack areas, and especially in the place that has the greatest influence on young dancers—the hands of a faculty member. DT

 

Kathleen McGuire is a former dancer. She also writes for Pointe and Dance Magazine.

 

Sugar Substitute Breakdown

Some claim to be natural, but many are chemical creations. You should know what is going into your body.

Saccharin

Found in: Sweet’N Low, TaB soda

Ingredients: Made from a compound of toluene, which can be found in petroleum

Aspartame

Found in: Equal Classic, Diet Coke, Trident gum

Ingredients: Created by chemically combining two amino acids—aspartic acid and phenylalanine

Sucralose

Found in: Splenda, Swiss Miss, low-calorie baked goods

Ingredients: Made through the chemical modification of real sugar

Stevia

Found in: Truvia, SweetLeaf, vitaminwater Zero

Ingredients: The sweetening agent comes from the leaves of the stevia plant—an herb in the chrysanthemum family.

 

Tasty Alternatives

Ditch artificial sugars with the help of these naturally low-calorie alternatives, suggested by Cincinnati Ballet dietician Allison Wagner and Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre dietetic specialist Leslie Bonci.

When craving sweets:

- A frozen banana dipped in dark chocolate

- Baked apples with oatmeal and cinnamon

- Sweet fruits such as apples, bananas, strawberries and pears

For an energy boost:

- 1/4 cup fresh or dried fruit

- yogurt

- 1 ounce almonds or pistachios

Instead of soda:

Fill a glass with seltzer water and infuse it with your favorite fruits: lemon, lime, oranges and strawberries are flavorful. So are mint leaves. Slice and let them sit in the drink for a few minutes. Experiment until you find your favorite combination.

 

Dance Teachers Trending
Roshe (center) teaching at Steps on Broadway in New York City. Photo by Jacob Hiss, courtesy of Roshe

Although Debbie Roshe's class doesn't demand perfect technique or mastering complicated tricks, her intricate musicality is what really challenges students. "Holding weird counts to obscure music is harder," she says of her Fosse-influenced jazz style, "but it's more interesting."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Alternative Balance
Courtesy Alternative Balance

As a dance teacher, you know more than anyone that things can go wrong—students blank on choreography onstage, costumes don't fit and dancers quit the competition team unexpectedly. Why not apply that same mindset to your status as an independent contractor at a studio or as a studio owner?

Insurance is there to give you peace of mind, even when the unexpected happens. (Especially since attorney fees can be expensive, even when you've done nothing wrong as a teacher.) Taking a preemptive approach to your career—insuring yourself—can save you money, time and stress in the long run.

We talked to expert Miriam Ball of Alternative Balance Professional Group about five scenarios in which having insurance would be key.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Brian Guilliaux, courtesy of Coudron

Eric Coudron understands firsthand the hurdles competition dancers face when falling in love with ballet. Now the director of ballet at Prodigy Dance and Performing Arts Centre in Frisco, Texas, Coudron trained as a competition dancer when he was growing up. "It's such a structured form of dance that when they come back to it after all of the other styles they are training in, they don't feel at home at the barre," he says.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Kendra Portier. Photo by Scott Shaw, courtesy of Gibney Dance

As an artist in residence at the University of Maryland in College Park, Kendra Portier is in a unique position. After almost a decade of performing with David Dorfman Dance and three years earning her MFA from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, she's using her two-year gig at UMD (through spring 2020) to "see how teaching in academia really feels," she says. It's also given her the rare opportunity to feel grounded. "I'm going to be here for two years," she says, which offers her the chance to figure out the answers to some hard questions. "What does it mean to not dance for somebody else?" she asks. "What does it mean to take my work more seriously? To realize I really like making work, and figuring out how that can happen in an academic place."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Turn It Up Dance Challenge
Courtesy Turn It Up

With back-to-back classes, early-morning stage calls and remembering to pack countless costume accessories, competition and convention weekends can feel like a whirlwind for even the most seasoned of studios. Take the advice of Turn It Up Dance Challenge master teachers Alex Wong and Maud Arnold and president Melissa Burns on how to make the experience feel meaningful and successful for your dancers:

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Deanna Paolantonio leads a workshop. Photo courtesy of Paolantonio

Deanna Paolantonio had been interested in body positivity long before diabetes ever crossed her mind. As a Zumba and Pilates instructor who had just earned her master's degree in dance studies, she focused her research on the relationship between fitness and body image for women and young girls. Then, at age 25, just as she was accepted into the PhD program at York University in Toronto, she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D).

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by The Studio Director

As a studio owner, you're probably pretty used to juggling. Running a business is demanding, with new questions and challenges pulling your attention in a million different directions each day.

But there's a solution that could be saving you time and money (and sanity!). Studio management systems are easy-to-use software programs designed for the particular needs of studio owners, offering tools like billing, enrollment, inventory and emails, all in one place. The right studio management system can help you handle the day-to-day tasks that bog you down as a business owner, leaving you more time for the most important work—like connecting with students and planning creative curriculums for them. Plus, these systems can keep you from spending extra money on hiring multiple specialists or using multiple platforms to meet your administrative needs.

So how do you make sure you're choosing a studio management system that offers the same quality that your studio does? We talked to The Studio Director—whose studio management system provides a whole host of streamlined features—about the must-haves for any system, and the bonuses that make an excellent product stand out:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Robin Nasatir (center) with Peter Brown and Vicki Gunter. Photo by Christian Peacock

On a sunny Thursday morning in Berkeley, California, Robin Nasatir leads her modern class through a classic seated floor warm-up full of luscious curves and tilts to the soothing grooves of Bobby McFerrin. Though her modern style is rooted in traditional José Limón and Erick Hawkins techniques, the makeup of her class is far from conventional. Her students range in age from 30 all the way to early 80s.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Q: I need advice on proper classroom management for dancers in K–12—I can't get them to focus.

A: Classroom management in a K–12 setting is no different than in a studio. No matter where you teach, I recommend using a positive-reinforcement approach first. As a general rule, what you pay attention to is what you get. When a student acts out, it's generally done in order to gain attention. Rather than giving attention to them for inappropriate behavior, call out other students who are exhibiting the positive behaviors you desire. Name the good actions, and all of your students will quickly learn what it takes to be noticed.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips

For an aspiring professional dancer, an unexpected injury can feel like a death sentence to a career that hasn't even started. The recovery process following an injury can be one of the most grueling and heartbreaking experiences a performer will ever face. In times like these, dance teachers have the power to boost or weaken a dancer's morale.

With that in mind, we've compiled a list of do's and don'ts for talking to a seriously injured dancer.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Q: Last season I had three dancers on my junior team who struggled all year. They've trained with me for years, yet they keep sliding farther behind their classmates. What should I do?

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox