Artificial sweeteners, for example Splenda, Equal, Sugar Twin, or any of the house named brands of the same thing, are used by millions of people every day, with the hope of helping to lose weight and prevent dental decay (Wikipedia, Nov. 28, 2014). These products have been on the market now, some of them for over 40 years, or even longer if you want to look at saccharin or cyclamates. Controversy has, and still does, swirl around their safety and effectiveness. They are in many, many food products, making it nearly impossible to avoid them. Yogurt, ice cream, sodas, fruit drinks, juices, puddings, gelatin products, cookies, snacks, candies, the list goes on and on, and people just keep consuming more and more of them. Exactly as their manufacturers had hoped we would. We’ve been consistently warned about the ill effects of too much weight, and the so-called obesity and diabetes epidemics now for 30 years or more. Yet, people gain more and more, and more and more of us are diabetic, exemplified now in young children and teens. We were told these “safe” products would help us win the Battle of the Bulge, cut down on the carbs we consume, and prevent tooth decay. Evidence now points to the obesity epidemic starting about the time artificial sweeteners became mainstream. I would be remiss if I also didn’t mention High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) in soft drinks, ketchup, etc. So, have they lived up to their promises?
I would have to answer with a resounding NO. We’re all fatter than ever (at least a lot of us are), and diabetes is the disease of the decade. I can’t speak to tooth decay, perhaps that’s one area we’ve gained in. If it is, is it worth the risks? Save your teeth and become diabetic or obese? There have been arguments on both sides of the fence, pro and con. Why, if they’re so wonderful, aren’t we all slim and trim, with no hint of diabetes anywhere? What about the side effects, such as digestive distress with Splenda, and addiction to Equal? Even my doctor, a GP, got addicted to it, drinking more and more diet soda (he ended with drinking 10-12 cans a day!). I got addicted to it many years ago by putting more and more of those innocent little blue packets into my tea. After a while, I just couldn’t get enough tea with that stuff in it. After my GP warned of his experience, I did an experiment. I cut them all out, the cravings for sugar or aspartame were awesome, but after 3 days it all went away. The 2nd part of my experiment was to see if I could re-create the addiction. Sure enough, after less than a week of putting the aspartame back in, the cravings all came back. Cut them out again, it all went away. The lesson learned here, after using myself as a guinea pig, was yes, it’s absolutely addicting. Also, have you ever wondered why they say don’t bake with it? The answer is that at high oven temperatures, or lower temperatures but over a longer period of time, aspartame breaks down into formaldehyde. That sounds really yummy.
Further evidence to back up the damming nature of these products comes from a recently released 2014 study on artificial sweeteners in Israel (Suez, Jotham, et al, 2014). Researchers in Chicago concurred (Wikipedia, 2014). Many of you perhaps have heard about this already, but if you haven’t, here’s the gist: Those who consume artificial sweeteners have different fauna and flora in their gut than those who don’t consume them. Also, those with the altered gut organisms, develop diabetes. You heard correct, it was their conclusion that these products actually cause diabetes, just by changing the gut fauna and flora. The irony here is, that sugar was believed to cause diabetes. It does not, but does aggravate it once you have it. Their 381 test subjects, all volunteers, were fed a diet of this stuff, becoming diabetic, but when their gut bacteria was all killed off with use of an anti-biotic, they went back to their non-diabetic selves. It also seems to be a cause of obesity as well. This opens up a number of intriguing possibilities, but also an awful lot of troubling questions. What are these things actually doing to us? Did the manufacturers know this would be the result? Now that the evidence is pointing in the direction that it is, will they ban these products? Where does the FDA among others go from here? If anywhere? My fear is that it will all be swept under the carpet and ignored. After all, there is big money to be made, and it’s almost always at the public’s expense. It isn’t the first time our health has been held hostage for profit. It will be most interesting to see what the European Union (EU) does with this information, as they are usually quicker to respond to these issues than the US or Canada.
We do have a choice (amazingly): We don’t have to eat this stuff. It would appear that the terribly maligned sugar (sucrose) may still be the safest. And we don’t have to use tons of it either: I regularly cut all sugar called for in a baking recipe in half, usually with no ill effects to the finished product. Another trick is to substitute brown sugar, again a reduced quantity, for the white sugar. Your foods will have more flavor. You do need to use your common sense however, so what I recommend is to cut some of the sugar the first time you make your recipe, if it works, and you still want less sugar, cut it some more the next time you make it. This is a system of trial and error, but we’ll all be healthier in the end.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sugar_substitute Retrieved November 28, 2014.
Jotham Suez, Tal Korem, David Zeevi, Gili Zilberman-Schapira with thirteen others, all from one of nine Israeli research institutes (2014). "Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota". Nature (preview) 514 (7521): 181–6. doi:10.1038/nature13793. PMID