Sweet, sweet poison

Part one

As most American households in the 50s and 60s, ours held more than a minor fascination with the new and growing medium of television. Even commercials were anticipated, watched and discussed ñ but always with a blind, trusting acceptance about the claims being made for the advertised products. DuPont Chemical sponsored a sensational hour of great entertainment. Their advertising slogan, "Better living through chemistry" has since become the brunt of many a bad joke in a country that now struggles with an environment that spins faster and faster out of balance with chemical waste.

I guess one would say I have become a purist. Like the converted smoker that can stand the smell or the idea of the habit. Having once been exposed to a household of dangerous chemicals as a child, and then suffering the consequences of poor health and immunity that goes with it well into adulthood I now read every label of every product I either consume or use in my home or office.

I look at the research I do for these kinds of articles and I wonder why is it we will use a chemical when something natural would do? Again, the purist speaks. Of course the answer still falls back to radio, television and magazine advertising. We still blindly accept what we are being told is good or right for us without question ñ it’s the easy way out.

To date scientists still question the age of our wonderful earth home. Mother Nature’s time (evolution) is not something we can measure. In her own good time and with perfect wisdom she has given us an abundance of plants and other edibles that are a perfect match for our chemical makeup yet daily we choose foods that are laden with unnatural chemical additives and substitutes.

With recent trends towards obesity in this country it is understandable that Americans would hope to find the perfect product that would allow them to continue to consume sweets without the down side of all the calories. What I see in my practice and what I read as new research comes out only continues to affirm there may be a net zero calorie gain but there’s a price to pay when one consumes artificial sweeteners on a regular basis. In fact I will advise non-diabetic clients to switch from diet sodas to regular soda in moderation ñ that would be one to three servings weekly.

The consumption of processed white sugar is not bad in and of itself; it’s the amount. Studies show the average American will consume 25 pounds of white sugar in a year. No wonder as a nation we are overweight and diabetic.

The grocery shelves are lined with products that contain artificial sweeteners. I would encourage everyone to read labels carefully when the product is touted as low carb or net zero carbs.

Please rejoin me next week for an honest look and some of the latest research on the safety of artificial sweeteners.

Till next time, Rebecca

Part two

Last week I began to explore the concepts behind the popularity of artificial sweeteners. This week I will discuss the various artificial sweeteners and some natural substitutes that will work well even if you are diabetic.

Saccharin one of the first popular artificial sweeteners has been around for more than thirty years. Despite early warnings about causing bladder cancer in lab animals the warning was lifted in 2001 by the FDA stating that it no longer is connected to cancer in human beings. Common reactions to the use of Saccharin include skin rashes and photosensitivity. Other reactions included wheezing, nausea and headache. Many believe that Saccharin was singled out for bad publicity at the time that aspartame came to market.

Aspartame made from phenylalanine (a common amino acid) has a very sweet taste and less of an after taste than Saccharin. The problem with aspartame again comes with over use or by those whose health is not in the best of balance. Headache is the most common adverse side effect attributed to aspartame with up to 11 percent of patients with chronic migraine reporting headaches were triggered by its use. In anecdotal reports aspartame has been linked to various neuropsychiatric disorders, panic attacks, mood changes, joint pain, dizziness and increased symptoms of PMS.

Sucralose marketed under the name Splenda touts that it "tastes like sugar because it is made from sugar." Most agree it is the best tasting artificial sweetener, but none the less it is an artificial sweetener. There have been far fewer studies of Splenda on humans than any other artificial sweetener causing a heated debate as to its long term safety. Opponents claim the three chlorinated atoms added to its chemical make up is achieved in the same fashion that chlorinated atoms are added to make pesticides. Whole Foods the nation’s leading whole foods organic grocer lists the following- safety, concept of minimally processed and ideological compatibility as reasons why they will not be offering Splenda to their customers.

There are reasonable alternatives to the artificial sweetener craze including stevia obtained from the Stevia tree in Paraguay. It is about 300 times as sweet as sugar, but has no calories. It is very nutritious containing vitamin C, magnesium and potassium. Not used for baking.

For baking date sugar is a good alternative to conventional sugar. It isn’t highly processed and can be used cup for cup as a replacement for white sugar. Xylitol or birch is also good for baking. Both date sugar and xylitol are suitable for diabetics.

Another choice is Agave nectar, a fruit sugar, which absorbs more slowly into the bloodstream and is suitable for diabetics. It has a taste similar to honey.

Honey and brown rice syrup are good natural choices and are minimally processed. They will not work for the diabetic.

You won’t find your diet drink sweetened any time soon with any of the above alternatives, but that doesn’t mean you can’t choose drinks or other products that don’t contain powerhouse chemicals that may as yet be unproven or unsafe. Till next time, Rebecca

Till next time, Rebecca