In the previous blog, we talked about sugar addiction and how too much sugar will not only make you fat - it can be detrimental to your health. However, our desire to keep our sweets in our daily diet has given rise to "laboratory made" artificial sweeteners. We discuss some of the more popular ones here.
The first artificial sweetener saccharin, was discovered in 1879 by Constantin Fahlberg while working on coal-tar derivatives. He noticed a "substance" on his hands and arms and decided to taste it and he found the substance to be sweet. A move to ban it in 1911 failed and it was in widespread use in World War I and II when sugar was being rationed. In the mid 70's, a study was released indicating saccharin might contribute to cancer in rats. The FDA tried to ban saccharin but failed but as a compromise, products containing saccharin was required to carry warning labels.
In the early 50's cyclamate entered the market as an alternative to saccharin. Cyclamate was discovered by Michael Sveda while working on an anti-fever medication. Saccharin is 300 times sweeter than sugar and has zero calories (empty food), but has an unpleasant aftertaste. Cyclamate offered a "more natural" taste and it too became very popular until the late 60's after studies came out linking cyclamate to cancer. It was eventually banned from all food products. Although still banned by the FDA today, it remains legal to use in many other countries. Cyclamate can be found in the Canadian version of Sweet'n Low.
Aspartame entered the market in 1981 as an alternative to saccharin. Aspartame was discovered by accident when a scientist from GD Searle company working on an anti-ulcer drug licked his finger contaminated with aspartame and found it to be sweet. Aspartame used saccharin's bad image to become the leading sweetener in diet softdrinks. Aspartame has been tested more than 200 times and it has shown to be safe but most of those tests were funded or conducted by manufacturers of aspartame (Nutrasweet, Equal, etc). In addition, it has had the most complaints of any food additive available for public consumption. It's been linked to MS, lupus, fibromyalgia, and other nervous central disorders.
Aspartame when ingested breaks down into aspartic acid (chemical found in the brain), phenylalanine (amino acid) and methanol (alcohol) which converts to formaldehyde. High levels of formaldehyde can cause brain damage and blindness. A recent independent study submitted to the FDA shows that aspartame ingestion causes formaldehyde accumulation in the body. The FDA knows this but argue that such a small amount poses no health risks. The question then becomes - how much is too much? Any amount of formaldehyde in our opinion is too much - you can read about the dangers of formaldehyde exposure from the national cancer institute.
Splenda is the best selling artificial sweetener in the United States. Splenda much like all the artificial sweeteners, was discovered by accident. In this case, the 2 scientists who discovered it was trying to make pesticide. A miscommunication between the 2 scientists led to one of them "tasting" the substance they created as supposed to "testing" it. They found it to be sweet, 600 times sweeter than sugar in fact, and worked with a British sugar company to form what we now know as sucralose. In the United States, Splenda is distributed by McNeil Nutrionals.
Splenda is made up of dextrose, maltodextrin and sucralose with sucralose being the main ingredient. To make sucralose, sucrose (sugar) goes through a chemical process that selectively substitutes three atoms of chlorine for three hydrogen-oxygen groups on the sucrose molecule. Basically, chemists force chlorine into an unnatural chemical bond with a sugar molecule, resulting in a sweeter product. Now chlorine can be both harmless and deadly. For example, chlorine in combination with sodium forms an "ionic bond" yielding table salt which is harmless to humans. However, when used with carbon, the chlorine atom in sucralose forms a "covalent bond" yielding an "organochlorine" (chlorocarbon) which is deadly to humans but perfectly suitable for pesticides - which is what the original intent was when they accidentally discovered sucralose! A huge amount of artificial chemicals must be added to keep sucralose from digesting in our bodies. These added substances also prevent (hopefully) the dangerous chlorine molecules from detaching from the sugar molecule inside the digestive system.
When Splenda is ingested, around fifteen percent (15%) of sucralose is absorbed by the body. The problem is no one knows (out of that 15%) what amount of chlorine stays in the body and what percentage gets flushed out. It is NOT unlikely that the healthier your gastrointestinal system is, the more you’ll absorb the chlorinated molecules of Splenda - which will be bad news for you.
So is it safe to use artificial sugar substitutes?
Sadly, no one really knows for sure. Although numerous studies have been done, all the tests seems to have inconclusive results. Some of those tests are mired in controversy as most of them were funded by the manufactures who have a vested interest on the product. Conducting these studies are very expensive and there is just not enough independent and unbiased long term study to conclude either way. Both sides have legitimate claims to its safety and hazards.
But one thing is certain: some of the chemicals that comprise artificial sweeteners are known hazards — the degree to which you experience side effects just depends on your individual biochemistry. Manufacturers are banking on the fact that our bodies won’t absorb very much of these compounds at any one time. And many of us don’t. The general concensus seems to be that artificial sweeteners are not harmful when consumed in moderation. But what happens when we are ingesting a combination of artificial sweeteners dozens of times a week through many different “low–sugar” or “sugar–free” products? how about a year? 2 years?
In addition, there has been a notion that since these artificial sweeteners have no calories, they can help you lose weight. Scientists at Purdue University conducted a study about this and what they found was exactly the opposite. Their study suggests that when we eat something sweet our "reward system" gets activated and we get satisfied once we get our fill. However, when we take in artificial sugar substitutes, which are sweet, the same reward system gets activated but we never get satisfied - hence we overeat.
Fact remains that natural table sugar consumed in moderation is probably still the safer way to go than artificial sugar substitutes. However, due to evolution, moderation is easier said than done and we are likely binge on sweets at some point. We can't help it and we are biologically wired to seek sugar and our bodies actually need it. Besides, no one wants to eat unsweetened food, so we are more than likely to use sugar substitutes to mitigate the risks of eating too much sugar. More so if you are diabetic.
While the experts continue to debate over the safety or hazard of artificial sugar substitutes, why take the chance for you and your family when there are natural alternatives available? One of those allternatives is coconut sugar. It is an excellent sugar substitute - it has a low glycemic index, tastes great and more importantly, all natural! It's nature's own way of letting us have our cake and eat it too!
If you are ready to make the switch, you can buy coconut sugar online.
- Sugar Substitute and the potential Dangers of Splenda - http://www.womentowomen.com/healthyweight/splenda.aspx
- Artificial Sweetener explodes internally - http://www.thepeopleschemist.com/view_learning.php?learning_id=14
- Potential Dangers of Splenda - http://www.splendaexposed.com/
- Why is Splenda potentially harmful? - http://www.janethull.com/askdrhull/article.php?id=046
- Saccharin wiki - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saccharin
- Cyclamate wiki - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyclamate
- Aspartame wiki - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aspartame
- Sucralose wiki - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sucralose