Artificial Sweeteners: a not so Sweet deal

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Artificial Sweeteners: A not so Sweet deal
To tell the story of artificial sweeteners we have to go all the way back to1879 at John Hopkins University. There, two chemists were diligently working at making new chemical dyes from tar derivatives. When one of there concoctions boiled over and spilled on to one of our scientist hands. At his next meal (after no hand washings) he noticed how sweet his fingers tasted. And low and behold Saccharin our first artificial sweetener was born. Since then many more have sprung up. Although they carry the FDA’s seal of approval many think it should get booted out of the food chain. So for today let’s taste the bitter aftertaste of these sweeteners.

Firstly, to avoid confusion, lets go over why there are so many flavored sweeteners out there. It’s because different chemicals behave differently. Like Splenda can withstand heat so it’s used in baking goods. And sugar alcohols do not affect blood sugar so it’s the sugar substitute marketed to diabetics. You can also find sweeteners in sweet products that shouldn’t use sugar like most toothpaste and even some conventional vitamins. Aspartame is also much cheaper than sugar so it also has been adder to non-diet products all in the name of economics.

So how does something that has no or little calories give me such sweet ice cream and soda? Two ways, first it’s much sweeter so only a tiny drop is needed. Like Saccharin, which packs a punch that’s 300 times sweeter than sugar. The other slight of hand here is that the body does not recognize it as food (Maybe we should take that as a clue). So it just sends it out the other end.

As American we are not getting any smaller so isn’t a little diet chemicals better than one more notch up on belts? Eating foods with no calories should translate into a smaller you, right? Well not according to a recent Purdue study. They found that by eating a bunch of artificially sweet food the body looses it’s ability to ‘keep track’ of calories. So the natural link between sweetness and calories is lost and our bodies miscalculate when we eat real sugar. And we end up eating more.

So where is the health controversy here? And is the FDA sleeping on the job. Well, each sweetener has it’s own story to tell but we’ll go over Saccharin today. It has one of the seediest past. In 1977 the FDA tried but failed to ban it due to animal studies, which showed its link to cancer. It didn’t get pulled from the shelves but foods with the chemical did carry a warning label until the 1990’s. In 2000 congress pulled it as a cancer causing substance and it now called safe by the FDA.

There are also many groups that link this sticky sweet stuff to everything from headaches to Alzheimer’s disease. What is clear is at some level you have to know this stuff is a trick and your body doesn’t like being fooled. And at the end of the day the laugh comes at the high price of your health. Next time your loving what you eat, ask is this food nurturing and loving you back.

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