One quick update: Two weeks ago I was interviewed by the great folks at A Sweet Life.
Their site is a great resource, especially for folks with diabetes,
but really for everyone (I had the most incredible appetizer on their
recommendation this past Sunday). Here’s a link to the interview.
Ok, on to the issue of the week. Once you realize how harmful sugar is (by sugar, of course, I mean sucrose and high fructose corn syrup or HFCS,
primarily, but also the whole cast of characters out there like cane
sugar, beet sugar, dextrose, corn syrup solids, and others that
masquerade as sugar), you inevitably want to understand the impact of
substituting non-sugar sweeteners for sugar, should you still desire a
sweet taste. If you’re not yet convinced sugar is a toxin, it’s
probably worth checking out my post, Sugar 101,
and the accompanying lecture by Dr. Lustig. Sugar is, tragically, more
prevalent in our diets today than we realize – we eat about 400% more
sugar today on average than we did in 1970. And it’s not just in the
“obvious” places, like candy bars and soda drinks, where sugar is
showing up, either. It’s in salad dressings, pasta sauces, cereals,
“healthy” sports bars and drinks, low-fat “healthy” yogurt, and most
lunch meats, just to name a few places sugar sneaks into our diet.
I know some people have an aversion to aspartame (i.e., Nutrasweet, Equal)
over sucrose (i.e., table sugar, sucrose, or HFCS). In other words
they think Coke is “better” that Diet Coke because it uses “real” sugar
instead of “fake” sugar. If you find yourself in this camp, but you’re
now realizing “real” sugar is a toxin, this poses a bit of a dilemma.
There are two things I think about when considering the switch from sugar to non-sugar substitute sweeteners:
- Are non-sugar sweeteners more or less chronically harmful than sugar?
- What are the immediate metabolic impacts of consuming these products, relative to sugar?
Let’s address these questions in order.
Question 1: Are artificial (i.e., non-sugar or substitute) sweeteners more chronically harmful than sucrose/HFCS?
There’s no shortage of fear out there that consuming aspartame,
sucralose, or other non-sugar substitute sweeteners will lead to chronic
diseases like cancer or heart disease. However, there is no credible
evidence of this in humans. One can actually make a convincing case
that no substance ingested by humans has been more thoroughly tested by
the FDA than aspartame. The former Commissioner of the FDA noted, “Few
compounds have withstood such detailed testing and repeated, close
scrutiny, and the process through which aspartame has gone should
provide the public with additional confidence of its safety.” While it might
be the case that you can harm a rat with aspartame, it seems you need
to force the rat to eat its bodyweight in aspartame every day for a year
to do so (I’m being a bit facetious, but you get the idea). In fact,
even water would be harmful to us in the quantities required to render
aspartame harmful if we extrapolate from rat studies.
Since its invention/discovery in 1965, there is not a single
well-documented case of chronic harm to a human from ingesting
aspartame, and prior to its approval for human consumption in the early
1980’s it had been studied in approximately 100 independent studies. A
possible exception to this might be in the rare person with phenylketonuria (PKU). Such folks lack an enzyme required to metabolize a breakdown product of aspartame.
So, aside from the rare person with PKU, does this mean aspartame is
100% harmless? Not necessarily. 100% harmless is a pretty high bar.
“Harmless,” using air travel as an analogy, is not getting on an
airplane at all. Consuming aspartame is more like getting on a
commercial airplane – statistically speaking you are very safe, but
something bad could happen that we’re not aware of yet. Consuming sugar
in the amounts we typically do, by contrast, is downright harmful.
“Harmful,” by the air travel analogy, is not only getting on an airplane
but skydiving with a poorly-packed parachute – you might make it, but
you’re really taking a chance.
As far as other non-sugar substitute sweeteners go (e.g., sucralose,
saccharin, stevia, xylitol), the same logic holds except that we don’t
have quite as much data on them because most of them (see figure, below,
for the most popular ones) haven’t been on our tables quite as long as
aspartame. However, to date there are no data linking these substances
to the diseases people tend to erroneously link them to in casual
Question 2: What are the metabolic differences between sugar and non-sugar substitute sweeteners?
REST AT SITE
Moderator note 2023-04-21: basenote date revised as a side effect of getting this "UnKnown" TYP-vintage thread cross-assigned to a suitable Inner Circle forum.