Meet our writers

 







Health April 2018

Suspicious Sweets

By Carrie Luger Slayback

“Routine [users of] artificial sweeteners may start to find less intensely sweet foods, such as fruit, unappealing and unsweet foods, such as vegetables, downright unpalatable. In other words, use of artificial sweeteners can make you shun healthy, filling, and highly nutritious foods while consuming more artificially flavored foods with less nutritional value.”

Remember Diet Rite soda? In 1960, a big, iced glassful of it motivated me to begin my high school homework. Today I was shocked to read that Diet Rite, sweetened by aspartame, was banned in 1969 for cyclamate, a carcinogen.

Longing to look like Twiggy, I cut calories by sipping the sugarless “healthy” drink, never suspecting a carcinogenic cocktail.

Are Americans swallowing improved sugar substitutes, marketed as “healthy or “diet,” 60 years after Diet Rite?

First, know that six types of artificial sugars exist, generating revenues in hundreds of millions of dollars yearly. Besides soda — sugar-free gum, jelly, baked goods, candy, fruit juice, ice cream, yogurt and “health” bars all add to total daily consumption. The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s patient education site says “the average American consumes about 125 pounds of sweeteners per year.” Yikes!

Sweeteners enter the market FDA-approved, however studies recommend moderate amounts. Does anybody reading this think a yearly 125 pounds is “moderate?” Most disquieting, consumers believe labels promoting “health,” “diet” and “sugar free,” as they drop packages into shopping carts for themselves, and their children.

Current research regarding non-nutritive sugar substitutes puts doubt into fake sweetener’s health claims.

The Harvard Chan School of Public Health quotes a study following 3,682 people for 7 to 8 years. They found “a 32% higher chance of cardiovascular events for heaviest [sugar substitute] users vs. lightest users…The study showed that those who drank artificially sweetened drinks had a 47% higher increase in BMI than those who did not.”

Why the weight gain? Harvard says, “The human brain responds to sweetness with signals to eat more. By providing a sweet taste without any calories, artificial sweeteners cause us to crave more sweet foods and drinks, which can add up to excess calories.”

And to further address questions regarding FDA approvals, Harvard Health’s Holly Strawbridge agrees with me that studies were done “using far smaller amounts of diet soda than the 24 ounces per day consumed by many people.” Furthermore, “We really don’t know what effect large amounts of these chemicals will have over many years.”

Next, listen to Dr. Robert Lustig, UC San Francisco pediatric endocrinologist and specialist in childhood obesity, who cautions, “We don’t know enough about sugar substitutes to say they are safe.” He echoes the above question of amount, adding “Routine [users of] artificial sweeteners may start to find less intensely sweet foods, such as fruit, unappealing and unsweet foods, such as vegetables, downright unpalatable. In other words, use of artificial sweeteners can make you shun healthy, filling, and highly nutritious foods while consuming more artificially flavored foods with less nutritional value.” During last week’s trip to the fair, my grandchildren pulled off bites of cotton candy, later turning away from the bag of sliced apple my daughter offered.

Lustig cites: “Animal studies suggesting artificial sweeteners may be addictive. Rats exposed to cocaine, then given a choice between intravenous cocaine or oral saccharine, most often chose saccharin.”

Time magazine’s 12/24/14 article, “You Asked: What’s the Healthiest Sweetener,” sums up a lengthy article of current research on sugar and artificial sugars, some of which by asking for more data.

Thank you, Time, but I’ve read enough. Weight gain, cardiac events, and addictive qualities coupled with understanding that testing for a generation of heavy use has never been done, convinces me. I won’t touch the stuff and I’ll tell my offspring to cut it out of the cupboard, and out of my grandchildren’s growing bodies.

 

Carrie Luger Slayback an award-winning teacher and champion marathoner, shares personal experience and careful research. Contact her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Meet Carrie