Tuesday, September 29, 2009

When is a sweetener artificial?

Artificial sweeteners have been around a very long time. The first sweetener that wasn’t related to sugar or honey was created in 1878 (131 years ago). It was called saccharin. It became a sugar substitute during the sugar restrictions of WWI and WWII, later to become part of the new “dieters” drinks of the 1960s.

Sweeteners have been associated with cancer since massive amounts of saccharin given to rats caused bladder cancer. How much saccharin? About 3000 times the amount any human was likely to consume. This research has now been dismissed and in May 2000 saccharin was removed from the list of potential carcinogens.

The small, sweet protein

The most common sweetener, aspartame, was discovered in 1965 and was approved for use in food in 1983 in the US and 1985 in Australia. You will find aspartame in low joule or low sugar products that are kept cool, such as soft drinks and yogurt.

Aspartame is not really artificial because it is made of two amino acids (phenylalanine and aspartic acid), both of which are found in any food with protein, from bread to beef. And that is why it is only found in cool foods – once you heat it, being a small protein it will lose its original structure and no longer be sweet.

It is the most researched and evaluated food additive in the world, yet many have been active against its use. A lot of fuss over a small protein, or more accurately, a peptide.

No cancer risk found

The cancer-sweetener association is still prevalent. Recently, Italian researchers took a look at sweeteners and the risk of getting cancer of the stomach, pancreas and endometrium. Over 1000 cancer patients were matched with over 2000 controls to see if there was a link between sweetener use and cancer risk. The researchers concluded: “….. the present study adds further evidence on the absence of an association between low-calorie sweetener (including aspartame) consumption and the risk of common neoplasms ..…”

This is not the first paper to absolve sweeteners of cancer blame. Many other cancers have been assessed and were not associated with sweeteners. In 2006 a US study of 285,000 men and 189,000 women found no link between aspartame and leukaemia, lymphomas or brain tumours.

What does it all mean?

The evidence won’t quell the fear mongers. Occasional consumption of aspartame is very unlikely to be a health concern. Even the high end users consume well below the Acceptable Daily Intake for aspartame determined internationally by food scientists. No, food scientists don’t conspire to harm the public. They, in fact, set very high safety margins for sweeteners and other additives such that even the crazy folk who drink two litres of diet soft drink a day won’t be harmed by a sweetener (however, their tooth enamel is likely to be eroded by the acid in soft drinks).


Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention 2009; 18 (8): 2235-2238

Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention 2006; 15: 1654-1659


Unknown said...

Hi Glenn
Interesting article, thank you.
I have heard quite a bit of discussion recently relating to artificial sweeteners causing an increase in weight gain. Not to say that the product with the artificial sweetener has many calories as that is not the case but something related to the body not recognizing artificially sweet from naturally sweet. HELP? You may have already discussed this and I will go and check the archives.

PS I am looking forward to next post as I am menopausal and I can't take HRT. I don't like that word 'menopausal'... makes me feel ancient, like I should trot out the cardigans and sensible shoes.

Gritsy said...

You may want to look at stevia, a natural sweetener. Stevia is used to sweeten Zevia natural diet soda. Zevia soda has 0 calories and nothing artificial.

PS If any bloggers would like to review Zevia, please email me at margaret at zevia dot com for samples.

yodasmith said...

There are actually 3 toxic components aspartame. It is 40% aspartic acid, 50% phenylalanine, and 10% mthyl alcohol, which was conventiently left out of the article. Methyl alcohol, or methanol is a nervous system toxin. Yes, it is true that these elements do exist naturally in our foods, but not in combination. This is a combo that is toxic and the body simply is not equipped to handle it. Originally, it was used as a drug for peptic ulcers until a manufacturer discovered it had a sweet taste, and lobbying began to get it approved as a sweetener. At first it was held off the market because it carries many heavy metals into the body, including arsenic, which kills the metabolism, making it so you cannot lose weight. It can also increase the desire or fatty foods and sweets. The truth is the dangers and symptoms of "aspartame disease" are well-documented, and many doctors agree.

I agree that stevia is great alternative. I haven't tried the Zevia, I'm not a big soda drinker anyway. My brand of choice is SweetLeaf. It is the only truly 100% natural stevia brand because it is the only one wherein only pure water touches the leaves during extraction, while other brands use chemicals during the process, which can result in that funky aftertaste. Some brands are now trying to mask that taste by puting other things in it, but SweetLeaf doesn't need to! Sweetleaf is also the only stevia brand or sweetener with 0 calories, 0 carbs, and a 0 glycemic index! Stevia reduces the desire for sweets, and has great health benefits! Seriously, whatever brand you decide, if you want to lose weight, you should consider stevia! I use Sweetleaf Stevia Plus (with added fiber)in my fruit smoothies, and it is sooo good! You can check them out at sweetleaf.com.

joy said...

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Unknown said...

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