Artificial Sweeteners are still Fake

So, I’ve never been one for Diet drinks very much, but an interesting story came along today.  The Today Show featured a story implicating artificial sweeteners’ contribution to increased cardiovascular disease and stroke.  Here’s the story/video:
Diet Drinks Beware

Here’s the trick: even drinks that aren’t diet coke/soda/pop can still be loaded with artificial sweeteners.  I had been enjoying SoBe Lifewater Black & Blue Berry; it boasts having antioxidants, B-complex vitamins, and being “naturally sweetened.”  I drank one every day with my lunch.  After the Today Show article, I was interested to see what sweetened this drink…and it’s stevia, or the brand name, Purevia.  I have heard a lot about Stevia, but I didn’t know what it was.  Apparently, it comes from the leaves of a plant called by natives “Sweet Grass.”  The process is that they dry & crumble the leaves, then they soak it in water (much like tea) to make a tincture.  Then, using methanol or ethanol (both are alcohols), evaporate the water off & the precipitant crystallizes.  The approval of stevia was apparently controversial in the US, for unclear reasons.  It was only approved in 2008.  The have been using it in Japan, I think, in large quantities for over 30 years, and has been touted as “safe.”  The controversy arises, in part, because there exists a small study which shows that Stevia may have mutagenic properties, but it has not been confirmed, nor denied, with bigger & better designed studies; therefore, those results are inconclusive.  The implication is, of course, that the mutagenic properties could potentially predispose to cancer.  Again, this is all based on one small & imperfect study; conclusions cannot be drawn from it. 

There are some potential benefits from Stevia, as well, although these studies are also imperfect.  Basically, more research is needed all the way around.  The potential benefits include enhancing glucose tolerance for those with Diabetes,  it has been suggested through a couple of sources that it is beneficial for hypertension, and there is some banter about benefits for osteoporosis.  In some countries, it is even sold as a nutritional supplement for Diabetes management.  Bottom line: the data isn’t all there, neither for it, nor against it. 

At first, I thought Splenda was going to be a similar story.  It advertises that “it’s made from sugar, so it tastes like sugar,” implying natural origins.  Actually, it’s a chemical carbohydrate compound created in a lab.  It also contains sucralose, the agent that gives it the bulk to form the “grains” of Splenda, if you will.  Sucralose, by the way, is also available as a nutritional supplement as a stool bulking agent.  Perhaps this side effect wouldn’t be noticeable in the morning cup of Joe, but it might be in, say, a cheesecake made with Splenda.  In large daily doses, it appears to have a similar effect on the colon as taking a daily laxative.  Large doses aren’t a great idea, but Splenda is otherwise ok as long as you don’t mind that it’s not a natural sweetener.

Aspartame was linked in the ’80’s to brain cancer, although this has been revoked since.  It is a chemical compound which breaks down in part into phenylalanine, which should be avoided with PKU, phenyketonuria.  Even though they have lifted the ban, many people prefer Splenda to Aspartame because of it’s bad reputation.

Saccharine, even though it has no sugar in it, still stimulates insulin release similar to sugar.  In my opinion, this is not good, since our goal is to keep our blood sugars stable throughout the day.  It is also a lab-formed chemical.  It was associated with bladder cancer in rodents in the ’70’s and was banned, the thought being that it would cause bladder cancer in humans.  In 2000, that study was revoked, since rodents apparently have different pH and urinary tract nuances which predispose them to bladder cancer in the settting of saccharine.  The ban was lifted.

Of all of the above artificial sweeteners, only Stevia has potential benefits.  Also of note, Stevia is the only naturally occurring sweetener of the above.  If you twisted my arm, I’d probably choose it of the above.  But given this most recent story about artificial sweeteners being linked to heart problems and strokes, I’ll probably just stay away from them altogether.  I realize that the bans have been lifted & the studies revoked, but I feel that in light of this latest study, more research is needed.  I’m sticking with honey, molasses, agave syrup, and natural brown sugar in favor of the fake sweeteners.  Artificial sweeteners leave a bad taste in my mouth, literally and figuratively.  No more SoBe Lifewaters!

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