Many of us prefer to choose a low calorie option instead of a high calorie option. Zero calories in a diet soda is better than 200 calories, right? It depends on your dietary needs and your faith – blind or not — in the spin set on scientific research. If your diet soda is sweetened with Aspartame you may be slowly killing yourself by swallows:

Aspartame, is the name for an artificial, non-carbohydrate sweetener.

It is marketed under a number of trademark names, such as [NutraSweet], Equal, and Canderel, and is an ingredient of approximately 6,000 consumer foods and beverages sold worldwide.

It is commonly used in diet soft drinks, and is often provided as a table condiment. It is also used in some brands of chewable vitamin supplements.

In the European Union, it is also known under the E number (additive code) E951. Aspartame is also one of the sugar substitutes used by diabetics. Nonetheless, aspartame has been a subject of a vigorous public controversy.


Aspartame, it seems, can damage the body while cutting your caloric intake:

Aspartame is very well documented as an excitotoxin, meaning that it overexcites nerve cells, causing permanent damage.

According to research by Dr. Russell Blaylock, aspartame causes brain lesions, migraine headaches, reproductive disorders, Alzheimer’s disease, blindness, mental confusion and many other nervous system disorders.

Part of this is probably due to the fact that aspartame, when consumed, breaks down into several chemicals, and one of those chemicals is formaldehyde. Formaldehyde, of course, is a potent nerve toxin and has no place in the human body, yet people are effectively “drinking formaldehyde” every time they pick up a diet soft drink or “diet” food item sweetened with aspartame.

On December 15, 2005, The Guardian reported:

In 1977 Donald Rumsfeld, now George Bush’s defence secretary but then chief executive of the pharmaceutical company GD Searle, publicly stated that he would “call in his markers” to win a licence for aspartame, the sweetener that had been discovered by chance in Searle’s laboratories, according to Roger Williams in the Commons yesterday.

On the day of his inauguration as president in 1981, with Mr Rumsfeld on his transition team, Ronald Reagan personally wrote an executive order suspending the head of the US Food and Drug Administration’s powers on aspartame, Mr Williams further claimed.

One month later Mr Reagan appointed a new head of the regulatory authority, Arthur Hayes, who granted a licence for the sweetener.

“The history of aspartame’s approval is littered with examples showing that if key decision makers found against aspartame’s safety, they were discredited or replaced by industry sympathisers, who were recompensed with lucrative jobs.”

On February 12, 2006, the New York Times published:

Aspartame is sold under the brand names Nutra-Sweet and Equal and is found in such popular products as Diet Coke, Diet Pepsi, Diet Snapple and Sugar Free Kool-Aid. Hundreds of millions of people consume it worldwide. And Dr. Soffritti’s study concluded that aspartame may cause the dreaded “c” word: cancer.

Dr. Soffritti said he was inspired to look at aspartame because of what he calls “inadequacies” in the cancer studies done by Searle in the 1970’s.

He said that those studies did not involve large-enough numbers of rats and did not allow them to live long enough to develop cancer.

The Ramazzini study was conducted with 1,900 rats, as opposed to the 280 to 688 rodents used in Searle’s studies, and the rats lived for up to three years instead of being sacrificed after two, which is the human equivalent of age 53. “Cancer is a disease of the third part of life,” Dr. Soffritti said. “You have 75 percent of cancer diagnoses for people who are 55 years old or older.

So if you truncate the experiments at 110 weeks and the rats are supposed to survive until 150 to 160 weeks, it means you avoid the development of cancer at the time when cancer would be starting to arise.”

Others have also challenged Searle’s studies. Documents from the F.D.A. and records from the Federal Register indicate that, in the years before the F.D.A. approved aspartame, the agency had serious concerns about the accuracy and credibility of Searle’s aspartame studies.

From 1977 to 1985 — during much of the approval process — Searle was headed by Donald H. Rumsfeld, who is now the secretary of defense; Searle was acquired by Monsanto in 1985. Monsanto later spun Searle’s assets out into two companies: Merisant, which owns the brands Equal and Canderel, and NutraSweet, which is owned by J. W. Childs Equity Partners, an investment firm in Boston.

Defenders of aspartame often point out that phenyalanine is naturally present in many protein-intensive foods.

But Dr. William M. Pardridge, a professor of endocrinology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, says that when it comes from food, phenyalanine is absorbed into the brain more slowly.

“If your blood phenyalanine level was increased five times, in my view there would be a safety concern,” Dr. Pardridge said. “The question is whether aspartame use could ever increase levels that much, and the answer is yes. We’ve known that for 20 years.”

Nine days later, the New York Times editorial page held this:

The new alarm was raised by a large study in laboratory rats conducted at the European Ramazzini Foundation in Italy. The study
found a statistically significant increase in lymphomas, leukemias and other cancers in rats that were fed aspartame for a lifetime and compared with rats that were not. Excess cancers were found even in rats fed doses equal to 20 milligrams per kilogram of body weight, well below the 50-milligram level currently deemed acceptable for humans in the United States.

If these results hold up under further scrutiny, the guidelines will need re-evaluation.

The study has definite strengths that add to its credence. It used a much larger number of laboratory rats — 1,900 in all — than any previous study, and it administered a wider range of doses, making it more likely that effects would be seen.

But the study could turn out to be a false alarm.

There was an abnormally low incidence of cancers in a key control group, which could have made the cancer rate in rats fed aspartame look worse than it really was. And there was only a very weak relationship between the doses of aspartame administered and the cancer rate, which makes it hard to be sure that aspartame was causing the tumors. This study needs to be analyzed by other researchers and possibly followed up by additional animal studies.

On May 13, 2006, NewScientist.com celebrated the safety of Aspartame:

HOW sweet it is to be let off the hook. Six months after reports that the widely used artificial sweetener aspartame caused cancer in rats, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) declared on 5 May that the controversial research was flawed.

The rat study, by the Ramazzini Foundation, not only linked the sweetener to cancer, but claimed that it could be caused by half the World Health Organization’s acceptable daily intake of 40 milligrams per kilogram of body weight (New Scientist, 6 May, p 40).

Because the study was done by a respected cancer institute, several national food safety authorities, including EFSA and the US Food and Drug Administration, were concerned enough to review the findings. “The conclusion was that the apparent links to cancer are an artefact of study design” The committee concluded that the apparent links to cancer were an artefact of the study design, and that the lymphomas and leukaemia were more likely to be caused by lung infections than aspartame. Kidney cancers, which were found in the high dose group, were specific to rats and not relevant to humans.

Is Aspartame harmful or not?

Science and research can be skewed by self-interests and embedded profiteering.

Sometimes it’s better to avoid the controversy and use Splenda instead.

Sucralose is an artificial sweetener known by the trade name Splenda®. In the European Union, it is also known under the E number (additive code) E955. It is 500-600 times as sweet as sucrose, making it roughly twice as sweet as saccharin and four times as sweet as aspartame.

Unless, of course, you are part of The Sugar Association:

Fiction: Products made with Splenda do not need warning labels. Fact: Splenda is found in nearly 3,500 food products and amazingly, not
all of these products list Splenda as an ingredient, and none of them say the product contains chlorine.

Furthermore, none of the regulatory agencies or scientific review bodies that have confirmed the safety of sucralose require any warning information to be placed on the labels of products sweetened with sucralose.

Fiction: Once eaten, Splenda simply passes through the body.

Fact: This is what the manufacturer of Splenda claims, and consumers who realize they are actually eating chlorine may hope it is true, but the FDA determined that as much as 27% of sucralose can be absorbed by the body. This is particularly alarming for a chemical substance containing chlorine. Clearly the makers of Splenda are not being entirely forthcoming about their product’s influence in the body.

Fiction: The chlorine found in Splenda is similar to that found in other foods we eat.

Fact: The manufacturer of Splenda claims that chlorine is naturally present in such foods as lettuce, mushrooms and table salt, but they never directly state that eating Splenda is the same as eating these foods.

Remember, Splenda is not a natural substance, it is an artificial chemical sweetener manufactured by adding three chlorine atoms to a sugar molecule. And again, because there have been no long-term human studies on Splenda to determine the potential health effects on people, no one can say with certainty that the substance is safe to eat.

Other natural sweeteners have problems:

Critics of sucralose often favor natural alternatives, including Xylitol (Birch sugar widely used during World War II), Malitol, Maltitol, Isomalt (popular in some European countries), and the unapproved sweetener Stevia (widely used in Japan), which is sold
on many sites claiming that sucralose is unsafe. In the US, Stevia can only be sold as a dietary supplement, not a sweetener, and it may not be sold at all in the UK.

Maybe I’ll just stick to eating spinach.

22 Comments

  1. Uh, Dave – I think you might want to think twice about the spinich thing. I have not seen it stated but I’m thinking the bacteria involved may be because the farmhands are not using the outhouses (if any) provided and use the great outdoors for their toilet.
    That does it. I’m going on a banana and peanut butter diet.
    Oh wait. Those grow in the ground too…

  2. Hi David,
    I’ve been trying to stick with tea and coffee and avoiding cola products after being addicited to Diet Pepsi for years.
    The health benefits are great — if it’s true what some say about the artificial sweeteners — as well as the cost savings. Plus, if you don’t drop sugar and cream into the brewed beverages, they are perfect diet drinks.
    I save money if I make my own coffee and tea at home or drink the tea and coffee supplied by work.
    Of course, the key to everything is moderation.
    It’s a shame about the spinach problem — I’m one of 10 people in America that enjoys eat raw and cooked spinach. Of course, if the spinach is cooked sufficiently, it’s safe to eat. A pizza oven at 500 degrees F should be hot enough to kill all of the E-coli!
    Anyone want any spinach pizza?

  3. prying1!
    I know, the spinach thing is so disappointing. The doctors say you can’t even wash off the e. coli — it is actually embedded in the leaves. I think this could really kill the spinach industry if the trouble is held to a small nice of the market.
    I guess all food eventually kills you!

  4. Hi Chris —
    Okay! You’re freaking me out with your Avatars! Sneaky you!
    😀
    Love the black and white version!!!
    I’m crazy for Diet soda, too. Lately, though, it has been upsetting my stomach a bit and givine me some acid reflux at night. I know this because I removed Diet soda from my diet for a couple of weeks and all the troubles went away.
    A friend of mine at a poison control center told me the formaldehyde story about Aspartame and how you were slowly “preserving your body” from the inside out. It was freaky.
    I agree coffee and tea are great.
    I love spinach, too! We buy it by the tub! It’s fun to see all those leaves wither into nothing when you steam them with olive oil and garlic. I much prefer raw spinach as a salad than iceberg lettuce.

  5. Oh, and farmhands and construction crews “letting loose in the fields” goes back to the 1800s where workers building dams would use the river instead of the outhouse and e. coli poisoning followed in all the towns downstream during the next harvest. Have we learned nothing from history? A safe water and food supply are paramount to a safe and healthy society.

  6. I wonder if there’s a way to safely wash veggies?
    I’ve seen vegetable wash at the grocery store, but have never used it. I’ve also read that using regular dish soap on fruits and vegetables is dangerous because it can release the surface tension and allow the bad stuff into the food.
    I should add a third avatar and really make people confused! 🙂

  7. Hi Chris!
    I don’t think washing fruit and veggies makes a bit of difference. The nasty stuff that can get you becomes part of them as they grow and you can’t wash that out.
    Ahoy! Avatars aplenty: Serious Chris. Cell Phone Chris. Silly Chris. URurbB Churbris.
    😀

  8. I knew there was a reason for me not liking spinach!
    I used to drink gallons of diet coke – now it is occassional glasses – with tea the rest of the time – along with the obligatory two pints of water.
    I found the rule for food that works for me – is eat fresh fruit and veg, preferably local and organic. Make your food yourself – avoid as many artificial additives and colourings as possible – and stay away from the pot noodles! .

  9. My wife’s doctor told her to skip colas and drink more water — at least 8 glasses a day.
    I should make an “urb” avatar as well.
    I feel a collage-avatar that incorporates everything coming-on!

  10. Nicola!
    You don’t like spinach?!! It has a lot of natural iron and calcium. It is the perfect greens for women — when it isn’t saturated with e. coli, that is…
    😀
    Do you like kale or collard greens?
    I agree preparing your own food is the smart way to stay on top of you body.
    “What is “the pot noodles?”

  11. prying1 —
    If the cola companies went back to natural sugar I think they’d sell even more soda! It would definitely be a “healthier alternative” to an unhealthy drink.
    Colonics?!! The invention of cruel people! They are so dangerous!

  12. Hi Chris —
    Janna was hooked on Pepsi — sugared Pepsi — for the longest time. She cannot drink the diet stuff. It repulses her. She never liked coffee. She’s moving over to a little coffee during the day to pep her up and refresh her instead of soda.
    I can’t wait to see your URB Avatar!
    😀
    I think your original collage Avatar will be making another appearance again soon. It’s too wild to be held back!

  13. I don’t drink soda, in fact I survive on water (almost 3/ 4 liters a day) and coffee – straight black. I used to drink 7/8 cups coffee a day, now I cut it down to 2 cups a day – and that’s it.
    Soda or any other energy drink makes me more thirsty for water – I don’t know why. I think it gives me an uneasy feeling like a “sugar crash”…I trust my instinct and I don’t drink it.
    As far as spinach goes – I think the way I cook it I kill everything is in there…even the spinach too! 😀

  14. Oh, that’s cool you had a garden. That’s the smartest and safest way to eat!
    POT NOODLES are my new favorite!
    The most popular brand here is “Cup-O-Noodles” and college students eat them all day long because they’re easy to make and they’re cheap. They are also high in saturated fat so students quickly put on the pounds and later wonder why.

  15. It’s instinct David!
    It’s beyond words…might not even make sense but my system has an inner defense mechanism that warns me stop if something (especially food) is not working…and I pay attention to it. 8 cups coffee was hampering my eating schedule, I could go on without eating for hours…I didn’t want it to happen.
    Moreover, I hate the concept of addiction…I discovered I was not drinking coffee it was going the other way round – coffee was drinking me…so I quit! 😀
    If one fine morning I realize that I can’t do without my first cup coffee of the day, I am hankering for it – I will quit it too!