By Yuri Elkaim, BPHE, CK, RHN
Over the last 30 years, artificial sweeteners have become a mainstay in our food supply as they promise far fewer calories while providing far more sweetness than sugar. Man-made sweetening compounds like saccharin, acesulfame k, aspartame, and sucralose are now household names as they appeal to our desire to lose weight through low-calorie foods and beverages, and sugar-free sweeteners.
But what price are we paying for consuming these sweet chemicals? Well, let’s find out!
Saccharin was the first artificial sweetener to come to market way back in 1879. It is 350 times sweeter than sugar and is used in diet drinks and foods and as a tabletop sugar substitute. Many studies on animals have shown that saccharin can cause cancer of the bladder, uterus, ovaries, skin, blood vessels, and other organs. Other studies have shown that saccharin increases the potency of other cancer-causing chemicals. And the best epidemiology study to date, conducted by the National Cancer Institute, found that the use of saccharin is associated with a higher incidence of bladder cancer.
Acesulfame potassium (or Acesulfame K) is a calorie-free artificial sweetener that is 180-200 times sweeter than table sugar. Like saccharin, it has a slightly bitter aftertaste, especially at high concentrations. As such, Acesulfame K is often blended with other sweeteners (usually sucralose or aspartame) to give a more sugar-like taste whereby each sweetener masks the other’s aftertaste. This is especially evident in carbonated diet drinks.
The reason food manufacturers love using acesulfame K is that, unlike aspartame, it is stable under heat and in moderately acidic or basic conditions, allowing it to be used in baked goods, chewing gum, desserts, and in other products that require a long shelf life.
In spite of its widespread use, food watchdog agency, Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), has repeatedly expressed concern that acesulfame K is a potential carcinogen and questions the safety of exposure to one of its components – methylene chloride, a known cancer-causing chemical.
Furthermore, the CSPI notes that acetoacetamide, another breakdown product of acesulfame K, has been shown to cause tumor growth in the thyroid gland in rats, rabbits, and dogs after administration of only 1% acetoacetamide in the diet for three months.
Millions of people have reported symptoms and ill effects after ingesting aspartame. In fact, aspartame complaints represented 75% of all reports of adverse reactions to substances in the food supply from 1981 to 1995.
Considering aspartame’s detrimental effects on the body, it is shockingly still found in more than 6,000 consumer foods and beverages sold worldwide; including, sugar-free chewing gums, some brands of chewable vitamins, and many table condiments.
Most commonly, though, it is the acclaimed artificial sweetener in diet soft drinks, originally gaining mass appeal because its caloric yield is negligible, while still providing a great deal of sweetness. Aspartame is 180 times as sweet as sugar.
Aspartame has been heavily scrutinized and studied almost exhaustively. Not surprisingly, of the 90 non-industry-sponsored studies, 83 have identified one or more problems with this sweetener.
The main concern with aspartame is that it is a neurotoxin whose by-products appear to cause slow, silent damage, especially in the brain and nervous system. For many consumers, this damage may take one year, 5 years, 10 years, or even longer to manifest!
It now seems that the real danger with aspartame pertains to pregnant women and the developing fetus. A startling 2007 study in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives showed that rats fed roughly twice the “acceptable daily intake” (ADI) amount of aspartame from the 12th day of fetal life until their natural death had significant increases in malignant lymphomas/leukemias and mammary tumours!
This was the second study in consecutive years to show aspartame’s cancer-causing potential when administered during fetal development.
Upon ingestion, aspartame is broken down into 3 components: methanol, phenylalanine, and aspartic acid.
The most problematic of these is methanol which, once in the body, is converted to formaldehyde, and then to formic acid. These 2 final by-products of methanol metabolism are well-known toxins! Along these lines, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has stated that methanol:
“…is considered a cumulative poison due to the low rate of excretion once it is absorbed. In the body, methanol is oxidized to formaldehyde and formic acid; both of these metabolites are toxic.”
It has been said that roughly 60 days are required for aspartame by-products to be eliminated from the human body! That’s quite the decay time for a harmful chemical that is often consumed on a daily basis by millions of dieting individuals.
Approved in 1998 for use as a sweetener for a wide variety of foods, sucralose has already been added to countless packaged “non-foods” such as diet soft drinks, juices, baked goods, sauces, dairy products, and sweetener packets, and the media hype surrounding it has sent customers flocking to stores looking for it.
Sucralose is an artificial sweetener produced through a patented process that adds chlorine atoms to sucrose (table sugar). The result is a very stable molecule that is reported to be 600 times as sweet as sugar!
A eye-opening study on sucralose published in the September 2008 issue of the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health revealed that sucralose reduces the amount of good bacteria in the intestines by 50%, increases the pH level in the intestines, contributes to increases in body weight and affects the P-glycoprotein (P-gp) in the body in such a way that crucial health-related drugs could be rejected!
The researchers pointed out that consuming sucralose is like putting a pesticide in your body and that a person eating just two slices of cake and drinking two cups of coffee containing sucralose would ingest enough sucralose to affect the P-glycoprotein, while consuming just seven little sucralose packages reduces good bacteria.
As with all food chemicals, the effects of consuming sucralose do not result from a one-time use but rather after accumulated use, especially considering that sucralose tends to reside in the body’s fat tissue.
Where Does That Leave You?
It is important to remember that low-calorie nutrient-void foods that are pumped full of artificial sweeteners are not going to help you lose weight. The key to maintaining a healthy weight is eating a wholesome diet full of fresh vegetables and fruit and, in general, consuming smaller portions!
However, if you need an occasional sweet fix then why not try healthier natural sweeteners such as the low-glycemic index agave nectar, or even honey or maple syrup.
Price, J. et al. (1970). Bladder tumors in rats fed cyclohexylamine or high doses of mixture of cyclamate and saccharin. Science, 167(3921) 1131-1132.
Food Chemical News, June 12, 1995, Page 27.
Soffriti, et al. (2007). Lifespan Exposure to Low Doses of Aspartame Beginning During Prenatal Life Increases Cancer Effects in Rats Environment Health Perspectives 115: 1293-1297.
Abou-Donia, M. et al. (2008). Splenda alters gut microflora and increases intestinal P-Glycoprotein and Cytochrome P-450 in male rats. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part A, 71(21): 1415-1429.
Yuri Elkaim is a registered holistic nutritionist, certified kinesiologist, and former professional soccer player. He is the author of the Eating for Energy – a nutrition program that has helped tens of thousands of people around the world lose weight, have more energy, and enjoy bulletproof health through natural plant-based foods. Visit www.EatingforEnergy.ca today to learn how you can live your healthiest and most energetic life ever!