Decoding Artificial Sweeteners by Jean Jitomir
So what's sweetening your toothpaste? I'll give you a hint; it's NOT sugar! Even if you try to avoid artificial sweeteners, you probably are consuming them in some capacity. Below is a review of the artificial sweeteners that are currently available for use in the US, including; what they are, where they come from, uses, and where they go in your body!
All artificial sweeteners in packets; most of the packet contains starch filler- all artificial sweeteners are so much sweeter than sugar (hundreds or thousands of times sweeter). If you didn’t add starch to the packet, you wouldn’t be able to see the sweetener- try adding that to your coffee ;)
Saccharin (Sweet N’ Low/pink packet)
"Anybody who says saccharin is injurious to health is an idiot" -President Theodore Roosevelt
Concerns about saccharin developed several years ago after rats, which were fed massive amounts of saccharin, developed bladder cancer. In light of this, anything in massive amounts will kill you or give you cancer; mega-dosing Vitamin C increases your risk of cancer; beta-carotene consumed in reasonable levels increases the risk of cancer in smokers; marathoners are far more likely to die of over-hydration than dehydration. The point is that saccharin consumed in reasonable amounts (a few packets a day) is well under the approved limit is safe; it’s been around for over a hundred years, so saccharin does have history to back up its general safety. I can’t taste the bitterness in saccharin and it’s super-cheap, so it is my artificial sweetener of choice.
Sucralose (Splenda/yellow packet)
Sucralose has enjoyed immense popularity since its introduction in the late 1990s. Our tongues sense sweetness when the electronegative groups of sweet substances bind to receptors in our taste buds- sometimes this sensation goes horribly wrong when the artificial sweeteners structure is a little off or also activates bitter receptors. Sucralose has less of this problem because the developers kept most of the structure the same as sugar, but just knocked off a couple parts and replaced them with chloride, another electronegative group. Because of this change, our highly specific intestinal enzymes cannot break it down and it reportedly passes all the way through the digestive tract without changing. I like sucralose and I use it sometimes, but saccharin has a longer history and is less expensive.
Let me just take this opportunity to explain why the PKU warning on aspartame products does not apply to you; PKU is an inherited disease, tested for at birth. The individuals with this condition are lacking an enzyme that allows the body to convert excess phenylalanine, the essential amino acid, to tyrosine. As a result, toxic levels of phenylalanine accumulate and the person becomes mentally retarded. People with PKU have to drink elemental (no real whole food ever) formulas to get their nutrition.
That said, though aspartame is fully approved for food use and considered safe by the government, some people report headaches when they have it. Furthermore, a break-down product of aspartame is formaldehyde, a highly toxic substance. Though the levels of formaldehyde produced are very tiny, do you really want it there at all- I don’t. So though it is officially safe, I do limit the amount of aspartame in my diet.
Many people like the idea of using Stevia because it comes straight from a plant and has less impact on blood sugar than some other sweeteners, which is probably due to the fact that it tastes very little like sugar. In my opinion, its lack of sugar taste makes it a poor choice for use as a sweetener. It kind of has a weird tingly thing going on- I’ve often heard in reference to drinks made with Stevia “It’s got something in it- its weird- I can’t decide if it’s gross.” On the other hand, many people like it because it’s sort-of heat stable, and it is a natural product. It is not approved for food use because of some apparent concerns about its potential to be a liver carcinogen, but the evidence is inconclusive. Most likely, no one is willing to fund the research for Stevia because it doesn’t taste very good and it may not produce good returns as an investment, since there are currently many adequate sweeteners. You can buy the refined powder as a “supplement” in the US, however.
Wait a second while I climb onto my soap box. Okay, here we go. There are many different kinds of sugar alcohols made from different kinds of sugar, basically just one chemical group is changed- some of the sugar alcohols can be absorbed better than others- all are converted to regular sugar or used as energy when they are absorbed.
The two main issues that I have with sugar alcohols are the following 1) They will give you nasty stomach pain, bloating, and gas in large amounts (bars that have them contain them in large amounts) 2) They totally still count as carbohydrates and are not healthier than sugar.
We all know that sugar holds water. Sugar alcohols also hold water. Sugar alcohols have ½ the calories of sugar because they only absorbed about half way, as such the sugar alcohols that are not absorbed hold water in your intestines and the unused carbohydrates are worked on by the bacteria in your large intestine- all of this leads to massive bloating and abdominal unrest. If you do not experience this problem, it means that you have absorbed all of the sugar alcohols, and the calories in the product are essentially the same as sugar. The bottom line is that after eating a product that is high in sugar alcohols you are either 1) bloated and unhappy or 2) consuming a lot of processed carbs that are absorbed and used by the body. If you have unexplained stomach pain, you should 1) stop chewing so much gum 2) stop eating sugar-free hard candy 3) double check the ingredients of your favorite bar for sugar alcohol, “other carb”, xylitol, sorbitol or one of the other many “ol” compounds and eradicate them from your diet. Rant over.
In short, sugar substitutes can be useful when dieting and used in appropriate amounts. Furthermore, there is a noted “synergistic effect” when substitutes are combined, which results in a product that tastes more legitimately sweet. Among all, I would stick to saccharin (sweet n’ low) and sucralose (splenda) for your sweetening needs J
For additional details, www.wikipedia.org is a great resource.
© Jean Jitomir 2007