Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Sugar. Sugar substitutes. Calorie counts. Whatever happened to food?

I've been thinking about the The Washington Post article, "All Substitutes Are Not Equal" by Sally Squires, Tuesday, May 6, 2008; Page HE01. The HE in HE01 stands for Health. I'm confused. Promoting the continued and increasing consumption of artificial sweeteners is a healthy thing?

Despite the obesity epidemic, a new report in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association notes that Americans still eat more foods with added sugar and fat than they should and often fall short on the healthful fare. No surprise there.

But thanks to a growing number of sugar substitutes and other sweeteners, it's now possible for everyone -- even the estimated 71 million Americans dieting -- to soothe a sweet tooth without exceeding daily calorie goals. That's good, because the average adult has only about 200 "discretionary calories" per day for food and beverages with added sugar, added fat and alcohol.
How exactly is it that an average adult has 200 discretionary calories? Whose discretion? Ms. Squires continues.
In 1970, the Food and Drug Administration banned a widely used sugar substitute, clyclamate, because of cancer concerns. In 1977, a Canadian study found that in large doses saccharin -- the sweetener in Sweet'N Low -- caused bladder cancer in rats. The FDA considered banning saccharin, but Congress stepped in to give the sweetener a reprieve and has extended a moratorium on its ban several times since then.

In 2004, the American Dietetic Association reviewed the use of sweeteners and concluded that "consumers can safely enjoy a range of nutritive and non-nutritive sweeteners when consumed in a diet that is guided by current federal nutrition recommendations."

Since then, some concerns have arisen about two other substitutes, aspartame and acesulfame K.

Aspartame is marketed as NutraSweet and Equal, and found in a wide range of products from diet drinks to sugar-free ice cream. Aspartame contains amino acids -- the building blocks of protein -- and methanol, an alcohol. It isn't heat-stable, so it doesn't do well in baking. An Italian research team found lymphoma and leukemia among female rats in a long-term study of aspartame.

Acesulfame K, sold as Sunett, is not metabolized by the body and so contains zero calories. It's found in baked goods, diet soft drinks, sugar-free gum, Domino Pure D'Lite and Sweet One, a sugar substitute for baking. Some flawed studies in the 1970s linked this sugar substitute to cancer. In 1996 the Center for Science in the Public Interest urged the FDA to require better testing before permitting acesulfame K in soft drinks. Large doses of breakdown products from acesulfame K have been shown to affect the thyroid in rats, rabbits and dogs, the CSPI notes.

Manufacturers, the FDA and the Calorie Control Council say that these products are safe. But in the May issue of its Nutrition Action newsletter, the CSPI called these products and saccharin either unsafe or poorly tested. The only artificial sweetener to get a "safe" grade from the consumer advocacy group is sucralose, a.k.a. Splenda.
Yes, Sally, there is an obesity epidemic. And there is a food industry that feeds and fuels it with grocery stores jam packed with all matter of "food" --converted corn products; sugar, salt, artificial flavor and color added to almost everything; processed beyond recognition food products; snack foods with an added twist emerging on the market every day; fast food emporiums that add sugar not just to the sweets but the savory items. Savory. That was meant to be funny. The rest of this is not funny at all.


Mage And George said...

Yup, it's all scary stuff. (She says being morbidly obese herself.)

Here's a link to Singer's blog on Open Diary. Her Daughter just graduated from Antioch. What a terrible loss of a great school.

Judith Shapiro said...

thanks for the link. i'm on my way.

Dr.Edwina.1st said...

The environment too plays a role in the causes of obesity. The family home is an important place to learn about proper nutrition and enough physical activity. Attitudes, Habits, and beliefs about food selection and how to spend family leisure time are critical factors to forming a healthy relationship with food. Children spend a lot of time in school, their food choices at school become important and it was influenced by the school eating environment.

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