Today we must deal with a vast and confusing world of sweeteners and sweetener combinations. Store shelves offer a variety of natural and artificial sweeteners, as well as a wide array of packaged/processed food products that incorporate them. Sometimes these sweeteners also include sugar alcohols, an effort by food companies to take advantage of the way they can be combined for synergistic and offsetting/ complementary effects (since sugar alcohols mute the aftertaste of artificial sweeteners). Each category of sweetener, as well as each specific product, differs in terms of how it is made, how it is metabolized, and how it affects the body.
Artificial sweeteners such as saccharin (Sweet-n-Low), aspartame (Nutrasweet and Equal), and Acesulfame-K (Sunett and Sweet One) are made by chemical (not food) companies. Like many artificial food colorings and flavorings, they are synthetic products derived chemically from decayed petroleum and natural gas by-products.1 Constructed from “dead” underground matter, as opposed to living, organic, above-ground foods, these products are not something Nature programmed our bodies to recognize. Monsanto manufactures saccharin and aspartame (Monsanto bought Searle, the company that originally discovered aspartame), while Celanese, maker of synthetic fibers, created Acesulfame-K. Even sucralose (Splenda), which is the only low-calorie sweetener made from sugar, is a chemically-manipulated product created in the lab. Sucralose/Spenda seems no more deserving of the “natural” label than its other no-calorie cousins.
Rather new to the market are the sugar alcohols, like xylitol, sorbitol, mannitol, and maltitol. These are created chemically by hydrogenating a type of carbohydrate. Sugar alcohols are becoming very popular because they can be combined with artificial sweeteners to help mask the aftertaste of artificial sweeteners. (We might wonder what our body is trying to tell us by the aftertaste of artificial sweeteners. Perhaps it isour taste buds rebelling to something so foreign. Little wonder when we consider how they are made:saccharin, by combining anthranilic acid, nitrous acid, sulfur dioxide, and chorine with ammonia; and,aspartame by joining the isolated amino acids aspartic acid and phenylalanine with the alcohol, methanol.2 In addition, because sugar alcohols do not feed oral bacteria, they can be used in chewing gum and other sweets without fostering tooth decay.
According to a 2007 survey by the market-research firm Packaged Facts, almost half of all households in America purchase and consume no-calorie sweeteners. Beyond this direct use, Americans consume more artificial sweeteners, of course, through packaged-processed foods where chemical sweeteners are hidden either singularly or in combination. One has to wonder what these chemically-manipulated sweeteners, some of which are petroleum-based, do to our systems. How does the body recognize them? Or, deal with them?
…And Weight Control Many people use artificial sweeteners to try to control weight. Yet, research suggests this can be a self-defeating strategy: A 2005 study by the University of Texas found that the use of diet drinks correlated with weight gain, as the sweet taste set off a craving for energy-rich foods: “People think they can just fool the body. But maybe the body isn’t fooled. If you are not giving your body that food energy you promised it, maybe your body will retaliate by wanting more energy.”3
Animal studies appear to confirm the link between the use of artificial sweeteners and weight gain. The sweet taste triggers a release of insulin, creating a dip in blood sugar, and a subsequent craving for more calories to stabilize blood sugar levels. Prolonged use of artificial sweeteners leads to an increase in daily calories and weight gain, as well as a loss of the natural checking tendency to eat less at the next meal.4
Copyright 2009 Pathways4Health.org
- Library.thinkquest.org/Coo5271F/chemistry. [↩]
- See New York Times, Showdown at the Coffee Shop, 4/15/09 [↩]
- www.webme.com/diet/news/20050613/drink-more-diet-soda-gain-more-weight. [↩]
- S.E. Seithers, A Role for Sweet Taste: Calorie Predictive Relations in Energy Regulation by Rats.Dx.doi.org/10.1037/0735-7044.122.1.161. [↩]