Artificial sweeteners

I read (most of) a book this weekend called Sweet Deception.  (Sounds like a romance novel, but no.)  It was written by Dr. Joseph Mercola, an osteopath, and Dr. Kendra Degen Pearsall, a naturopath.  I wasn’t crazy about it, because there was a little too much promotion of Dr. Mercola’s website and eating plan (and there was no index), but it was an eye-opener into the origins of artificial sweeteners.  According to the book, almost all of them were discovered by accident after a chemical spill in a lab.  Splenda was actually discovered while researchers were looking for a new INSECTICIDE.   Yes, it’s made from sugar, but a whole host of chemical processes are done to it, so the molecule looks nothing like sugar by the time it’s finished.  Aspartame (NutraSweet) was discovered by accident during research for a new ulcer drug.

According to the authors, the safest artificial sweeteners are the oldest – saccharin (Sweet ‘N Low, the pink stuff) and cyclamate.  Cyclamate is banned by the FDA because it caused cancer in animal trials.  So did saccharin, and it was banned for a while, but then reinstated.  The doses at which it caused cancer were very large.

The doctors aren’t fans of sugar, either; their advice is to get used to eating less sweet food.  Whatever.  The part of the book I didn’t read was their indictment of the FDA in terms of pushing sweeteners to market based on the political influence of the companies that manufacture them.  No surprise there, which is why I didn’t read those chapters.  Interestingly, though, one of the people responsible for the release of NutraSweet was Donald Rumsfeld, who was CEO of Searle at the time.

Overall, I would recommend the book for anyone who’s interested in the health and political aspects of artificial sweeteners.


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