Last week, I shared with you the dangers of MSG, a chemical added to most packaged food products and used in many restaurants to improve flavor and increase the desire to eat more. This week, I’d like to discuss another food chemical that has won over the “sugar-free” market and is undeniably more risky than the sugar itself. That chemical is called Aspartame; a sugar substitute sold under the names Equal and NutraSweet.
Aspartame was discovered in the mid-1960s and later approved for use by the FDA in 1974. However, objections and investigations into its safety prevented it from being used in food products until the early 1980s. Now, Aspartame can be found in thousands of products including soft drinks, chewing gum, flavored water, breath mints, iced tea, yogurt, juices, jams, candy, sweeteners and most of the products on the shelves labeled as sugar-free.
Aspartame is made up of three chemicals; aspartic acid (40%), phenylalanine (50%), and methanol/wood alcohol poison (10%). Aspartic acid, like glutamate acid, the primary ingredient found in MSG, is an exitotoxin that can cause damage to the brain as well as many of the symptoms I listed for MSG. Phenylalanine, which can’t be metabolized by those with the genetic disorder phenylketonuria (PKU), can also cause emotional disorders in those without PKU when consumed in high doses. Absorption of methanol, classified as a narcotic, is increased when Aspartame-containing foods are heated above 86 degrees Fahrenheit. As methanol breaks down into formaldehyde and DKP (known to cause brain tumors), the toxic consequences are substantial.
As a result of the serious health hazards of these three chemicals, more than 75% of the cases brought to the FDA for food additive reactions are Aspartame-related. Overconsumption or continued use of aspartame has been linked to a wide-range of symptoms and serious health conditions such as vision problems, hearing impairment, neurologic disorders, headaches, dizziness, depression, anxiety, insomnia, shortness of breath, abdominal pain, skin reactions, memory loss and a number of brain-related illnesses.
Additionally, there are many studies indicating that Aspartame contributes to weight gain and/or obesity. To begin with, it takes a lot of work for the liver to breakdown the chemicals ingested as indicated above. This doesn’t leave much energy left for fat burning and metabolism. Additionally, like sugar, aspartame causes blood sugar swings, which result in more sugar cravings and an urge to continue consuming the same foods containing Aspartame. For these reasons, it is actually safer in the long run to consume regular soda products instead of their Diet versions.
Beyond Aspartame, there are other toxic food chemicals that also deserve your attention. Consumption of Acesulfame K (Sunette or Sweet One), BHA/BHT, Sodium Nitrite/Nitrate, Potassium Bromate, Sulfites and Olestra have all been linked to serious side effects and diseases, particularly Cancer. Olestra, the fake fat, actually inhibits the absorption of vitamins and nutrients, and as stated on the label, can cause diarrhea and abdominal cramping.
So what can you do with all of this information? The most important thing is to become aware of the food you’re consuming and the impact of the chemical additives major manufacturers and food service businesses are using in food production. Although it can’t be repeated enough, consuming a diet that consists primarily of whole foods is your best bet in terms of weight loss, avoidance of illness and disease and overall health and vitality. When choosing packaged products, be sure to read the labels of the foods you’re eating. As a general rule, if you don’t know what the ingredient is, 9 times out of 10 it’s artificial and not ideal for the proper functioning of the body.
In terms of sweeteners, there are a few on the market that don’t produce harmful side effects and offer the same great tastes you’re accustomed to. Stevia, a South American herb loaded with vitamins and minerals, is significantly sweeter than sugar, contains no calories, is safe for yeast-related conditions and doesn’t trigger blood sugar rises. It can be found as a powder or liquid, or used directly from the plant leaves themselves. Other sweeteners that are considered safe in moderation are xylitol, mesquite meal, agave nectar, raw carob and raw cacao.
There are solutions to every craving and many ways to substitute the foods you love with healthy alternatives. However, above all, remember to use your own body as a guide to what does or doesn’t work for you when selecting foods, and make your choices accordingly.
Published On: February 12, 2010