A friend of mine who avoids foods high in sugar told me that as a result ordinary food tasted sweeter to him. Nevertheless for those of us with a sweet tooth who are trying to lose weight the invention of noncaloric sweeteners has made losing weight a much sweeter proposition. Many of us have concerns though about reports that these blessed noncaloric sweeteners have an evil side to them and may cause cancer, blindness etc..
In 1879, while developing new food preservatives a young Johns Hopkins chemistry research assistant accidentally discovered that one of the organic compounds he was testing was intensely sweet. Saccharin he called it, after sakcharon, the Greek word for sugar. Saccharine had a bitter metallic aftertaste but that problem was solved by combining it with cyclamates (another noncaloric sweetener). Then in the 1960s came disturbing news. Two different studies suggested that cyclamate caused cancer in lab rats. Subsequent tests concurred and in 1969 cyclamate was banned. Then a Canadian study was done in which male rats when ingested saccharine in very high doses the human equivalent of 800 cans of diet soda per day. When the study first came out, a U.S. Congressman said that perhaps saccharin products should carry a label stating The Canadians have determined saccharin is dangerous to your rats health. Nevertheless it is currently classified by the FDA as a weak cocarcinogen, meaning that it may promote (though not necessarily cause) tumors. The word "may" implies that the FDA isn't sure that it does.
Aspartame another popular noncaloric sweetener, is composed of phenylalanine and aspartic acid both naturally occurring amino acids. According to Dr. H. J. Roberts of West Palm Beach, Fla, a breakdown product of these is methyl alcohol which can build up under certain storage conditions. Methanol is toxic and can cause blindness and liver damage. However, the amount of methyl alcohol produced is less than that produced from other foods such as citrus drinks and is considered to small to do any damage. In otherwords you are in more danger from orange juice than you are from a drink containing aspartame. The AMA, the FDA, and the ADA claim that aspartame is completely safe for diabetics - and nearly everyone else. Some articles that rebut the claims against aspartame are:
Web of Deceit
FDA's rebuttal of warnings about Aspartame
Aspartame is acknowledged (though not without controversy) to produce minor side effects in some people most notably headaches (see Aspartame Ingestion and Headaches, Neurology, 1994). Also, the FDA warns that persons with certain medical conditions, including pregnant women with hyperphenylalanine, should avoid aspartame:
Carefully controlled clinical studies show that aspartame is not an allergen. However, certain people with the genetic disease phenylketonuria (PKU), those with advanced liver disease, and pregnant women with hyperphenylalanine (high levels of phenylalanine in blood) have a problem with aspartame because they do not effectively metabolize the amino acid phenylalanine, one of aspartame's components. High levels of this amino acid in body fluids can cause brain damage. Therefore, FDA has ruled that all products containing aspartame must include a warning to phenylketonurics that the sweetener contains phenylalanine.
I wonder if aspartame would become dangerous if left in solution for a long time since it is likely over time to break down into methanol. My own guess is that one shouldn't drink very old soda. Also I would guess that it's good to quench one's thirst with water occasionally so that one isn't drinking gallons upon gallons of soda.
c o p y r i g h t ( c ) 1 9 9 9 - 2004 Karl Ericson Enterprises. All rights reserved
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