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Don't Call Me Sugar
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“Sugar in the morning, sugar in the evening, sugar at suppertime…”

For too many of us the words to this old song describe our daily diet. We Americans love our sugar! Each of us, on average, eats the equivalent of 20 teaspoons of sugar per day. Face it—we have an overdeveloped sweet tooth! And it shows. America is fast becoming the fattest nation on earth. So what can be done to satisfy our sweet tooth without ruining our health? Are artificial sweeteners the answer? 

Let’s look at some sweet and some not-so-sweet facts about these sweet treats:

* There are five sugar substitutes on the market—saccharin, aspartame, neotame, sucralose, and acesulfame potassium. They are used in everything from breakfast cereals and gum to soda and cookies.

* Saccharin is up to 700 times sweeter than sugar. Now that’s sweet!

* During World Wars I and II saccharin came to the rescue when severe sugar shortages developed.

* Saccharin causes bladder cancer in rats. Since you’re probably not a rat, you may not be too worried by this news. However, a study by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the 1970s suggested that using more than six servings of saccharin per day might cause bladder cancer in humans. But in 2000 the National Cancer Institute determined there was no clear evidence that saccharin caused cancer in humans.

* Aspartame was approved by the FDA in 1981 and is 180 times sweeter than sugar. 

* Eating foods containing aspartame results in the production of modest amounts of methanol, formaldehyde, and formate in your body. Formaldehyde? Don’t they use that to embalm bodies? Yummy! 

* People with phenylketonuria, a rare genetic disease, should avoid aspartame. It contains an amino acid, phenylalanine, which their body has trouble processing.
* Another amino acid in aspartame, aspartic acid, can cause brain damage in humans at high doses. However, the FDA doesn’t believe consumers could eat enough aspartame to cause any problems.

* A study by the European Ramazzini Foundation in 2005 linked aspartame usage to two cancers, leukemia and lymphoma. This study is being reviewed by the FDA right now.

* The National Cancer Institute says there is no credible evidence that the other three artificial sweeteners—neotame, sucralose, and acesulfame potassium—cause cancer.

* Artificial sweeteners may help make you fat! That’s the conclusion of a recent study at Purdue University. Researchers found that artificial sweeteners may interfere with our natural ability to gauge the caloric content of foods based on their sweetness. This may make us overeat and gain weight. Not so sweet, huh?

Although available evidence indicates that artificial sweeteners are probably safe, questions still remain. So what can you safely do when that sugar craving hits? Why not try nature’s candy? Fruits such as apples, pears, melons, strawberries, and bananas are deliciously sweet and packed with vitamins and fiber. The sugars in dried fruit are even more concentrated. Either way, fruit will satisfy your sweet tooth every time—naturally!

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By Richard Edison, PA-C. Reprinted with permission from Listen, April 2007. Copyright © 2007 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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