September 23, 2008

In The News: Just How Splendid Is Splenda?

Not very, according to some Duke University researchers who point the finger at the artificial sweetener, accusing it of "contribut[ing] to obesity, destroy[ing] “good” intestinal bacteria and prevent[ing] prescription drugs from being absorbed."

Interestingly, the study is financed by the Sugar Association.

Perhaps more ironically, the first two statements could also apply to sugar.

In fact, many foods and ingredients can feasibly be labeled as "obesity contributors" depending on consumed quantities.

Someone could very well point to olive oil as an "obesity contributor," which it can be if it is liberally poured over every meal you eat.

As you can see, such statements completely distract everybody from more relevant issues.

In the case of sugar and Splenda, these accusations are misleading.

After all, obesity rates were much lower 400 years ago (when sugar was consumed), and it's not as if a surge in obesity occurred when Splenda was unleashed to the public.

Here are my thoughts on the real issues at stake here:

1) Is Splenda safe?

A packet of Splenda in your morning coffee or enjoying a Splenda-sweetened beverage a few times a week with your lunch isn't a huge concern.

However, there are no long-term human studies -- Splenda is less than ten years old.

We truly do not know what, say, 40 or 50 years of consuming Splenda on a daily basis does to the human body. A little tidbit to keep in your back pocket...

2) Does Splenda contribute to obesity? What about sugar?

Well, sugar is the epitome of empty calories (you can down 500 calories of sugar water and not feel the least bit full.)

And, since most sugary treats are also high in fat and overall calories, I suppose there is a "two degrees of separation" concept going on here. However, sugar was consumed long before obesity rates skyrocketed, so branding it a culprit seems wrong to me.

As far as Splenda "contributing to obesity," I don't buy it.

What I will say is that it can certainly provide a false sense of security.

A slice of sugar-free cake (made with Splenda) is NOT calorie-free, although many people may inaccurately think so.

The fact remains that sweetener consumption in the United States has grown exponentially over the past 20 years.

Consequently, additional calories are being consumed from sucrose (table sugar) and high fructose corn syrup.

Sugar as a sole ingredient does not make anyone fat. Having endless grams (and calories) of sugar on cereals, cookies, frozen desserts, yogurts, and salad dressings, however, gets very problematic very quickly.

Artificial sweeteners, meanwhile, continue to become more available in a wide variety of calorie-free foods.

Completely absent from everyone's diet fifty years ago, they are a relatively new piece to the public health nutrition puzzle.

My suggestion? Scale back a little on both. You can't go wrong reducing your intake of empty calories and artificial chemicals.

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