Good question. A Pandora’s box type question as people are on both sides of the fence on this topic. I appreciate the question, but don’t just use my opinion on the matter. I do lean one direction on this, but I respect both sides. In fact, I’m impressed with people who have enough discipline to fully incorporate these philosophies into their lifestyle in the face of food industry today. For the people who feel that yes they are bad you for typically feel like: 1) their effects are unknown, 2) long-term, chronic use is undetermined and 3) more natural forms of sweetening should be used. I’m sure they are many other perspectives, but I believe (hope) those three capture the lion’s share.
I have to admit up front that I don’t drink that kool-aid (did you catch the play on words there?) and oftentimes use a middle of the road approach when it comes to sweeteners and other health related arguments. For example, I like Diet Coke and other diet sodas. I drink one a day and if I stop by Sonic for a Diet Cherry Limeade, I’ll order a large. If it’s hot, I’ll order a route 44. I drink coffee every morning and some mornings I’ll put one half of a Splenda in my coffee. If this destines me to die from a digestive related cancer, I’ll take my chances because frankly there are millions of people who have been eating foods and drinking fluids that contain artificial sweeteners for decades now. Take notice I didn’t say I drink a 12-pack of Diet Coke a day. By virtue of my line of work, I know a little more about the research process and food regulation than the average person. In general, I trust the regulatory and monitoring put forth by our government to first evaluate and accept various foods, additives and related ingredients. It’s stringent and one of the most stringent in the world. Some may be rolling their eyes because yes the system is not perfect. Crazy strains of slimy meat products and bacteria-containing vegetables and produce can enter our food supply from time to time. Certainly, a person can criticize the system but keep in mind the slimy meat and infested produce are recognized negative aspects of eating a diet containing more natural, unprocessed foods. So you too are accepting some level of risk with your choice to eat and promote a diet containing them.
Take pharmaceuticals for example. Years and hundreds of millions of dollars are spent each year by drug companies to get one drug to market (this is one of the primary reasons they can be so pricey). It is widely known that the U.S. has the most thorough and stringent evaluation system in place for prescription drugs. No argument exists here. If someone argues this point, they are wasting your time. Yet, problems can still happen. Health problems still pop up and drugs get pulled. That’s the nature of the system. You evaluate available information in the context of the product at hand, a decision is made to approve or disapprove, outcomes are monitored and additional decisions are made in the context of new and relevant information.
Convinced all drugs are bad? OK, get ahead and contract a simple bacterial infection and don’t take medicine to kill the infection and you die from it. Or maybe you don’t die but you become hospitalized, lose a ton of weight, miss days from work and you get a hospital bill for a crazy amount of money. It’s a choice. Give me the pills
I feel the same argument can be made with many foods and artificial sweeteners. The government regulates their introduction and monitors their use. Yes, lobbyists for food industry may influence the framework of the regulation, taxation, etc. but the ingredients are regulated. And when consistent data begins to appear that something is wrong, they will be investigated and removed. I guess my stance is that I trust the system and realize I can’t and more importantly don’t want to do better with my own eating and food preparation.
In this respect, you say you don’t want your favorite food product or protein powder flavored with artificial sweeteners? Well I say it’s going to taste like absolute garbage and your next thought after shelling out the money for something that tastes so bad will be I’m not going to buy that again. Consumer research tells us that taste and texture are a big deal for various food and related products. You say you want things to taste well but would like for “natural” sweeteners to be used. You mean sugar. The same sugar that doctors, nutritionists and nearly every health related professional is now advising people to reduce the intake of? The same sugar that research has strongly linked to the development of type 2 diabetes and gained weight/developing obesity? Did you know that many sweeteners are on the order of hundreds of time more sweet than sugar? This means that less sweeteners can be used to get an acceptable taste. The amount of sugar that would need to be used would make your physician’s heart skip a beat. Or maybe your parents or grandfather owns a sugar cane factory or you own stock in one and you are trying to promote the family business. Maybe you meant Agave or agave nectar, the highly popular natural form of low-glycemic sugar. I’m willing to bet the sticker shock of paying for that product will make you think otherwise.
Finally, many people pick one thing and key on it, but fail to identify other areas. If you are going to say sweeteners are “death powder” then you better avoid saturated fats, trans fats, adding salt to your food, too much inactivity, smoking, chewing tobacco, excessive calorie consumption, driving on a remote highway late at night, and many over-the-counter medicines for pain. I respect any and all people who care this much about their health. I take care of myself as well and pay close attention to keeping all of these things in balance. That, overall, is my philosophy and perspective on the topic of sweeteners and any other hot topic of “will this kill me?” Don’t judge me and I won’t judge you and don’t have a superiority complex because you are not eating a certain food, but yet you drink like a fish, eat too much bar food and don’t get enough exercise. Pick your battles…
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