As I sit back and watch the nutrition industry grow I get both excited and frustrated. Here we have an industry that promotes health and performance yet continues to use substandard or harmful ingredients to make a quick buck; an industry driven by dollars and cents instead of passion and science. Being in the nutrition industry for over 15 years, I have seen a lot from the latest and greatest compound from the rainforest that sheds pounds in days, to extracts that mimic exercise without you lifting a finger. The nice thing about these “gimmick nutrients” is they are self-regulating; meaning their inability to produce results weeds them off the shelves. Unfortunately, there is one class of compounds that appears to be here to stay even with its negative implications on your health, artificial sweeteners.
Trust me, try this:
Go to your kitchen or in your gym bag and grab your powdered pre-workout or your favorite banana muffin flavored protein drinks… go on, I’ll wait… OK, now that you have it in hand look at the ingredients, do you see any one of the following: aspartame, sucralose (Splenda®), acesulfame potassium (Ace-K), saccharin (Sweet’N Low®), and advantame? If so, you’re not alone these are some of the most common and approved artificial sweeteners by our friends at the FDA. Most of you are probably staring at the non-caloric sweetener sucralose. Sucralose is ubiquitous in the sports nutrition world.
Artificial sweeteners were discovered in the late 1800s. If you close your eyes, you can almost envision the scientists around their beakers as they purposively mixed chemicals, carefully monitoring and calculating every addition and reaction, to create this specific sweetener. If you can see this, well then, you would be wrong. The first sweetener, saccharin, was discovered by accident. In the United States we have an obsession with sweet foods and beverages, which has led to the increase of heart disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and dementia. Naturally, we needed that sweet flavor without the calories because changing our diets is totally un-American!
Although these sweeteners are not sugar, we can still see some spikes in blood sugar and insulin (1). We have even seen elevated liver enzymes and with the removal (and no additional therapy) of patient’s artificially sweetened beverages; their liver enzymes fall into normal, healthy ranges. These sweeteners are not innocent and whether the literature is slow and needs to catch up with clinical practice or the amazing abundant research bias that isn’t allowing the truth be told I can tell you that these artificial sweeteners do reek havoc on ones health so GET THEM OUT OF YOUR PERFORMANCE PRODUCTS!
A very popular non-caloric sweetener, created in the 70’s, claimed to be almost 1000 times sweeter than sucrose (table sugar). This, along with its inexpensive price, stability and name (sounds like sucrose), makes sucralose a very popular additive to nearly every powdered product out there. A chlorination process of table sugar forms Sucralose, creating a chlorocarbon (natural sugar is a hydrocarbon).
Now the most common questions, “If your saying that chlorine is bad then what about table salt, NaCl.” The chlorination of salt or Na is totally different than the chlorination of carbon; plus table salt isn’t all that great for you either.
Chlorine isn’t all-bad—we use it as a disinfectant, our immune system creates a similar compound to bleach (hypochlorous acid), it is in pools to keep them clean and the list goes on. In short, we use chlorine to kill things. Would it then make sense to ingest it?
Sucralose consumption may also cause thymic changes (13). The thymus glands plays an integral role in the immune response.
You will see very many arguments that the FDA unanimously claims sucralose is safe…they also made the same claim for aspartame (Nutri-Sweet® or Sweet n Low®) and now we know the negative ramifications of that particular sweetener (8, 9, 10, 12, 19). We continue to see aspartame in over 6,000 products worldwide (11).
Additives & Sweeteners
Many other harmful compounds can be hidden in your product, some will be clearly visible i.e. Red 40 which has been shown to reduce reproductively and toxicity in rats (2), produce hyperactivity in children (3) and a mild carcinogen. Whether it’s a flavoring or a coloring or a compound that enhances texture we should be reaching for safest and very best there is, after all this is what we are putting in our bodies to perform better and live longer. Ironically, these sweeteners are used to reduce calorie consumption yet they often fail to target the satiety centers of the brain thus leading to overeating and metabolic syndrome (6, 7).
It’s your turn:
In short, read your labels and educate yourself. Research the company and who is behind it—if you are unsure, contact them and get someone on the phone to ask questions. If you find it impossible to do so then you may find that those who started the company with good intention may be so far removed from their own manufacturing that they don’t even know what is going on anymore.
The author of this article would like to note: Like most medical studies—many of the above mentioned and below cited articles and experiments were performed on animals.
- Sucralose Affects Glycemic and Hormonal Responses to an Oral Glucose Load. M. YANINA PEPINO, PHD et. al American Diabetes Journal. 5 March 2013. DOI: 10.2337/dc12-2221.
- Food additives and hyperactive behavior in 3-year-old and 8/9-year-old children in the community: a randomised, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial. Donna McCann et. al. Lancet 2007; 370:1560-67
- Julie Lin, MD, MPH, assistant professor of medicine, Harvard Medical School, staff physician, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston.
- American Society of Nephrology annual meeting, San Diego, Oct 27-Nov. 1, 2009.
- Fagherazzi G, Vilier A, Saes Sartorelli D, Lajous M, Balkau B, Clavel-Chapelon F. Consumption of artificially and sugar-sweetened beverages and incident type 2 diabetes in the Etude Epidemiologique aupres des femmes de la Mutuelle Generale de l’Education Nationale-European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition cohort. Am J Clin Nutr. 2013;97(3):517-23.
- Frank GK, Oberndorfer TA, Simmons AN, et al. Sucrose activates human taste pathways differently from artificial sweetener. Neuroimage. 2008;39:1559-69.
- Formaldehyde derived from dietary aspartame binds to tissue components in vivo. C. Trocho et. al. Life Sciences. Volume 63, Issue 5, 26 June 1998, Pages 337–349
- The effect of aspartame on acetylcholinesterase activity in hippocampal homogenates of suckling rats Pharmacological Research, Volume 56, Issue 2, August 2007, Pages 155–159
- Butchko, H. H., & Stargel, W. W. (2001). Aspartame: Scientific evaluation in the postmarketing period. Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, 34(3), 221-233.
- Blumenthal, H. J. (1997). Chewing gum headaches. Headache, 37(10), 665-666.
- Grice, H. C., & Goldsmith, L. A. (2000). Sucralose: An overview of the toxicity data. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 38(Suppl. 2), S1-S6.
- Arruda, J. G. F.; Martins, A. T. & Azoubel, R. Ciclamato de sódio e rim fetal. Rev. Bras. Saúde Matern. Infant., 3(2):147-50, 2003.
- Portela, G. S.; Azoubel, R. & Batigália, F. Effects of aspartame on maternal-fetal and placental weights, lenght of umbilical cord and fetal liver: a kariometric experimental study. Int. J. Morphol., 25(3):549-54, 2007.
- De Matos, M. A.; Martins, A. T. & Azoubel, R. Efectos del ciclamato de sodio en la placenta de rata: estudio morfométrico. Int. J. Morphol., 24(2):137-42, 2006.
- Martins, A. T.; Azoubel, R.; Lopes, R. A.; Di Matteo, M. A. S. & Arruda, J. G. F. Efectos del ciclamato de sódio en el hígado fetal de ratas: Estudios cariométrico y estereológico. Int J Morphol., 23(3):221-6, 2005.
- Portela, G. S. & Azoubel, R. Nefrotoxicidade fetal com o uso da amicacina. Estudo cariométrico. J. Bras. Nefrol., 26(1):12-8, 2004.
- Soffritti, Morando et al.. “Life-span Exposure to Low Doses of Aspartame Beginning During Prenatal Life Increases Cancer Effects in Rats”. Environmental Health Perspectives115.9 (2007): 1293–1297. Web…
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