November 26th 2011 - Felicity Marsland is a naturopath in Adelaide, South Australia, at Adelaide Natural Health Clinic.
Recently I grabbed some yoghurt from the supermarket, quickly scanned the label for outrageous sugar content, was satisfied it was reasonably healthy and began my morning snack.
From the first mouthful I knew I had accidentally bought a product that had been artificially sweetened. I have never liked the taste of artificial sweetener and I would rather eat something like yoghurt in its natural state than sweetened this way.
It was the same when I was a child. My grandfather was a diabetic so there was ‘diet’ lemonade in the fridge at their house and occasionally my grandmother would offer us a glass. She also kept ‘real’ lemonade, and if she gave me ‘diet’ instead of the real deal I would think to myself that I would rather drink water than finish the glass of ‘diet’.
The use of artificial sweeteners in food and drink has rapidly increased in the last twenty years. According to US based market research, in 1991, about 101million Americans used low-calorie, artificially sweetened foods and beverages. By 2001, that had increased to 163 million, and by 2007 194 million. The population of America is around 310 million – over half their nation now buys artificially sweetened food!
Although the Australia New Zealand food standards code declares all artificial sweeteners as safe, excessive consumption could pose a risk to health. Not all products artificially sweetened list how much sweetener is added to their product, and what would be considered moderate consumption? Therein lies the rub. Everything in moderation seems to be the catch cry, but again, to the individual that is entirely objective. I have had clients who before coming to see me consistently drank 4 litres of diet cola a day! This is well above the recommendation of moderation or safety where cyclamate, a commonly used artificial sweetener is concerned.
Low joule yoghurt, jelly, cakes, soft drinks, cordial, not to mention the range of ‘weight watching’ and ‘diet’ products on our supermarket shelves exposes the average consumer to possibly more than the moderate amount of artificially sweetened goods.
The majority of consumers would choose these types of food to control their weight, or possibly because they believe they are the healthier option. But when I look around me in the supermarket the trolleys laden with diet soft drinks, diet yoghurts, ice-cream and lean cuisine suggest consumers are convinced these are the healthier options. In their quest to achieve a healthier body, is the artificially sweet revolution undermining their chances of reducing their waistline and living a healthier life?
Research over the last twenty years is correlating a rise in diet foods with a rise in obesity – is it the chemistry behind the sweeteners interacting with our metabolism and brain chemistry which is contributing to the weight gain, or possibly the way we combine ‘diet’ foods with regular food?
Is there a subconscious calorie cancellation when a diet cola is drunk with a schnitzel and chips? Do we take comfort from the diet drink somehow reducing the calorie load from the chips, hamburgers and deep fried chicken?
Foods from our childhood which were considered ‘treats’ and eaten occasionally are now being consumed everyday. We must ask ourselves, “have these artificial sweeteners achieved what they were designed for?”
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