Americans are all sweetness and lite!

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You probably realize that eating too many sugary foods and gaining weight go hand in hand. What you may not know is that aside from loading up on calories that help pack on the pounds, consuming too much sugar can also harm your health in other ways. Here’s some information from the Army National Guard.

Consuming more than nine teaspoons of sugar a day for men and six teaspoons for women can lead to health problems, such as tooth decay, obesity and depression. Reducing your sugar intake can help more than your waistline; it can improve your overall health.

First, it’s important to recognize that there are two types of sugar – natural sugar and added sugar. Natural sugar is found in fruits, milk and some whole grains. Added sugar is sugar that is added to processed foods and drinks, such as cookies, cereals and soda.

Added sugar affects your body in many ways. It can be as addictive as drugs, tobacco or alcohol because it affects the same regions of the brain, triggering the pleasure sensors to release dopamine. Dopamine makes you want to eat more, even when you are not hungry.

When you consume too much added sugar, your liver has to work extra hard to process it. Excess sugar in the liver often turns into fat, which can lead to liver damage or other health concerns, such as high cholesterol, diabetes or heart disease.

It can also overload and damage your pancreas, which controls the blood sugar called insulin that powers your muscles and organs. Lack of insulin can cause muscle and nerve damage.

Limit added sugars in your diet with these healthy alternatives:

  • Skip sugary cereals at breakfast. Instead, opt for a protein-rich meal. Options, such as eggs, turkey sausage and whole-wheat toast with peanut butter are healthier ways to fuel your day.
  • Bring healthy snacks to work to ward off the temptation of sugary treats. Some smart choices include: frozen grapes, trail mix, yogurt, almonds, apple slices and peanut butter with celery sticks.
  • Instead of pie, donuts or cake, curb your sweet tooth craving by reaching for fresh fruit, low-fat frozen yogurt or a fruit and yogurt parfait.
  • If you can’t substitute a fruit, make your treats small, such as a single fun-size piece of candy.
  • Sodas, energy drinks and sports drinks sneak in a lot of sugar calories. In fact, a single can of soda has nine teaspoons of sugar – the maximum an adult male should consume in an entire day. Skip the sugary beverages and try hot or iced tea, fizzy water or lemon water instead.

Choosing simple substitutions make it easy to replace sugary foods with smarter options for better health. Visit guardyourhealth.com for more food and nutrition tips and resources.

Lite options

On the heels of these warnings about sugar from the Army National Guard, there’s some concern about artificial sweeteners. Regularly debunked as being a health risk (we have to wonder about the vested interests behind all that research) aspartame, saccharin and sucralose are now table staples of the American diet. Let’s have a look at what we know.

Aspartame

Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet) is the sugar substitute used in most diet soft drinks. Approved by the FDA in 1981, aspartame is 180 times sweeter than sugar. Besides soft drinks, it can be found in breakfast cereals, desserts and chewing gums, and as a tabletop sweetener. Currently, aspartame is found in more than 6,000 products and is consumed by over 200 million people around the world.

There are 90 different symptoms reported resulting from aspartame, and aspartame did account for over 75% of all of the adverse reactions reported to the Food and Drug Administration annually.  Aspartame is a synthetic composite of three naturally occurring compounds: aspartic acid (40%), phenylalanine (50%), and methyl ester, which becomes methanol in the body (10%). While this sounds very sinister, there are naturally occurring foods that also contain these compounds. Personally I don’t touch the stuff because I like sugar and I have no real idea of the longterm effects of consuming this particular batch of chemicals.

Aspartame Components:

Phenylalanine

People with the genetic disease phenylketonuria (PKU), those with advanced liver disease and pregnant women with hyperphenylalanine (high levels of phenylalanine in blood) should be especially wary of aspartame.  These groups of people cannot effectively metabolize the amino acid phenylalanine. High levels of phenylalanine in body fluids can cause brain damage.

Aspartic acid

Aspartic acid acts as a neurotransmitter. Too much aspartic acid over stimulates nerve cells, allowing too much calcium into the cells, and contributes to a number of chronic illnesses including Alzheimer’s disease, brain tumors, epilepsy, memory loss, migraine headaches, Fibromyalgia, vertigo, vision problems, problems speaking and depression.

Methanol

When aspartame is ingested it breaks down into methanol, which is created and released into the small intestine as aspartame comes into contact with the enzyme chymotrypsin.  A full 10% of the aspartame taken into the body can be turned into methanol.  Repeated contact with methanol, even in low doses, can bring about symptoms including heart problems, headaches, nausea, weakness, vertigo, chills, memory lapses, dizziness, misty vision, vision tunneling, blurring of vision, conjunctivitis, insomnia, vision loss, depression and inflammation of the pancreas.

Formaldehyde

Some of the methanol formed by aspartame can react with other substances in the body to form formaldehyde, part of which becomes formic acid.  Formaldehyde is a particularly nasty material which attacks the immune and neurological systems.  Even minute dose of formaldehyde can cause permanent genetic damage.  Modest amounts of aspartame can produce a build-up of formaldehyde in the organs, including kidneys, liver and brain.  Long-term ingestion of small amounts of formaldehyde leads to progressively worse complex symptoms, beginning with headaches, fatigue, joint pain, irritability, memory loss and continuing to vision and eye problems and seizures. Formaldehyde addiction may occur after low-term, low-level exposure.

Drinking a few cans of diet soda per week can cause aspartic acid, methanol and formaldehyde to accumulate in your body.  Note that your eyes are particular at risk from ingestion of this toxin.  Each of the components of aspartame can attack the retina or optic nerves. Methanol, especially, causes swelling of the optic nerve and degeneration of ganglion cells in the retina.  Even small amounts of aspartame can lead to hurtful, long-term disorders of the eyes and many other areas.

Other Artificial Sweeteners

Saccharin

Discovered in 1879, saccharin is the granddaddy of all sugar substitutes.  Over 300 times sweeter than sugar, it was used during both world wars to sweeten foods, helping to compensate for sugar shortages and rationing.  Then in 1977, a Canadian study showed that saccharin caused bladder cancer in rats. In response the FDA proposed to ban saccharin, but Congress intervened and stopped the ban, provided that foods containing saccharin bear a warning notice that reads, “Use of this product may be hazardous to your health. This product contains saccharin which has been determined to cause cancer in laboratory animals.” Congress has extended their moratorium on the saccharine ban several times.

Acesulfame Potassium

First approved in 1988 as a tabletop sweetener, acesulfame potassium, also called Sunett, is now approved for use in products such as baked goods, frozen desserts, candies and, most recently, beverages.  About 200 times sweeter than sugar and calorie free, acesulfame potassium often is combined with other sweeteners. Pepsi mixes acesulfame potassium with aspartame to sweeten its one calorie soda. Worldwide, the sweetener is used in more than 4,000 products, according to its manufacturer, Nutrinova. Acesulfame potassium has excellent shelf life and does not break down when cooked or baked.  It appears to be one of the safer sugar substitutes on the market, but many researchers feel that the data on acesulfame potassium is incomplete.

Sucralose

Also known by its trade name, Splenda, sucralose is 600 times sweeter than sugar. Sucralose is the only artificial sweetener made from real sugar.  First FDA approved in 1998, sucralose cannot be digested, so it adds no calories to food. Because sucralose is so much sweeter than sugar, it is bulked up with maltodextrin, a starchy powder, so it will measure more like sugar. It has good shelf life and doesn’t degrade when exposed to heat. Numerous studies have shown that sucralose does not affect blood glucose levels, making it marketable for diabetics.

Pre-approval research indicated that sucralose could cause shrunken thymus glands (up to 40% shrinkage) and enlarged liver and kidneys.  More recent research has shown sucralose to cause more problems in the intestines and kidneys.  Also, sucralose may break down into small amounts of dichlorofructose, a chemical which has not been sufficiently tested in humans.