Wednesday, October 11, 2006

To Health, Cheers!

A long, long time ago in a land far, far away, I used to get very little sleep, had no time for lunch and little time for dinner. There were occasions when I woke up in the middle of the night not knowing which country I was in. Diet Coke was the main feature in my unbalanced diet then...now you may begin to understand why I'm evangelical about real food with provenance and speak of the evils of fake food and drink.

Those were the days when one could still get Diet Coke in Asia. Diet Coke is sweetened with aspartame which is the basis of NutraSweet and Equal; it flavours Diet Coke, Diet Pepsi, other drinks, and sweetens a host of foods you or I wouldn't even begin to suspect.

What does aspartame do? Aspartame (aspartylphenylalanine-methyl-ester) is a brain drug that stimulates your brain so you think that the food you're eating tastes sweet. If you pay attention you'll notice that when using aspartame, everything you eat at the same time also tastes sweet. You may also notice when using aspartame you crave carbohydrates more.

Aspartame breaks down to its poison constituents at 86 F (Aspartic Acid 40%, Phenylalanine 50%, and Methanol 10%) while your stomach is at 98.6 F. This is also the seldom disclosed reason why you should never cook with aspartame i.e. Nutrasweet/Equal.

The 40% aspartic acid is an "excitotoxin" in the brain and excites neurons to death, i.e. it kills brain cells and causes other nerve damage. Aspartame triggers migraine headaches in some users.

"High levels of phenylalanine, an amino acid found in aspartame, in body fluids can cause brain damage" words of the FDA of United States of America prior to their approval of aspartame containing 50% of the substance. How the FDA allows this remains a mystery.

Defenders maintain the 10% methanol is a modest amount - similar to what is found in fruit juices - and cannot be considered toxic. However, according to Michael Schachter MD in a Health World article, the methanol in juices is chemically bound so it cannot be absorbed into the body whereas in aspartame it is in a free state where it can be absorbed. Additionally, in aspartame the methanol is unaccompanied by ethanol which acts as a protector in its natural state.

The 10% methanol appears in the body quickly and is the same alcohol in lacquer thinner. There is mounting evidence that the "Burning Mouth Syndrome" experienced by some users is actually methanol poisoning.

Further, aspartame's breakdown products attack the body's tissues and create formaldehyde which builds up in the tissues forever. Formaldehyde is a form of preservatives commonly used in laboratories to preserve frog and rats for dissection. Formaldehyde is thought to cause cancer.

Aspartame also breaks down to diketopiperazine (DKP) which is proven to cause brain tumors.

Any internet search on the topic would reveal divided opinion over whether aspartame consumption can lead to worrisome build-ups of blood methanol or formaldehyde. Indeed, its general safety is often debated with each camp citing lab results and research studies.

A survey of aspartame studies by Ralph Walton MD of Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine may have shed light on the real reason behind the dispute: "Of the 166 studies felt to have relevance for questions of human safety, 74 had NutraSweet industry related funding and 92 were independently funded. One hundred percent of the industry funded research attested to aspartame's safety, whereas 92 percent of the independently funded research identified a problem."


The FDA of United States approved aspartame for use in certain dry foods in 1981 and for soft drinks in 1983. In 1996, they removed all restrictions, allowing use in all food products.

FDA approval, however, should not be equated with safety, particularly in light of how the product got the green light. In 1980 a three-member board of inquiry examined the test results of Searle, the pharmaceutical arm of Monsanto that manufactures aspartame.

Although they thought the sweetener did not cause brain damage, they concluded more studies were needed to conclusively demonstrate the product's safety. A five-member panel then decided 3-2 that Searle's safety studies were not conclusive. Nevertheless, commissioner Arthur Hull Hayes overruled the board's recommendations, and granted approval for aspartame's first two approvals in 1981 and 1983.

Within three months of the 1983 approval, Hayes resigned from the FDA and accepted a position as a paid consultant in Searle's PR firm. This incident was investigated by the U.S. Government Accountability Office and findings were set out in two GAO reports which nevertheless absolved both Hayes and the FDA.

In 1998, the FDA approved the use of another artificial sweetener, sucralose (Splenda), in all foods. Sucralose is claimed to be a derivative of actual sugar (such claim is being dsiputed, in court, by the Sugar Association). It can be used in cooking, hence commercial baked goods and desserts using the product are now saying that sugar has been removed and replaced with Splenda. Coke and Pepsi debuted half-sugar, half-Splenda concoctions, C2 and Edge, respectively. Now, there are a numerous variations of cola using Splenda.

There have been no long-term studies of Splenda on humans, relatively few studies exist, and that the product has no long-term safety record.

Coke Light, another version of the zero calorie soft drink; according to industry whistle blowers is sweetened by a cheaper chemical containing a certain form of benzene which has proven to be carcinogenic.

Coke Light has been banned in countries with the strictest food regulations such as the UK, most of Western Europe and Australia while it has become the only option in others, many of these countries are in Asia and Latin America.

If you visit the Mega-corporation's official website, you would find that sweetener used in Coke Light is not made public. Basically, you don't know what you are drinking; and when billions of dollars in sales are concerned in many parts of the world, you better not trust a soulless corporation.

In the meantime, no one's saying water is bad for us.

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