In a recent U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) survey it was revealed that the average American consumes the equivalent of 160 pounds of sugar a year – a 30% increase since the early 1980s. That’s the approximate equivalent of 53 heaped teaspoons of sugar per person per day!
Early growth industry
Sugar is relatively new to the western world, being first introduced by the Crusaders returning from their journeys, in the 11th Century. The first record of sugar in England was in 1099, when it was a very expensive luxury. To give you an idea, 320 years later when sugar was much cheaper, it was selling in London at 2 shillings per pound (today’s equivalent of $100 per kilo). When Columbus sailed to the Americas in 1493 it is recorded that he took sugar cane plants with him to grow in the New World. The plants thrived in the climate and the sugar cane industry grew.
British governments could see the huge profits that could be made from sugar, and they taxed it heavily. In 1781 sugar tax totalled £326,000. By 1815 the total was £3,000,000. The abolition of this tax in 1874 by Prime Minister Gladstone, meant that sugar suddenly became more affordable to the general public.
Some of the dangers of consuming refined sugar are well known – tooth decay and obesity – but sugar can also suppress the immune system, and upset the body’s mineral balance. It can reduce helpful high-density cholesterol (HDLs) and promote an elevation of harmful cholesterol (LDLs). Sugar can cause hypoglycaemia, hormonal imbalance, varicose veins, food allergies, hypertension and depression. Sugar is also addictive; it can cause cravings for more food, particularly sweet food, leading to over-eating.
Most slimmers will be aware of aspartame – an artificial sweetener found in nearly all ‘diet’ drinks, yogurts, low calorie puddings… In fact, any sweet food or drink product that claims it is ‘sugar-free’ or ‘low calorie’ is likely to contain aspartame.
The demand for such foods is huge. To dieters (and to the companies who manufacture these products) aspartame must seem like a godsend.
In fact aspartame is seen by many as a dangerous, unstable chemical compound.
Aspartame was discovered by accident in 1965 by a scientist working on a drug for peptic ulcers, for the US pharmaceutical company G D Searle. It was approved as a sweetener by the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) in July 1974. The approval was revoked in December the same year because of objections – tests showed ‘lab’ rats being given aspartame developed brain tumours.
In response to the concerns raised the FDA set up a public board of inquiry (PBOI). In October 1980 the PBOI unanimously recommended that aspartame should not be approved until additional studies were performed to establish whether or not a relationship existed between the ingestion of aspartame and brain tumours.
In 1981, however, and before any further tests, the newly appointed FDA Commissioner, Arthur Hull Hayes, overruled the PBOI and approved aspartame for use in dry foods. In 1983 aspartame received approval for use in beverages.
Hayes soon left the FDA to take his place as paid consultant with Searle’s public relations firm Burson-Marsteller.
What is aspartame?
Aspartame is made of three compounds:
- Phenylalanine. This lowers the seizure threshold in some individuals, and can cause seizures and brain tumours, according to the head of Brain Science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
- Aspartic Acid. This causes lesions in the brains of lab animals as well as changes their DNA. This means future generations can be affected; in animal lab tests health problems skipped a generation and went on to the third, producing obese and sexually dysfunctional lab animals.
- Methanol. This causes depression. In fluid form, Methanol (wood alcohol) breaks down into formic acid (used in industry to strip epoxy and urethane coatings) and formaldehyde (used for embalming corpses). An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) assessment of methanol states that methanol “is considered a cumulative poison due to the low rate of excretion once it is absorbed.”
Affects of aspartame
Aspartame consumption has been connected with many symptoms including headaches, joint pain, memory loss, numbness, tinnitus, hearing loss, vision problems, weight gain, rashes, seizures, fatigue, muscle spasms, dizziness, asthma and chest tightness.
Betty Martini – a tireless campaigner against the use of aspartame – says that many people diagnosed with multiplesclerosis have lost all symptoms once they stopped using aspartame.
Check the ingredients labels
To avoid aspartame (also known by the E-number E951) you need to be aware of the widespread use of it in many of our everyday food products. Not just used in diet drinks and sugar-free gum, it can also be found in more than 5000 other food/drug items, even some nutritional supplements!
Is there a natural alternative to sugar?
Yes – stevia is a natural sugar alternative.
Stevia is a natural, sweet-tasting, non-toxic plant that has no calories, lowers blood pressure and inhibits fat absorption. It is diabetic-safe as it does not adversely affect blood sugar. It is heat stable to 200 degrees Celsius (392 degrees Fahrenheit) so is safe for use in cooking and can be added to hot drinks. It is said to be 10-40 times sweeter than sugar and can be bought in both powder and liquid form.
Japan has been using stevia instead of sugar to sweeten many food products, such as ice cream, bread, candies, pickles, soft drinks and chewing gum, since the mid 1970s. By the late 1980s, stevia represented approximately 41 percent of the market share of potently sweet products consumed in Japan.
Other countries using stevia today include Thailand, China, South Korea, Paraguay and Brazil.
In fact, stevia has been used around the world for at least 1500 years with no reported side-effects, yet it has not been approved as a food additive in the US because “We don’t have enough data to conclude that the use [in food] would be safe,” (quoted from an agency position paper).
(Aspartame, on the other hand, is a constant source of complaint. A former FDA investigator admits that approximately 75 percent of all the ‘adverse reaction’ complaints the FDA receives are related to aspartame!)
There will be no race to test stevia for approval while there is big money to be made from chemical substances such as aspartame because being a natural substance stevia can’t be patented by the huge pharmaceutical corporations.
Though not yet approved in the US as a food additive, stevia can be sold, and consumed, as a ‘dietary supplement’. In what way the FDA can justify how a natural food substance is safe as a supplement but unsafe as an additive is puzzling.
Stevia in the UK?
In the UK it is not possible to buy stevia from shops or other suppliers. The EU have totally banned sales and use of stevia for any purpose. So, in the EU the choice seems to be between the empty calories of sugar and the chemical toxins of aspartame.
Luckily, you can order stevia over the internet from several companies. Ones that will ship to the UK (from the US) include:
Shipping is charged at cost and delivery is fast.
Life is sweet
If you are looking for a healthy (and readily available) alternative to refined sugar and chemical sweeteners, one of the best is blackstrap molasses. This contains calcium, iron, and B vitamins, and it has about a quarter of the calories of refined sugar.
But the best source of sweetness must come from fruit. There are so many varieties of sweet fruits – enough to satisfy the sweetest tooth. With fruits and vegetables making up about 80% of your diet (in an ideal world) you should get all the sweetness you need naturally with no additives.