by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Artificial-sweeteners

Sep 19 2014

Do artificial sweeteners cause–not cure–glucose intolerance?

The big nutrition scare last week was the study in Nature finding that in mice and, maybe, humans, artificial sweeteners mess up the microbiome and make some people even more intolerant of glucose.

The authors conclude that their results call for a reassessment of massive use of artificial sweeteners.

The study is complicated and difficult to read but the Wall Street Journal has a nice summary.  It explains why the study is getting so much attention:

The new Nature study marks a significant advance because it brings together two separate areas of research—the role of sweeteners in raising blood sugar levels, and the complex workings of the vast colonies of bacteria that inhabit the gut. Individuals can have differing bacterial colonies in their gut, meaning people respond differently to what they consume.

The study involved several experiments.  These found:

  • Mice fed saccharin, sucralose, or aspartame had significantly higher blood-glucose levels than mice whose diet included sugar, or just water.
  • Mice with sterilized digestive tracts, who were given bacterial transplants from artificial-sweetener-fed mice, displayed higher blood sugar levels than those receiving bacterial transplants from sugar-fed mice.
  • People who typically use artificial sweeteners have different kinds of bacteria in their intestines than those who do not.  They also are more glucose intolerant.
  • Seven volunteers fed artificial sweeteners for four days displayed higher blood-sugar levels as well as altered populations of bacteria in their gut.

The Wall Street Journal quotes the Calorie Control Council (the trade association of makers of artificial sweeteners).  The CCC said:

The results from the mouse experiments may not apply to humans, while the human experiments had a small sample size. It said further research was needed.

Despite my lack of enthusiasm for artificial sweeteners, I think the Calorie Control Council has a point.

The excellent report by Kenneth Chang in the New York Times explains why.

At present, the scientists cannot explain how the sweeteners affect the bacteria or why the three different molecules of saccharin, aspartame and sucralose result in similar changes in the glucose metabolism.

Chang ends with this:

Dr. Frank Hu, a professor of nutrition and immunology at the Harvard School of Public Health who did not take part in the study, called it interesting but far from conclusive and added that given the number of participants, “I think the validity of the human study is questionable.”

Here’s why I’m not fond of artificial sweeteners:

  • They taste bad (to me)
  • They have no demonstrated effectiveness in helping people lose or maintain weight.
  • They are artificial, and violate my rule to “never eat anything artificial.”

Do they mess up the microbiome and cause glucose intolerance, insulin resistance, and metabolic syndrome?

That would be fascinating, but I’m reserving judgment pending further research.

In the meantime, I’ll take sugar—in moderation, of course.

May 8 2013

New studies on artificial sweeteners: a puzzle

FoodNavigator.com reports two new studies on artificial sweeteners.

The first report says that artificially sweetened sodas do not lead to increased sugar or calorie consumption.

Our study study does not provide evidence to suggest that a short-term consumption of DBs [diet beverages], compared with water, increases preferences for sweet foods and beverages.

If this result proves repeatable, it leaves open the question of why the prevalence of obesity has gone up in parallel with increasing consumption of diet sodas (which it has).  

So how come diet sodas don’t seem to help people maintain weight, on average?  We still don’t know.

The second report is about a study that links diet sodas to type 2 diabetes.   In a study following 66,000 women for 14 years, it found both sugar-sweetened beverage consumption and artificially sweetened beverage consumption to be associated with increased type-2 diabetes risk. 

How come?  We still don’t know.

One thing seems pretty clear from such studies: diet drinks don’t appear to do much good for most people and aren’t any better for health than regular sodas.

Water, anyone?

Apr 22 2013

Food politics makes strange bedfellows, again

Last week, I wrote about the dairy industry’s petition to avoid having to follow FDA rules about labeling artificial sweeteners on the front of milk cartons.

Cara Wilking, Senior Staff Attorney at the Public Health Advocacy Institute at Northeastern University points out that the Sugar Association, the trade association for producers of cane and beet sugar, is right on top of this issue.

To assist consumers in making informed choices about what is sweetening the products they purchase, the Sugar Association petitioned the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requesting changes to labeling regulations on sugar and alternative sweeteners.

In this petition we asked that artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols be identified on the front of the package along with the amounts, similar to what is required in Canada.

If it is important to you to know if the product you purchase contains artificial sweeteners, let your congressional representatives know that FDA needs to take action on this important consumer issue.

The Sugar Association, obviously, represents the producers of cane and beet sugar. It wants to sell more sugar.  It doesn’t like artificial sweeteners much.  [Recall: it doesn't like me much either---go to Media and scroll down to the bottom to read the Sugar Association's letter threatening to sue me].

In contrast, the dairy industry wants to sell more milk.  Sweetened milk, no matter with what, sells to kids.  School kids are a big market for the dairy industry.  This market, however, is not doing well these days, according to the dairy industry’s August 2012 School Channel Survey.

Schools and processors are realizing 59% of current potential…Milk potential stands at 6.29 milks per student each week…Actual usage is 3.74 milks per student each week.  Elementary schools: 70% of potential being realized, down 1 point Secondary schools: 50%, down 1 point over last year.

Achieving ‘a milk with every meal’ translates into nearly 300 million incremental gallons….

Of course artificial sweeteners should be prominently labeled.  The Sugar Association has this one right.

Whatever your opinion, you can file comments at www.regulations.gov. Search for docket number FDA-2009-P-0147.

 

Apr 18 2013

FDA wants comments on labeling of artificial sweeteners in milk

The FDA is collecting opinions on a dairy industry petition to change the standard of identity for milk.  The dairy industry wants to be able to add artificial sweeteners to chocolate- and strawberry-flavored milk without saying so on the front panel of the package.

FDA Wants Your Opinion on Dairy-Product Labels - (JPG v2)

Why is the dairy industry doing this?  Because it believes that:

Labels such as “reduced calorie” or “no added sugar” are a turn-off to kids who might otherwise reach for flavored milk with non-nutritive (artificial) sweeteners at the school cafeteria or from the grocery store cooler.

As if kids should be reaching for milk with artificial sweeteners.  

The FDA wants to hear from YOU about this.  It wants your comments on these questions (my translation):

  • If the label just says Chocolate Milk, will consumers understand that the milk is artificially sweetened?
  • Are descriptions like “reduced calorie” really unattractive to children?
  • Will it be hard for consumers to figure out whether a product contains sugar or an artificial sweetener?
How about a couple of other questions?
  • Why would anyone put artificial sweeteners into milk in the first place?
  • Is giving artificial sweeteners to children a good idea?
  • Why does milk for kids have to be sweetened?  Can’t kids drink plain, unflavored milk?
Just asking.  Do weigh in on this one.  It’s not hard to do.

Go to www.regulations.gov. Search for docket number FDA-2009-P-0147. 

Nov 30 2012

Do artificial sweeteners make rats fat?

Artificial sweeteners are a terrific example of why correlation does not necessarily mean causation (see previous post).

Their use has increased in parallel—is highly correlated—with rising rates of obesity.  But could artificial sweeteners cause obesity?

Unlikely as that idea may seem, Brazilian researchers thought  it was worth careful investigation.

They did a preliminary study of sweeteners and weight gain in rats.

They report: although total calorie intake was similar in all rats, the rats fed artificial sweeteners gained more weight than those fed sucrose (table sugar).

The investigators fed the rats yogurt containing either sucrose, aspartame, or saccharin along with unlimited amounts of rat chow.

The rats must not have liked the taste of the artificial sweeteners because they ate more of the sucrose-containing yogurt than the kind with artificial sweeteners. They compensated for less yogurt by eating more rat chow.

Although saccharin and aspartame promoted relatively fewer calories from yogurt intake when compared to sucrose, increases in calories from chow intake effectively compensated for decreases in calories from yogurt, in such a way that there was a similar total caloric intake among all groups after the 12-week period of the experiment.

As they put it, “Possible explanations for weight-gain in saccharin and aspartame groups without increasing energy intake are still widely speculative.”  They suggest that artificial sweeteners might induce:

  • Reduced energy expenditure.
  • Excessive insulin secretion.
  • Increased fluid intake and retention.

What are we to make of this?

This is a small, preliminary study using only 10 rats in each of the three groups.

The differences in calorie intake were small and small calorie differences are difficult to measure.

Bottom line: this is an interesting result that needs to be repeated with greater numbers of rats and even more careful calorie measurements.

Reference: Fernanda de Matos Feijó et al.  Saccharin and aspartame, compared with sucrose, induce greater weight gain in adult Wistar rats, at similar total caloric intake levels.  Appetite 2012; 60:203-207. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2012.10.009

 

 

 

May 30 2012

Stevia and other “natural” sweeteners: are they?

FoodNavigator-USA.com did a special edition “Where next for natural sweeteners?”  “Special editions are collections of previously published articles on topics of interest to this newsletter’s food industry readers.

Why do this?  The holy grail of food technology is to find a no-calorie sweetener that tastes as good as sugar, has no bitter aftertaste, and can be marketed as “natural” because it’s extracted from plants. Examples: Stevia extracted from leaves Monk fruit sweetener.

As with high fructose corn syrup, not everyone considers these sweeteners to be natural since they have to go through chemical processing steps.

Stevia is extracted from leaves with ethanol.  Whether this process can be considered natural is currently under debate in Europe.  Some European regulators prefer “extracted from a plant source.”

Here are some of the articles.  For the complete collection, click here.

Monk fruit sweetener firm: ‘We hear daily that people are looking for alternatives to stevia’

It might not have garnered as much publicity as stevia, but monk fruit (luo han guo) “has found a niche within the all-natural market but will hit mass market sooner than stevia in this space”, according to one leading supplier… Read

Tate & Lyle: Monk fruit sweetener attracting most interest in dairy and beverages

Dairy and beverages are proving the most popular application areas for monk fruit sweetener Purefruit, says Tate & Lyle… Read

Different processes, lower cost, better taste: Is stevia still on track for mainstream success?Taste issues and high cost repeatedly have been raised as possible obstacles to widespread acceptance of stevia-derived sweeteners, but one of the many new suppliers entering the market claims that these are no longer the hurdles they once were… Read

Steviol glycosides are not ‘all-natural’, says new class action lawsuitA class action lawsuit filed in California this week argues that steviol glycosides should not be considered natural, owing to the “chemical processing” sometimes used to extract them from the stevia leaf… Read

Stevia buyers beware: There are some ‘awful’ extracts out there…

While traders “jumping in and out of the stevia marketplace” are disrupting prices and standards by peddling some “awful” extracts, high-quality stevia suppliers in it for the long-haul will ultimately prosper, according to one leading player… Read

Stevia in snacks and baked goods – stealth, competition, and potential

While stevia is beginning to take off in a number of baked goods and snack categories in the US, Asian and South American markets, some other emerging ‘natural’ sweeteners look ready to take it on in the segment, claims Datamonitor… Read

Naturally-positioned sweeteners to lead market growth: Report

The US alternative sweeteners market will grow by 3.3% a year to reach about $1.4bn in 2015 – and naturally positioned sweeteners like stevia and agave nectar will lead the way, claims a new report from market research organization Freedonia… Read

Nov 25 2011

Is aspartame safe? You decide.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the agency that rules on health claims and food safety, is reviewing the safety of the artificial sweetener aspartame.  It has just released the 112 studies it reviewed in the 1980s along with hundreds of studies submitted more recently.  Its re-evaluation is expected in 2012.

Despite many complaints to the contrary, the FDA has consistently ruled that aspartame is safe at levels currently consumed.  With release of the EFSA studies, people concerned about this issue can review the data and draw their own conclusions.

It will be interesting to see EFSA’s review when it appears.

Oct 2 2011

What to do about food chemicals eaten in tiny amounts?

My once-a-month, first Sunday Food Matters column in the San Francisco Chronicle is about the difficulty of figuring out the health effects of food chemicals consumed in low doses.

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Taking steps on food chemicals

Editor’s note: Nutrition and public policy expert Marion Nestle answers readers’ questions in this monthly column written exclusively for The Chronicle. E-mail your questions to food@sfchronicle.com, with “Marion Nestle” in the subject line.

Q: I don’t understand why the FDA does not ban aspartame, food colors, BPA, pesticides and all those other nasty chemicals in food. I can’t believe they are good for us.

A: I can’t, either. But the Food and Drug Administration is required to make decisions on the basis of science, not beliefs.

You eat these chemicals in tiny amounts – parts per billion or trillion. Whether doses this low cause harm is hard to assess for two reasons: science and politics. Scientists cannot easily measure the health effects of exposure to low-dose chemicals. And the industries that make and use these chemicals don’t want to give them up.

Food chemicals elicit plenty of public dread and outrage. But are they harmful?

Controlled clinical trials at normal levels of intake would require vast numbers of subjects over decades. Nobody would fund them.

Instead, researchers use animals consuming much higher doses. I can remember how the diet soda industry ridiculed studies suggesting that saccharine caused bladder cancer in rats: the doses were equivalent to drinking 1,250 12-ounce diet sodas a day.

The difficulties of doing research on low-dose chemicals – and the food industry’s insistence that such doses are safe – explains the FDA’s reluctance to act.

Some examples illustrate the problem.

Aspartame

Some studies suggest that aspartame might cause cancer in rats when consumed at levels typical of diet soft drinks, as well as other problems. But researchers performing better controlled studies have given aspartame a clean bill of health.

Despite public concerns, the FDA’s assessment of the evidence “finds no reason to alter its previous conclusion that aspartame is safe as a general purpose sweetener in food.”

Food dyes

These have been considered a possible cause of hyperactivity in children since the 1970s. Some studies show improved behavior among children placed on additive-free diets. But behavior is difficult to judge objectively, and even controlled studies gave mixed results.

A recent study funded by the British Food Standards Agency is typical. It found most children to be unaffected by removing additives. But a small percentage seemed to get better.

The FDA can only conclude that there is not enough science to decide whether food dyes cause hyperactivity.

BPA (Bisphenol A)

BPA is a component of hard plastic used to make baby bottles and food and beverage cans. It is also an endocrine disrupter. Last year, the FDA concluded that BPA is safe at current exposure levels.

At the same time, the FDA advised children and pregnant women to reduce exposure to BPA. It advised the infant formula and soda industries to find ways to replace it.

The California Legislature has passed AB1319 banning BPA from baby bottles and sippy cups; it’s awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature.

Recent studies raise concerns about BPA’s effects on the brain and behavior of fetuses, infants and young children, and on cancer, obesity and infertility in adults. Some studies suggest that exposure to BPA is higher than previously estimated. Just last week, the Breast Cancer Fund released a study finding BPA in canned foods designed for children.

Studies by university scientists tend to find harm from BPA at low doses, whereas those by government regulatory agencies and the food industry do not. In the absence of compelling science, regulators have two choices: exercise the “precautionary principle” and ban the chemical until it can be proven safe, or approve it until it can be shown to be harmful.

The United States and European safety agencies – and the food industry, of course – prefer the latter approach.

Pesticides

Research clearly demonstrates that pesticides harm farmworkers exposed to high doses. But recent studies report slightly lower IQ levels in children born to urban women with higher blood levels of pesticides. Although these studies did not control for socioeconomic and other variables that might influence IQ, they raise the possibility that even low levels might be harmful.

What to do?

While waiting for the science to evolve, you can take both personal and political action.

You don’t want potentially harmful chemicals in your foods? Read labels and don’t buy foods with artificial sweeteners or food colors. Kids don’t need them anyway.

Consumer action has already induced baby bottle makers to get rid of BPA. This strategy can work for food colors, too.

Don’t stop eating fruits and vegetables. Their known health benefits greatly outweigh the potential harm of pesticides. Don’t stop eating them.

Buy organic. Pesticides, invisible and unlabeled as they are, constitute a good reason to do so.

Get political. Let your congressional representatives know that more research is needed, but you don’t want to wait for it. You want industry to find healthier alternatives.

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Marion Nestle is the author of “Food Politics” and “What to Eat,” among other books, and is a professor in the nutrition, food studies and public health department at New York University. E-mail comments to food@sfchronicle.com.

This article appeared on page G – 10 of the San Francisco Chronicle

 

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