by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Sweeteners

Oct 12 2012

The latest in dietetic junk food

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association) has just concluded its annual meeting and exhibition.

I was unable to attend but colleagues have been sending photos and giving me products or other objects collected at the exhibition.  This exhibition is always worth a look.  It typically features displays by food companies (Big Food and small) giving away samples of what I love to call “dietetic junk foods” in order to encourage dietitians to recommend them to clients.

Thanks to my NYU colleague, Lisa Sasson, for alerting me to these entertaining examples.

First: sugar-supplemented Stevia:

Next: The National Confectioners Association has a handy guide to moderate candy consumption:

Then: Frito-Lay (owned by PepsiCo) ‘s new Gluten-Free chips.

Potato chips did not ever contain gluten, but never mind.   They remind me of products offered during the low-carb craze a few years ago, like the ones I photographed when working on What to Eat in 2005.

Eat healthfully and enjoy the weekend!

Sep 29 2008

The latest Splenda rat study: oops

A recent study in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health suggests that rats display metabolic problems when fed the artificial sweetener, Splenda, at doses within the range commonly consumed by humans (here’s a summary).  The study was funded in part by the Sugar Association which, of course, is in competition with Splenda.  Needless to say, the maker of Splenda, McNeal Nutritionals, objects strongly to these results.  One objection is that this is a study done on rats.  But rat studies do have some validity and and are worth serious consideration.  Or as Erik Millstone and Tim Lang say in their new book, The Atlas of Food (to which I wrote the Foreword), “The food additives industry often treats the results of [animal] studies as valid when they show no adverse effects, but questions their relevance when they do suggest adverse effects.”

Aug 8 2008

FDA changes mind; says HFCS is natural after all

Try to get your mind around this one. To make high fructose corn syrup, it is necessary to (1) extract the starch from corn, (2) treat the starch with an enzyme to break it into glucose, and (3) treat the glucose with another enzyme to turn about half of it into fructose. OK class, explain how this can be considered natural? Answer: because the enzymes are fixed to a column and do not actually mix with the starch. Oh. So the FDA considers HFCS natural because Archer Daniels Midland and the Corn Refiners Association asked it to. Regime change, anyone?

Jul 19 2008

Truvia/Stevia safety research!

Sherry Weiss Poall of the RF Binder agency, which does public relations for Cargill, was kind enough to send me the collection of research studies the company is using to demonstrate the safety of Truvia/Stevia. The studies just came out in a supplement to Food and Chemical Toxicology, July 2008. Journal supplements typically are paid for by the research sponsor, in this case, Cargill. The authors of the dozen or so papers are scientists at Cargill and Coca-Cola or “independent” scientists who were paid for their work by Cargill “for consulting services and manuscript preparation.” The papers cover the chemistry and metabolism of stevia, its effects on human blood pressure and diabetes (none reported), and its effects on rats (minimal problems and only at absurdly high doses). Their entirely predictable conclusion: Truvia/Stevia is safe.

Stevia is a plant extract.  It isn’t poison ivy, it’s been around for awhile, and it ought to be safe. But sponsored research always raises questions about the objectivity of the science, especially when the papers read like press releases, which these do. I can’t wait to see what the FDA makes of all this. In the meantime, it’s on the market as an unapproved product.

Jul 17 2008

Cargill’s Truvia (Stevia) comes to town

I missed the Rockefeller Center launch of Cargill’s new sweetener, Truvia, but the press people followed up by sending me a sensational press kit in a gorgeous garden tote, complete with gloves. What can I say. It’s another artificial sweetener (OK, it’s an extract of plant leaves, which they claim makes it “natural”), this time in a little green packet. The press kit included a chocolate bar “made with Truvia natural sweetener.” It tasted like a dark bitter chocolate of the waxy type. Andy Bellatti of Small Bites, who works in my department, pulled out a Lindt dark chocolate bar for comparison. Truvia 191 calories vs. Lindt 210. No contest, I’d say. One thing intrigues. The packets and chocolate have Nutrition Facts labels, but the FDA has never approved Stevia so it’s been marketed as a dietary supplement with Supplement Facts labels. Reports are that the FDA is considering its approval as Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS).  But to date the FDA has not approved it.  How is Cargill getting away with this? It plans to team up with Coca-Cola to seek international approval for it on the basis of research which they claim demonstrates its safety. But neither the website nor the press kit give the protocols for the studies or the actual data so it’s hard to judge. Cargill says it worked with FDA on this. FDA is letting Cargill use a Nutrition Facts label? On an unapproved product? Well, Cargill is a giant company and I guess it knows how to get what it wants. Oh. And how does Truvia taste? Sweet, with a bitter aftertaste. Is everyone waiting for this? Or is it just me who prefers sugar?

Jan 4 2008

Stevia is coming (maybe)

Coca-Cola and Cargill have teamed up to start marketing the sweetener, Stevia, in countries that allow it, places like Brazil and China. Europe and the U.S. do not allow it as a food additive although the U.S. permits its use as a dietary supplement. The FDA says companies have not produced evidence that the substance is safe; it considers Stevia an “unsafe food additive” and any product containing it to be adulterated. The entry on Stevia in Wikipedia explains most of what all this is about. Concerns about the safety of Stevia have not stopped Coca-Cola from filing 24 patent applications or petitioning the FDA for approval. Interesting, no?

Sep 12 2007

The Aspartame Controversy: Will it Never End?

I’ve just gotten a notice that a big study in Critical Reviews in Toxicology gives aspartame a clean bill of health; the reviewers judge it safe at current levels of intake and find “no credible scientific basis” to think otherwise. This comment refers to contrary studies first published a year or so ago and confirmed again this summer by an Italian group (see their paper in Environmental Health Perspectives). This group claims that aspartame causes cancer in rats when consumed at levels typical of those in soft drinks. The Critical Reviews analysis is the most recent of many other such studies discounting the methods and opinions of aspartame critics. Will this latest study–at long last–put the matter to rest? I doubt it. The Critical Reviews analysis was funded by the maker of aspartame, Ajinomoto. Even though its authors were not told this, and the sponsor was not involved in the review, the study gives the appearance of conflict of interest. This kind of sponsorship is not helpful. My own view (which I discuss in detail in What to Eat) is that aspartame probably is safe at current levels of intake. But so what? It is an artificial sweetener. I don’t like anything artificial when it comes to food and I much prefer sugar (in moderation, of course).

Aug 19 2007

Do Artificial Sweeteners Induce Sugar Cravings?

This is an interesting follow-up question on post #83: Diet Sodas and Metabolic Risks: “I have heard that the intense sweet flavor of artificial sweeteners signals the body that there are a lot of carbohydrates coming. Since the diet soft drink provides none, a craving for them may be stimulated – hence the weight gain associated with sodas, diet or not. Have you heard this explanation before?”

Indeed, I have. I’ve seen a couple of studies suggesting that artificial sweeteners encourage the taste for sweet. I think these are preliminary and need further confirmation but the idea is consistent with trends. As I explain in the chapter on diet drinks in What to Eat, rates of overweight have risen in parallel with the increase in use of artificial sweeteners, so on a population basis, the chemicals don’t seem to do any good for weight trends. Individuals may find them helpful to control calorie intake, but on average most people seem to compensate–and overcompensate–for calorie savings from artificial sweeteners. After all, a teaspoon of sugar is only 16 calories and it doesn’t take much to compensate. When it comes to food, I don’t like anything artificial and I don’t like the way artificial sweeteners taste, so they are pretty low on my recommended list. I much prefer sugar, especially the brown crystalline kind.