We have all kinds of wonderful choices available to us. Yankees or Mets (better still, neither), Frosted Flakes or Cap'n Crunch, Homeland or The Walking Dead. Awesome.
And now we get to choose between an old artificial sweetener that was perfectly safe and a new one that is perfectly safer.
For more than 30 years, aspartame (aka NutraSweet), has been the target of conspiracy crazies and those who profit from the crazies. Speaking of whom, supplement mogul Crazy Joe Mercola calls aspartame "By far the most dangerous substance added to most foods today."
In case you have any nagging doubts about his credibility, you might wish to consider two statements from Mercola's website:
1. "Aspartame is made up of three chemicals: aspartic acid, phenylalanine, methanol."
This is true, but irrelevant. It makes no difference what anything is made from. The only thing that matters is the reaction product—what you make. Here is the best example: Put a chunk of sodium in your mouth and your head will blow up. And chlorine, one of the first chemical weapons, was used in World War I. One good whiff and it's goodbye lungs. If you react the two you get, of course, sodium chloride—salt.
Mercola calls salt an "unnatural chemical." I guess this is true if you ignore all five oceans, the Dead Sea, The Great Salt Lake and organic pretzels.
But fear not. For only $7.97 you can buy Mercola's Himalayan Crystal Cooking Salt, "the purest salt on Earth," which was discovered after years of searching. In fact, it's so pure that it contains 84 elements! This is odd, since my concept of purity is not having other things present let alone 84 of them. Even funnier is that of the 84 elements, iodine—the only salt additive that is medically important—isn't even present.
2. "Aspartic acid from aspartame has the same deleterious effects on the body as glutamic acid." Sounds pretty bad. But it begs the question: Why is Mercola selling "Dr. Mercola's Whey Chocolate Protein Powder" (only $32.95 for eleven servings!) on his website? Especially if you bother to take a look at the label:
So, if I've got this right, one of the reasons that aspartame is dangerous is because it contains aspartic acid, which has the same deleterious effects as glutamic acid. Which Mercola is selling for muscle building because it is "rich in glutamic acid." Now that's rich! As is Mercola, who has figured out how to market something that apparently both helps and harms your body at the same time.
Mercola does not sell phenylalanine, but NOW Foods sells it on Amazon because: "L-Phenylalanine is an essential amino acid that can be readily converted into the amino acid tyrosine. Because tyrosine is necessary for the synthesis of proteins and the production of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine, phenylalanine is an extremely important nutrient that must be obtained through the diet or supplementation."
And Biotech Nutritions sells aspartic acid, also on Amazon because it: “is a testosterone booster, increases nitric oxide levels and is a performance enhancer.” And I think it helps you solve the quadratic equation too.
So, "the most dangerous substance added to most foods today" is made up of two amino acids, both of which are sold as supplements, and a tiny amount of methanol, which you ingest every time you have fruit juice or wine.
If the amount of methanol in a can of soda (20 mg) doesn't sound like much, it's because it isn't. By comparison, 10 ounces of brandy contains 500 mg of methanol—also the same amount you would get from a kilogram of apples.
Note: The one legitimate health concern of aspartame is that it contains phenylalanine, which cannot be consumed by phenylketonurics—people with a rare genetic defect that prevents the normal metabolism of phenylalanine, leading to the accumulation of dangerous byproducts. These people—one in 10,000— must also avoid phenylalanine-rich foods, such as milk, cheese, meat, fish, chicken, eggs, beans, and nuts.
Enter advantame, which has certain properties that give it an advantage over aspartame:
1. It does not form phenylalanine when metabolized, so people with phenylketonuria can use it safely.
2. It is chemically more stable than aspartame and can therefore be used in cooked foods. Aspartame decomposes when heated.
3. It is 20,000 times sweeter than sugar, and 100-times sweeter than aspartame, so less is needed.This solves the non-problem of methanol; one can of diet soda would then contain 0.2 mg of methanol, which 2,500-fold less than you would get from the brandy or apples.
In reality, the amount of methanol from either sweetener is no cause for concern. Methanol is ubiquitous, occurring naturally in fruits and vegetables. Your body knows how to handle small amounts of it very well. (Yes- we all know that methanol is converted to formaldehyde. Your body can handle small amounts of that too.)
If this isn’t enough to convince people, the intensive toxicology studies of the new sweetener should. The safety of advantame was established in 37 studies in animals and humans at a variety of doses, both acutely and chronically. It was virtually impossible to find a toxic dose in animals, and there were no signs of carcinogenicity, reproductive or developmental toxicity, or any other systemic toxicity in animals or humans. About the only way this stuff could harm you is if you were run over by a truck that was delivering it.
So, some rather clever science has given us another choice of sweeteners, but I’m betting that the Mercolas of the world will find something "wrong" with it and offer a natural alternative (maybe even with free shipping). After all, we all need to make a living.