Artificial Sweeteners – artificial hope?

Dr John Briffa raised the issue of artificial sweeteners in his blog of 4th September 2009 headed: The myriad of reasons why artificial sweeteners may not deliver on their weight loss promise”.

Sooner than post at length on Johns blog I posted a reply with link to these paragraphs:-

John, no, I hadn’t researched xylitol any more than having seen it advocated in the aforementioned book. I agree entirely about cause for caution. The entry in Wikipedia reads as though it could have been compiled by those of largely enthusiastic persuasion.
The claim is that spoon for spoon there are 40% fewer calories than sugar but nothing is mentioned about relative sweetness. For all I know one might need to use 40% more of the stuff to satisfy ones palette. There is a link in the wiki to the BMJ; it is not available to me.

What should we regard as natural anyway? Our forebears have a long history of exposure to many sugars intrinsic to many natural food sources including glucose and fructose yet as you point out there is reason to be concerned about fructose and the associated dependency upon the liver to break it down. At 50/50 glucose/fructose common (table) sugar could be labelled natural at one level but considered entirely un-natural by virtue of refinement and context. I guess the same argument holds for the sugar-alcohols (sorbitol, xylitol etc.)
I was not especially advocating xylitol – there seems every reason to categorise it with the ‘artificial sweeteners’; and by the same token, might there be a case to argue that sucrose and perhaps even honey deserve inclusion in that same category?

If human progenitors existed for substantial periods largely as folivores and frugivores we might consider that we ought to be well adapted to these dietary components; fruit and veg in general are deemed to be good for us.
However it could be a pitfall to overlook the contrast between modern cultivars and naturally occurring sources as was. Modern varieties have resulted from the pursuit of sweetness and size. Our ancestors quite likely could not select just the ripest fruits while foraging but probably had to consume unripe or, most certainly under-ripe, fruits too;  fruits with a considerably higher fibre to sugar ratio than our modern equivalents. There’s another contrast too, one might expect our ancestors to have consumed fruits whole.

So 21st century folks in the main have an artificially sweet tooth(?), consume a diet unnaturally high in GL(?), consume too little (non-cereal) fibre(?), and are intolerant to the taste of foods rich in bitter tasting compounds which may be good for them – such as dark leafy greens(?).
Increased exposure to sweeteners, especially the ‘artificial’ ones, in commonplace products cannot be congruent with the likely benefits of re-educating overly ‘sweet-tooths’.

Because I acknowledge the dietary benefits of fibre and the anti-oxidant properties of limonene I do on occasions consume an orange complete with pith and peel. I expect most folks would find that unpalatable and eccentric practice, yet the declaration serves points in para. 3.

The soft drinks industry (US -‘soda’) is clearly factorial in conditioning folks to sweet-tooths and this has come to the attention of at least one US state, as was reported recently in New Scientist, who advocated increased taxation upon sodas, much like the instance of Dr David Walker who tabled a motion for debate and vote at the Glasgow conference  earlier this year (defeated only by a narrow margin) to increase taxation upon chocolate bars and confections on sale in the UK.

Concluding just a little politically I think there is mileage to be gained from considering the role of regulators on both sides of the Atlantic. Is there scope for improvement in the efficacy of regulation and education?


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