February 15, 2010

On My Soapbox: Splenda

Okay, in no way am I a doctor of any kind, nor am I a scientist. But I wanted to take a moment today to share my own feelings and thoughts about sugar, sugar substitutes and Splenda in general. Yes, I’m stepping up on my soapbox… apologies, but at least you have been forewarned.

First and foremost, I’m really tired of the FDA approving “safe” items such as aspartame (NutraSweet) and sucralose (Splenda) and then trying to brush aside any side effects or problems that occur from them. Really? Can you just come clean and say, ‘Hey, we’re human, we make mistakes, and by the way, this stuff has issues. Serious issues. Please be aware of them before you ingest them!” But they don’t. They just push it out so that the food makers and diet gurus can add them to our foods and push them as “healthy” and “calorie-free”.

Let’s think about this. How can calorie-free be healthy? Our bodies NEED calories to run. It’s our energy. Calories to our bodies are like gas to our cars. If we don’t take in calories, we don’t run for very long before we … uh… die. There are even foods out there that expend more energy to digest them than the calories they provide (like celery)... but they do provide calories.  But I, like so many others, want to find a way to be healthier, lose weight, without changing my life drastically (like giving up all things sweet). So, why not use Splenda… it’s “Natural” right? No… the makers of Splenda (Johnson & Johnson) don’t actually say that… their catch phrase is, “Splenda, made from sugar (or starts from sugar) so it tastes like sugar.” It doesn’t take a great leap to assume that if Splenda is made from sugar, and sugar is a natural substance growing from our earth, that Splenda must then also be natural. Right?

Wrong. They chemically altered sugar… substituting three parts of its makeup with cholorine (chlorinated sugar anyone?) to be sweeter than sugar but won’t affect insulin like sugar does. Sounds good, right? But if it’s chemically altered, it’s no longer natural. One person online likened the “made from sugar so it tastes like sugar” to oxygen and carbon dioxide. “Carbon dioxide – made from oxygen! Take a breath of fresh air.” Silly analogy, but it kind-of opens your eyes to the Splenda thing.

The makers of sucralose claim that the chemicals that are added aren’t absorbed by the body (although the FDA disagrees, stating that up to 27% can be absorbed). Therefore, those chemicals aren’t harmful to the body. (See a trend here?) Well, I argue that my body absorbs the sucralose and it’s being poisoned by it. Here’s my story…

A while back, over a year ago, I was plagued with a racing heartbeat and almost panic-like attacks. I realize I’m terribly overweight and that heart problems could be a growing issue from my weight. So, when the heart issue came up I went to see a doctor. She started me on all kinds of tests and freaked me out so much that I spiraled into a huge depression and a lot of anxiety. I couldn’t go back and see her, that’s how much anxiety I was in. I finally decided (with some help from some friends) to go see a different doctor, explaining to her my issues and whatnot. In the meantime, I had been drinking “energy” drinks (Rock Star Pomegranate), diet sodas, and Splenda in my hot tea to try and lose weight and stay awake. This new doctor convinced me to drop the Rock Stars (yes, I knew they weren’t “healthy” but I didn’t realize how much of a problem it was – taurine and that much caffeine are not good). She was guessing that I had developed a sensitivity to caffeine and that was what was causing my heart to race. I mentioned the Splenda possibility, since I had been having a lot of that recently, and she said racing heartbeat wasn’t a side effect of Splenda that she had heard. She really thought it was the caffeine. So, believing her, merrily I went continuing to drink my tea with Splenda.

The racing heartbeat lessened in frequency as did my desire to lose weight (sigh). I began to avoid all caffeine except for once a day – my morning beverage, typically a Coke Zero (sweetened with aspartame – NutraSweet – and as close to Coca-cola as I can get in a diet beverage) or a hot tea sweetened with good ol’ white table sugar. Now the only time my heart beat fast was when I was aerobically active (yes, this means simply walking upstairs, but I was trying to make it sound “officially” like I was doing my body good), or when I slipped up and drank a Rock Star.

Today, I firmly believe that Splenda is the cause of my racing heartbeat. And here’s why. Last night, I decided that I was going to stop eating sugar (added sugar and sweet things like cakes and candies, not things with sugar already in it like pasta sauce). I gave myself a pep talk and promised myself that I would have Splenda in my tea this morning… and I did.

I only got about halfway through my cup of tea this morning and my chest started to feel funny and my heart started pounding. I had shortness of breath and started feeling all panicky. Immediately I stopped drinking my tea. It took about an hour, but I stopped feeling my heart and felt calmer and was able to “catch” my breath. Now… keep in mind that for the past 5 months, I have been drinking hot tea every day during the work week, sweetened with sugar. I have not noticed any heart racing issues. Today, nothing else had changed. It was a flavor of tea I have drunk before. It was the same breakfast I had eaten last week. The only thing different was how I sweetened my tea.

People… I believe more completely than ever, that Splenda/sucralose is BAD. It is a poison that they are marketing as a “safe sweetener”. I have done the research today, and the racing heart is not an official acknowledged “side effect”… but there are many, many people stated they had also experienced it. The next time I see my doctor, I’m going to share this again with her, this feeling I had when using Splenda. I want her to understand that it is a side effect and that more people need to be aware of it. I wanted to share with you, my blogging friends, so you can also do the research. Migraine headaches are another side effect. Lethargy and brain-fogginess is another. I’m not pointing my finger, though, and demanding you stop using Splenda, if you’re okay with what it’s doing to you. Please, always take what you will from my soapbox, and leave the rest behind.

I’m not changing my mind, though, or my plan. I’m not going to eat added sugar for 2 weeks. But I’m also avoiding Splenda like the plague.

And later tonight, I’m headed to the store for some organic honey.


  1. amen sister! i have thought these products were a bad idea for a long time too!

  2. I've never used artificial sweeteners and never plan to. I also don't buy margarine (same idea). I think many of our western health issues (obesity, heart disease, etc.) are a result of the chemicals added to our foods - pesticides, preservatives, steroids, growth hormones... - and I too have a long-running issue with my weight and with high blood pressure. Recently I've been trying to make small changes. I buy organic when I can. And I'm trying to eat more and more "real" food and staying away from anything packaged. I can't wait for Spring/Summer so we have a Farmer's Market again! Fresh fruits and veggies are calling my name!

  3. I wish I could give up sweets and sugar. Maybe I will join you and Em and give it a go once we move back. I just have too much of a sweet tooth. :)

  4. Kai, I totally agree with you...and artificial sweetners "trick" your body into thinking it receives sugar...your insulin still rises and you still gain weight! For healthier eating and us girls who struggle with our weight, I have been following the Eat Clean "Diet"...which is basically eating foods that are as close to their natural state with no preservatives etc. This means a lot of label reading...my motto is If I can't pronounce it, I don't eat it. Of course, you have to watch portions etc.

    For sweetner substitutes absolutely honey is great, there is also raw sugar, sucanat (which is dried sugar cane juice), maple flakes (from pure maple sugar) and agave nectar (use this in moderation as it can be hard on your liver). Check out the site http://www.eatcleandiet.com/. There is an awesome magazine called Clean Eating too http://www.cleaneatingmag.com/. I still eat sugar...just not refined white sugar or artifical sweetners.

    It is great that you posted about this as it is very important to get this information out there. luv D.

  5. You said something in the very first paragraph that should set people off..."side effect." Seriously - there is no such thing as a "side effect." ALL things that happen upon consumption of a particular substance are "effects" - they are directly caused by what you ingest. "Side Effect" is a new term used almost exclusively by the industries that produce things we ingest to downplay the fact that what ever you are putting into your body will have an effect that may not be what you are expecting. ALL of the things that happen to the body due to an ingested substance are EFFECTS! What tends to be labeled a "side effect" is something that the sellers think consumers would consider not favorable or something that might not occur for everyone but occurs often enough to require mentioning.

    Based on this knowledge, one would approach labels and warnings much differently, no?

    I am not a fan of white processed sugar, let alone the even more processed sugar substitutes. Over time, I've learned to use sugars in more raw or less processed forms. They are more mellow, more satisfying and not as glycemically toxic as processed white sugar or any of the sugar substitutes.

    I learned this lesson while pregnant - if doctors basically tell you to drink no more than X mg's of caffiene, limit non-nutritional calories, drink plenty of water, avoid all drugs except tylenol and sudafed for illnesses and ailments, don't consumer processed meats, don't consume sugar substitutes, etc, etc, etc...I figured if it would be poison for a baby, it's probably poison for me too...so I started reading labels and considering all things that I put into my mouth...everything was brought into severe scrutiny - but I paid special attention to processed and chemically altered foods.

    And here is something else I found out while pregnant...even though fat and sugar substitutes are calorie free, they may still envoke the same insulin responses in the body as the real thing. So, consuming sugar and fat substitutes in high quantities may actually make your body fatter than learning to responsibly use the real thing. WOW!

    Good luck with the sugar replacement.

    PS...I am totally a coffee drinker in the morning - but I do drink Good Earth Caffiene Free Red Spice tea when I drink tea - its actually SWEET because of the rose hips and cinnamon it contains so I don't have to add sugar...its a thought.

  6. In the last few months I have cursed the FDA's name, too. My "no side effects" side effect is Red #40. It gives me "the crawlies" and insomnia. As soon as I eliminated it from my diet (based on a tip from a friend) I started sleeping like a baby. And now I'm starting to get suspicious of aspartame, too. Thanks for this informative post!


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