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Old 18-04-2005, 12:13 PM
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Default Dietitians Say Splenda Is Not the Same as Sugar

Dietitians Say Splenda Is Not the Same as Sugar
Lawsuits Put New Focus on Splenda and Other Artificial Sweeteners

By Colette Bouchez
WebMD Medical News Reviewed By Michael Smith, MD
on Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Courtroom battles between the makers of Splenda and Equal have many
questioning the safety of artificial sweeteners.

Since early 2000 McNeil Nutritionals has been advertising that its
product -- Splenda -- is "made from sugar so it tastes like sugar." But the
National Sugar Association and Merisant Worldwide (maker of Equal brand
sweetener) have challenged that claim in a lawsuit.

McNeil Nutritionals shot back with a counter suit implying the case against
them was more about corporate sour grapes than truth in consumer

But court battles and corporate back stabbing aside, the question on
consumers' minds is not so much whether advertising slogans are right or
wrong, but do they really make a difference -- at home, on the dinner table
where it really counts?

Dietitian Nancy Restuccia, MS, RD, says they most definitely do. "Splenda is
not sugar -- and to piggyback it on to the reputation of the centuries' old
profile of sugar is more than misleading, it could come back to haunt us,
perhaps sooner than we think," says Restuccia, a nutritionist at the Center
for Obesity Surgery at New York Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical
Center in New York City. Indeed, while there are currently only a handful of
studies that question Splenda's safety and more than 100 which attest to
it's safe use, Restuccia says it simply hasn't been around long enough to
amass any long-term data -- or even short-term data involving heavy

According to the manufacturer of Splenda, Johnson & Johnson/McNeil, since
its introduction more than a decade ago, millions of people have safely
eaten products made with sucralose - which is the basis of Splenda.

J. Roberto Moran, MD, director of medical and nutritional affairs for McNeil
Nutritionals LLC, says, "More than 80 countries have approved the use of
sucralose in foods, including the United States FDA in 1998."

McNeil also says sucralose is one of the most tested food ingredients ever
introduced and its safety has been confirmed by regulatory agencies around
the world. Studies, he says, number more than 100 over a 20 year period, all
demonstrating that sucralose has no harmful effects.

What Happens When Sweeteners Interact?

"Sugar may have its health drawbacks, but at least we know we're not in for
any major surprises -- and we just can't say that about Splenda yet -- so to
imply that it's got the same profile as sugar is misleading and that is
important today, as well as in the long run, " she says.

Samantha Heller, MS, RD, agrees. "Saying Splenda is made from sugar is like
taking the round wheels off a car and putting on square wheels. Is it still
a car? Yes. But can it still perform like a car? No -- and what's more we
don't know what's going to happen when people try to 'drive it' cross
country," says Heller.

Indeed, while Splenda starts out as sugar, some serious scientific tinkering
goes on before it gets into your coffee. As Heller explains, this involves
removing three atoms found in sugar and replacing them with three atoms of
the chemical chlorine.

But while all that may not matter much to your taste buds, experts say it
takes on a new and more important meaning as plans roll out to include
Splenda in a wide variety of treats, including more diet sodas, baked goods,
and even processed foods.

"It's not like you're going to be using a teaspoon in your coffee once in a
while -- it's going to be everywhere, in everything, which makes it even
more important for people to understand what they are and are not getting
with this product," says Restuccia.

Also important to note: Experts say we have almost no data on the way in
which artificial sweeteners interact with each other -- particularly at high
amounts. And that, says Restuccia may come back to haunt us even more.

"As more and more products are being made with artificial sweeteners, there
is more likelihood that we will not only be consuming more of them but also
mixing different ones, sometimes in a single meal -- and we really have no
idea what that means health wise, in the short or the long run," says

What About Other Artificial Sweeteners?

The FDA has approved five artificial sweeteners:

a.. Acesulfame potassium (Sunett)
b.. Aspartame (NutraSweet or Equal)
c.. Sucralose (Splenda)
d.. D-Tagatose (Sugaree)
e.. Saccharin (Sweet 'N Low)

You may be surprised to see saccharin on that list. In the 1970s, the FDA
was going to ban saccharin based on the reports of a Canadian study that
showed that saccharin was causing bladder cancer in rats. A public outcry
kept saccharin on the shelves (there were no other sugar substitutes at that
time), but with a warning label that read, "Use of this product may be
hazardous to your health. This product contains saccharin which has been
determined to cause cancer in laboratory animals."

That warning label is no longer needed, says Ruth Kava, PhD, RD, director of
nutrition for the American Council on Science and Health. Further research
has shown that male rats have a particular pH factor that predisposes them
to bladder cancer. "A lot of things that cause harm in animals don't always
cause harm in humans," she says.

Like saccharin, aspartame is another artificial sweetener that -- though
thoroughly tested by the FDA and deemed safe for the general population --
has had its share of critics who blame the artificial sweetener for causing
everything from brain tumors to chronic fatigue syndrome.

Not so, says Kava.

The only people for whom aspartame is a medical problem are those with the
genetic condition known as phenylkenoturia (PKU), a disorder of amino acid
metabolism. Those with PKU need to keep the levels of phenylalanine in the
blood low to prevent mental retardation as well as neurological, behavioral,
and dermatological problems. Since phenylalanine is one of the two amino
acids in aspartame, people who suffer from PKU are advised not to use it.

Some people can be sensitive to artificial sweeteners and experience
symptoms such as headaches and upset stomach, but otherwise, there is no
credible information that aspartame -- or any other artificial sweetener --
causes brain tumors, or any other illness, says registered dietitian Wendy
Vida, with HealthPLACE, the health and wellness division of Highmark Blue
Cross Blue Shield in Pittsburgh.

Kava says that since artificial sweeteners are so much sweeter than sugar, a
very small amount is needed to achieve the same sweetness one gets from
sugar. "If used normally, the amounts you take in are so minuscule as to be
of no concern at all."

Another sweetener receiving much publicity of late is stevia, an herbal
sweetening ingredient used in food and beverages by South American natives
for many centuries and in Japan since the mid-1970s.

According to Ray Sahelian, MD, author of The Stevia Cookbook, stevia has
shown no significant side effects after more than 20 years of use in Japan.
"There are no indications at this point from any source that stevia has
shown toxicity in humans," says Sahelian, though he agrees that further
research is warranted.

Because stevia is not FDA-approved, it cannot be sold as an artificial
sweetener; however it can be -- and is -- sold as a dietary supplement.
Because these supplements are not regulated as well as those that have
received FDA approval, and therefore have no guarantee of purity, Kava is
leery about the use of stevia. "This is a product that's just asking for
good research studies," she says. "We just don't know enough yet."

With reporting by Carol Sorgen.


SOURCES: Nancy Restuccia, MS, RD, Center for Obesity Surgery at NY
Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center in New York City; Samantha
Heller, MS, RD, senior clinical nutritionist at NYU Medical Center, New York
City; Americans Opt for Sweetness and Lite, FDA Consumer, December, 2004;
Use of Nutritive and Non-Nutritive Sweeteners, Position Paper, American
Dietetic Association. WebMD Feature Archive: "The Truth on Artificial
Sweeteners." J. Roberto Moran, MD, director of medical and nutritional
affairs for McNeil Nutritionals LLC.

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