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Sweets for the sweet

February 7, 2008 - Kathie Evanoff
Who doesn’t love something sweet now and then?

I know I do, especially when it comes to sweetening my morning cup of tea.

I’ve tried every type of sweetener available, including the FDA banned, but dietary supplement approved, and much controversial Stevia. But nothing sweetens or satisfies my taste buds like the real thing, sugar.

In a previous blog, I discussed high fructose corn syrup as a food additive evil that is often hidden in many processed and packaged foods because it is not only a sweetener, but also is a food preservative. I don’t dispute the necessity of preserving food on our grocery store shelves, and I doubt people will go back to the old ways of only buying fresh foods and only during their peak seasons. After all, I enjoy opening a can of tomato sauce that I didn’t spend hours in the kitchen preserving as well as the next person.

But when it comes to using artificial sweeteners, there has been a lot of talk concerning their safety and their possible side effects.

The Food and Drug Administration has approved five artificial sweeteners for use as food additives. When the FDA approves a food it has researched, it not only has too look at how the food will be used, but how much of that food the average person will use. For example, in the late 1970s, the FDA suggested a ban on saccharin because evidence had shown the sweetener caused cancer in laboratory rats. Many food companies voluntarily removed saccharin from their products. But research by the National Cancer Institute suggested that saccharin did not cause cancer in humans, unless someone drank more than 800 cans of saccharin laden soda a day, it proved not to be harmless at all. Saccharin was never banned, but did carry warning labels, until 2001 when the warning label was removed. Saccharin is sold under the brand names Sweet’N Low, Sweet Twin and Necta Sweet.

Probably the most used sweetener by food companies is aspartame. Also sold as Equal, aspartame is 200 times sweeter than sugar. In fact, aspartame has the same number of calories as sugar, but because so little is needed, serving-sizes are virtually sugar-free. Aspartame also has been under a lot of scrutiny due to a published finding by the European Ramazzini Foundation, which claimed aspartame causes leukemia and lymphoma in rats. In the 1990s, it was believed that a rise in brain cancer was due to aspartame, but The National Toxicology program, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, conducted aspartame studies and found no such link. As it stands, the FDA’s position on aspartame is that it is safe, basing their analysis on more than 100 toxicological and clinical studies on the sweetener. Aspartame does convert to methanol, aspartic acid and phenylalanine in the body, and people sensitive to phenylalanine should avoid ingesting aspartame.

Sucralose is even sweeter than aspartame and has been measured at 600 times sweetener than sugar. Sucralose is sold under the brand name, Splenda and is rapidly showing up in food and beverage products. The FDA approved sucralose for use in 1998. It is made from table sugar, but is not digested by the body, so we aren’t taking in any calories when we use it. It is relatively new as a food additive.

The other two sweeteners, Acesulfame-K is sold under the brand names, Sunett and Sweet One and was approved by the FDA in 1998 as a tabletop sweetener. It can be found in baked goods, frozen desserts, candy, breath mints, beverages and cough drops. Neotame was approved in 2002 and is structurally similar to aspartame. It also is used in a wide variety of baked good, processed foods, fruit juices and syrups. With all of these FDA approved sweeteners, they have been tested for cancer-causing, reproductive and neurological effects and have been deemed safe. Whether you choose to use them or not is up to you, but be sure to read the ingredient list on your food packages. Stevia is a natural herb that has not been approved by the FDA. I have grown stevia in my garden, although I have not used it as a sweetener in this form. I also have purchased it in tablet form from natural food stores, but I did not care for it as a sweetener in my tea. Tea is the only thing I eat where I use table sugar. I don’t put it on my cereal, even unsweetened varieties, as I like to use fresh fruit for that purpose.

Although there is a lot of controversy about stevia, many people feel that because it is an herb, it must be safe to use. Unfortunately, many herbs contain chemicals that are not safe for ingestion. It has been deemed safe for use in other countries; however. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a watch-dog organization for U.S. food manufacturers, stevia should not be approved for use in food products until it has been proven safe. In testing, the product has shown depressed sperm production in male rats and has reduced the number and size of offspring in female rats, according to the CSPI. Over the past 10 years, the FDA has refused three times to approve the use of stevia as a food additive. It is possible to purchase the product as a dietary supplement; however.

Once again, using these products is your own decision, but my suggestion is that you make sure you know the facts before you randomly toss things down your throats.

You may see a lot of the breakfast pictured because it is one of my favorites. I pour about 1 ¼ cups Kashi Heart to Heart cereal in a bowl and top it with a small, sliced banana and nuts. Sometimes I use almonds, but this time I used coarsely chopped walnuts. With milk, this breakfast really holds me over until lunch without feeling hungry.

Lunch was quick as it was a pretty busy day at work. I had one serving (1/2 can) Progresso low-sodium wedding soup with one ounce Kashi cheddar crackers and 1/2 cup whipped cottage cheese. I’ve mentioned the whipped cottage cheese before and it is one of my favorites to use as a snack or to accompany a light lunch. I’ve added finely chopped onion and herbs, as well as salt and pepper to one percent cottage cheese that I whipped in a food processor. It also can substitute as a dip.

Since it was a light lunch, I was a little hungry by mid afternoon. I also had a late meeting Wednesday, which would mean dinner would be later than usual. I refueled with another ounce of the cheddar crackers and an orange. I only wished I had brought more of the whipped cottage cheese to work with me.

Dinner was late so I didn’t want to eat anything too heavy. It also was my last night on my own for dinner, and I am trying to cook for myself instead of resorting to a bowl of cereal or take-out fast food on those nights. Instead, I tossed some trans-fat free frozen French fries in the oven while I sauteed onions, mushrooms, slides brussels sprouts and a finely chopped garlic clove in two teaspoons olive oil. I also grilled a small piece of chicken breast left over from a previous meal. Add some ketchup for the fries and a cup of milk and I was set for the night.


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Breakfast: 1 ½ ounce grains; ¾ cup fruit; 1 ½ ounce meat; 2 tsp. oils; 1 cup milk; 30 discretionary calories (tea with sugar, not shown)