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Are Artificial Sweeteners Safe?

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Are Artificial Sweeteners Safe?

Patti Yocubik, RN

     Many people today choose sugar substitutes to sweeten their lives, without adding any calories.  People choose no-calorie sweeteners for a variety of reasons.  Some reasons are: To keep blood sugar under control for those who have diabetes; to avoid calories for those who desire to lose weight.   Some people just prefer not to have sugar and enjoy the extra sweet taste.  Artificial sweeteners can be 8-8,000 times sweeter than table sugar (1).  Whatever the reason for choosing an artificial sweetener, the same questions remain:  “Are artificial sweeteners safe for me to use?” and “Do artificial sweeteners cause cancer?”  The FDA regulates artificial sweeteners, just as they do other foods and drugs.  Extensive research and studies have been done to answer the question of artificial sweetener safety and the FDA reviews their findings to determine safety. 

     Saccharin, also known as Sweet-n-Low, has been available on the market, since 1957.  Many people have used saccharin for years to sweeten drinks.  “Studies in laboratory rats, in the early 1970’s, linked saccharin to the development of bladder cancer.” (2)  The bladder cancers that the rats were getting were specific to rats and not humans and subsequent research proved that.  Since the results of the original study were released, the FDA has required labels on foods that contain saccharin to warn of potential cancer risk.  Since then many other studies have been done that found no evidence that saccharin increased the risk of any cancers. 

     Aspartame, or NutraSweet, also known as Equal, is another artificial sweetener that has made its way into homes across America.  NutraSweet was released in 1981.  There was great concern regarding its safety when the incidence of brain tumors began to rise from 1975-1992. The National Cancer Institute collected data and found that the rise in brain tumors actually started in 1973 which was eight years prior to Aspartame being released.  They also found that people who had been affected by the brain tumors were age 70 and older and were the least likely to have had exposure to Aspartame.  Subsequent research and studies found no link to brain tumors from Aspartame (2).

     One of the newer sweeteners on the market is Sucralose, or Splenda.  Splenda was approved and available for market sale in 1998.  Splenda was the first artificial sweetener that could be used in cooking.  Splenda remains stable during the heating process.  The FDA reviewed over 90 studies that examined Splenda’s safety for human consumption and determined that Splenda did not pose a risk for cancer, or any other health effects (1).

     So are artificial sweeteners safe?  Millions of people use artificial sweeteners today will no ill effects.  Studies and research tell us they are safe.  There are some people, however, who cannot tolerate artificial sweeteners, just as some people cannot tolerate certain types of food.  Everyone is different.  For more information, go to http://www.fda.gov/forconsumers/consumerupdates/ucm397711.htm or http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/007492.htm

  1. WebMD, (2005).  Retrieved from: www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/are-artificial-sweeteners-safe
  2. National Cancer Institute, (2005).  Retrieved from: http://cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/artificial-sweeteners
 

Shedding Light on the Gluten Free Craze

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                                       Shedding Light on the Gluten Free Craze                                       By Kathy Wool, RD, LDN

Before tackling the gluten-free diet, let's get to know our culprit. A gluten free diet is a diet which eliminates the protein called gluten.  Gluten is a specific type of protein, which is not found in meat or eggs. Instead gluten is found in wheat, rye, and barley and triticale, which is a cross between wheat and rye. Going gluten-free means avoiding these grains. A gluten-free diet is essential for most people with gluten allergies or celiac disease, a condition which causes inflammation in the small intestine when gluten is eaten. For most people with celiac disease, even small amounts of gluten can cause symptoms like gas and bloating, changes in bowel movements, weight loss, fatigue, and weakness. That's why going gluten-free can be a big help -- no matter how mild or serious your symptoms. 

Many healthy and tasty foods are naturally gluten free. These include beans, seeds, nuts, eggs, fresh meats, fish and poultry, fruits, vegetables and most dairy products. People on a gluten-free diet should become label savvy. Some ingredients on a label may be obvious when the words are wheat, wheat gluten, barley, or rye. But some foods have hidden gluten. Two words commonly seen are malt (which is made from barley) and hydrolyzed vegetable protein (which often contains wheat).  Some wheat products have different names and should also be avoided. These include bulgur, durum flour, farina, graham flour, kamut, semolina and spelt. Oats do not contain gluten but can become contaminated with wheat during processing. Check the label on oats for the wording “gluten free” before eating

Perhaps the most difficult step in a gluten-free diet is parting with bread - that includes white, wheat, marble, and rye. It also means eliminating bagels, muffins, croissants, hamburger buns, scones, cookies, crackers- you’re getting the picture. But there are alternatives to help you enjoy foods without the negative GI symptoms. Many health foods stores and grocery stores now carry gluten-free products, including an assortment of breads. These are typically made with rice or potato flour instead of wheat products. Just check the label to make sure it says "100% gluten-free."

Traditional breakfast cereals are another target for people on a gluten-free diet. Cream of Wheat is obviously a wheat product, but so are many other favorites. Cheerios contains wheat starch, while Frosted Flakes uses malt flavoring. Familiarize yourself with the gluten dictionary of words. Read the list of ingredients closely and avoid any cereal containing wheat, barley, rye, or malt. Corn and rice-based cereals are good breakfast alternatives, but it's crucial to read labels carefully, as some may also contain malt. Check your supermarket's health-food section for gluten-free products as more are becoming available all the time.

It's true, no matter what its shape or name, most pasta is made out of wheat. So you will need to avoid regular spaghetti, macaroni, shells, and spirals when you're on a gluten-free diet. Instead, look for pasta made from rice, corn, or quinoa.

These grains and starches can be a part of the gluten free plan (but be sure to check the label for additives, preservatives and other gluten-containing grains): buckwheat, corn and cornmeal, flax, gluten free flours such as rice, soy, corn, potato, hominy, millet, quinoa, rice, sorghum, soy, tapioca, amaranth and arrowroot

Who needs crackers when rice cakes and corn chips can host all sorts of spreads and dips. Another gluten-free crunchy snack is popcorn. And it is a go for rice and potatoes- top them with your favorite topping, mix into the meal or enjoy them on their own.

Finally be aware of cross contamination. This is when the gluten free products come into contact with other foods that contain gluten. This can occur during manufacturing, in the grocery store if the food comes into contact with another food, or at home if they come into contact with each other on a common surface such as the counter, cutting boards, or with a utensil. It is important to thoroughly clean all surfaces and utensils between the gluten free and regular food items to avoid cross contamination.

Changing to and following a gluten free diet can be a challenge from the usual food patterns you may have followed.  Like most changes it does take time to get used to the additional effort of label reading and recipe changes. But there are many more gluten free products being made available in grocery stores.

To assure all the health and nutritional benefits of the gluten free diet, embrace fruits, vegetables and lean proteins in addition to the gluten free grains available. Similar to the general health and nutrition recommendations for everyone, the practice of portion control, moderation and daily exercise remain essential for achieving a healthy lifestyle, even if you are gluten sensitive.

 

 

 

 

Welcome to TriDiabetes.com

This web resource was developed by a group of health professionals from Somerset, Wicomico, and Worcester counties in Maryland in coordination with the  American Diabetes Association.    We focus on educating, preventing, and guiding the local community of the lower Eastern Shore of Maryland on their own individual risk of developing diabetes. The resources here can be used to help better inform everyone of the dangers of undiagnosed, and untreated diabetes.

 
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