Just ask this scientician!

I’ve just spent some time researching the kerfuffle over Splenda. This is an artificial sweetener (generic name sucralose), which is increasingly popular. Unlike aspartame or saccharine, it doesn’t have a nasty aftertaste and can be used in baking since it doesn’t break down with heat. The manufacturer’s website is at http://www.splenda.com/

You make it by beating the hell out of sugar and chlorinating it.

The sugar people, understandably, don’t like Splenda. Recently they’ve gone after Splenda’s manufacturer for the ad phrase “made from sugar so it tastes like sugar”, arguing that this is misleading since Splenda is not a natural substance but a heavily processed chemical one. This is just FUD and bullshit pretty obviously; “natural” is a meaningless noise. They have a website ( http://www.thetruthaboutsplenda.com/ ) and a lawsuit, and they’re getting all sorts of news coverage. They say things like “It hasn’t been proven to be safe” when of course that’s not how science works, you can’t prove that. Lots of weasel words. You can smell the panic. It’s similar to the anti margarine campaigns the butter people put on during the last century.

The sad part is that they’ve got the Center for Science in the Public Interest on their side. My respect for the CSPI has been declining as they’ve become nannyish and publicity-hungry, but this is the last straw. I can’t see how saying something is “made from sugar” when it is, in fact, made from sugar is fraudulent, or why the CSPI needs to be involved when there’s no evidence that Splenda is bad for anyone. The case revolves around the idea of “natural” food which is religious and not scientific. “Natural” is a word used by health food store cranks, not nutrition professionals or biochemists. I’m not sure whether the CSPI is gradually becoming psychoceramic or has been bought out by a donation from Big Sugar, but in any case I can’t consider them authoritative now. It’s shameful to play on peoples’ ignorance about chemistry and nutrition to grab headlines.

If someone can find a critique of sucralose that is not riddled with the “natural” fallacy, scientifically illiterate blather about deadly chlorine, psychoceramic typography, ads for another product, or plain appeals to fear I’d be interested in seeing it.

18 thoughts on “Just ask this scientician!

  1. I am scared to death of anything but pure cane sugar or beet sugar.
    You can’t pay me to drink artificial sweeteners or anything made with them.
    People who have spent their careers researching the possible affects of lifetime consumption of these products suggest brain tumors, stomach cancer, actual physical addiction, etc.
    I have a hard time finding chewing gum without it.
    also:
    splenda is gross, I tried it once on my finger and the after taste was horrific.

    1. I’m half in agreement. If you don’t like the taste, then what’s the point?
      But I can’t see that “artificial sweeteners” is really a category you can reject. They’re all different from each other and have different risks and benefits. For people who will drop dead if they have sugar, the cost/benefit of Splenda or stevia may be very good.

    2. I know immediately if I’ve eaten something with Nutrasweet, because I get a pounding headache. I’m pretty sure this is no psychosomatic (or psychoceramic) reaction. There are lots of people on the web with the same complaint, like this fair and balanced contribution to the debate.
      Even if artificial sweeteners worked perfectly, the concept is flawed. The user still has an immoderate desire for sweet foods. And most of those are made with good old sugar.
      (Notwithstanding Conrad’s point about people who simply can’t eat refined sugar for health reasons.)

  2. I’m made from sperm. But I don’t remotely resemble one anymore, and I’ve gone through a hell of a lot of processing since half of me was a sperm.
    But I’m still made from sperm. And I’ll say it loudly. So sue me, scientists of a world.

  3. The FDA has reviewed the following possible side-effects:
    – Enlarged liver and kidneys.
    – Decreased white blood cell count.
    – Reduced growth rate.
    – Decreased fetal body weight.
    According to the FDA Final Rule, experiments with rats who
    were fed a diet consisting of Splenda resulted in a shrunken
    Thymus gland. The Thymus gland is significant because it is
    critical in developing the human immune system. For this
    reason, Splenda can be dangerous for people with compromised
    immune systems.

    from lowcarber.org who sensibly tell you to check all sides of the issue. I had to dig through the natural talk (I’m well aware of the absurdity of this line of thinking) to get to this bit, but there it is. FDA studies. Do I trust them? They killed Wilhelm Reich! Ahem.
    I imagine it’s fine for adults to eat. Adults can put so much crap in their bodies. It gets sloughed off.
    I’ve been using stevia predating the arrival of splenda. I had read studies that said that it was not just nutrionally neutral, which would be the least you could hope for in splenda, but it’s actually good for you. Found some European studies about it. But then you know those Europeans. Complete Eutopian freaks, heads in the clouds.
    Psychoceramic topography. Hmm. The landscape of brittle, hardened minds. But I love the crackpots, so long as they are not assholes.

    1. I am on a daily regimen of four drugs that list dozens of potential side effects, some of which I experience, others which are potentially life-threatening. These are very commonly prescribed FDA-approved drugs. I’m now at greater risk for heart and liver problems, and I have to be periodically tested to make sure these risks have not increased.
      I’m quite certain there have been hundreds of scientific studies, journal articles and books throughout the years ringing the alarm bells about the health dangers of sugar. Many of these dangers are widely-known yet ignored by consumers.
      Corporations sell us all sorts of crap. The only real reason Big Sugar is putting the boots to Splenda is to limit their competition, in good old-fashioned American protectionist-capitalism style. “We’re scared they’ll cut into our profits, let’s call the government to come down upon them because we can’t beat them on our own terms.” Corporate hypocrisy abounds.
      As for “natural products,” that is merely a marketing term. When it comes down to it, everything is “natural.” Chemicals originate from the same nature as plants or domestic livestock.

    2. Good research. Devil’s advocate says you could probably compile a list of problems like that with a huge number of foods we eat every day. It’s all about the cost/benefit ratio. Some people eat food they’re allergic to once in a while because the taste is worth the itch fit later. Probably a food that explodes in your head and kills you is at one end of the spectrum, and raw spinach (which conceivably could kill you if you had enough of it) is at the other.
      I love crackpots too.

  4. All I know is that I’ve ingested so many preservatives in my 32 years, that I’m guaranteed to never rot in the ground.
    Nefertiti couldn’t have asked for better preservation.
    A.

    1. Well, sort of. Margarine was introduced as a cost-cutting cheap substitute, not a healthy one. The panic on the part of the butter people was solely due to being undercut.
      The health debate on butter versus margarine only occurred after we decided everyone in the country was rich. 🙂
      But yes, trans fatty acids are bad. Also, they sound like transsexual obese people on LSD which is a niche market.

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