Monday, May 31, 2010
Who will win the sweetener wars? At stake are billions of dollars shelled out by weight conscious and health conscious consumers world wide. Key players in this bitter battle for mega profits are: stevia [natural, sweet tasting herb] and the chemical sweeteners, aspartame [aka NutraSweet and Equal] and Neotame.
Is stevia really the formerly-forbidden natural alternative to aspartame? Stevia [Stevia rebaudiana Bertoli] has been used for centuries in the rest of the world as a low-calorie, no-adverse-reactions-reported, sweet herb. It can be purchased as crushed leaves, a dark liquid, a clear liquid or a fluffy white powder. Anyone can grow it. For years, stevia was the sweetener that couldn't be called a sweetener in the U.S.!
Shoved illogically into the “Dietary Supplement” category by the FDA in 1994 when DSHEA [Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act] went into effect, stevia remains in limbo, in a sort of “halfway house,” while the U.S. Food and Drug Administration [FDA] struggled, for many years, to keep it off the market as a legally approved sweetener.
Unlike aspartame and Neotame [NutraSweet Company's intense new sweetener], stevia is unquestionably safe to cook with. But, without guidance on ratios and conversions - the average consumer is at a loss to know how to use it. Stevia is much less expensive to use than its synthetic counterparts. By the way, aspartame, by law, has to appear on a product's ingredient label. NutraSweet Company's Neotame, on the other hand, may hide in a product, without its name appearing on the ingredient label. Some FDA watchers are baffled by this action.
More and more consumers are rejecting the pharmaceutical versions of sugar such as: saccharin, acesulfame K, sucralose, aspartame and neotame, and are searching for the ideal “healthy” sweetener. This makes stevia, the natural choice [no pun intended], a very real threat to aspartame, neotame and the others.
In July 2005, a study was published, showing aspartame created at least two forms of cancers [leukemia and lymphoma] in lab animals fed aspartame. The study was conducted by researchers from the European Ramazzini Foundation, an independent group located in Bologna, Italy.
FDA points to only two questionable studies as their absolute proof that stevia is not safe. The first, ineptly done, by a graduate student in South America, says it may have [are you ready for this?] a mild contraceptive property. The other, published in 1988 in a Brazilian pharmacological journal, was extremely sloppy science and no one but the FDA gives it any credence whatsoever. On the off chance the public does not share FDA’s concern about stevia’s possible contraceptive qualities, they have come up with some strictly hearsay evidence, which they’ve never seen, through the South American “grapevine” that stevia might be unsafe for having a hypothetical hypoglycemic effect on some individuals. These are extremely flimsy straws the FDA is grasping at to support their ban on stevia as a sweetener.
FDA claims no petitions have been filed by product manufacturers seeking to use stevia as a Generally Recognized as Safe [or GRAS] ingredient in their product.
What they really mean is the FDA has never accepted a petition filed by a food or beverage manufacturer seeking to use stevia as a sweetener in their product. Several, including Lipton have filed petitions only to be denied acceptance for some FDA-invented technical error.
FDA ignores the overwhelming evidence of stevia's benign and beneficial character. Usage in the rest of the world for centuries with no reported ill affects, counts for nothing in the closed regulatory mind.
FDA even went so far as to attack one importer and distributor of stevia for perceived “violations” of the rules and regulations governing dietary supplements. The crime? Three books were being distributed by Stevita Co. of Arlington, Texas [owners of the Brazilian patent on stevia manufacturing] which described the history and usage of the sweet herb, stevia.
Not only was the business-owner ordered to destroy his inventory of books - he was also forced to remove all links to other sites on his internet web site. A clear violation of First Amendment rights by the FDA? Could this controversy over stevia be related to FDA’s defensive attitude over aspartame? [aka NutraSweet/Equal/Natrataste/Canderel, etc.]
FDA continues to fiercely support the artificial sweetener aspartame [aka NutraSweet/Equal] based solely on industry-sponsored tests showing safety. [Monsanto, a former patent-holder on aspartame, has bought up and put on hold the U.S. patent on stevia manufacturing].
FDA’s official position? Absolutely nothing is wrong or harmful about aspartame, despite the undisputed fact that approximately 80% of all adverse reaction complaints to FDA are aspartame related. Unlike pharmaceuticals - serious adverse reactions to a food additive are not required by law to be reported by physicians. FDA lists over 92 symptoms consumers have tied to aspartame consumption - including deaths. Reports show that when individuals cease ingesting aspartame, their symptoms usually go away.
“Junk Science” or worse was used by G.D. Searle to gain approval for aspartame in the first place as a tabletop sweetener in 1981 and in 1983 for aqueous solution [soft drinks]. Some concerned FDA toxicologists even went as far as to show the tests were “falsified” to get aspartame approved in the first place. Aspartame was first FDA-approved in 1974, but that approval was rescinded before it could get to market because of serious questions about one of the breakdown products, DKP , which caused brain tumors in the laboratory animals. At a Washington D.C. News Conference, November 1997, John Olney, M.D., noted brain researcher, presented his compelling findings of a 10% increase in brain tumors since the advent of aspartame on the market.
Further troubling to many independent scientists is the fact that virtually all the studies showing harm are “corporate neutral” as one aspartame researcher put it. Many studies are available to show harm caused by aspartame’s phenylalanine, aspartic acid and toxic breakdown products: methanol - formaldehyde - formic acid and diketopiperazine. Tens of thousands of consumers and others have reported serious adverse reactions to the FDA and consumer advocacy organizations collecting reports, such as the international Aspartame Consumer Safety Network and Pilot Hotline.
Woodrow Monte, R.D., Ph.D., a former director of the Arizona State University Food Sciences and Nutrition Laboratory, is uncomfortable with the methanol content of aspartame. In an 1986 interview, Monte called aspartame "a crime against humanity." "Humans are 100 times more sensitive to methanol than animals. When you ingest aspartame, it breaks down into methanol within one hour of ingestion. Methanol forms as soon as aspartame goes into solution and increases the longer it is in solution." according to Monte. Because heat speeds the breakdown of aspartame into methanol. This raises serious concern about aspartame's 1993 approval for use in baked goods and other heated products, like hot cocoa and tea. Although aspartame came about as the result of a search for a drug, and its compounds were the basis for a potential prescription medication, the petition for approval of NutraSweet was based on the premise that it was a food additive. The FDA followed its precedent of permitting manufacturers to conduct their own product safety research.
Monte feels that aspartame was mislabeled from the beginning. "aspartame is a drug, not a food additive," he said. "One hundred million people, from little babies to the elderly, are consuming this stuff in megadoses, more than they ever would if it were labeled a drug." [Informed Consent May/June ‘94]
Outspoken critics are suggesting - not that we rid ourselves of a Food and Drug Administration - only that we rid ourselves of the present “corrupted” Food and Drug Administration thus changing the current FDA focus of protecting the profits of the giants of industry to one of protecting the American public, which it is charged to serve.
The FDA seems to have everything “backwards” in its regulatory thinking. The herbal sweetener with centuries of no adverse reactions to its credit versus the artificial sweetener which has been surrounded by a storm of controversy since its flawed approval twenty nine years ago.
Conclusion: FDA’s ability to evaluate any substance objectively has been called into question by consumers and independent researchers alike. Senator Metzenbaum called FDA officials mere “Handmaidens to Industry” in the 1987 Senate Hearings on the Safety of aspartame. Corporate megabucks influence and determine the actions of that government agency created to protect the consumer from harm. In an unfortunate ripple effect, FDA's seal of approval is the standard used by agencies around the world to allow food additives into their countries, without doing their own investigations. Corporations routinely cover themselves by donating millions to organizations such as: American Dietetic Association, American Diabetic Foundation and others. FDA officials routinely hop with jumping-bean-like ease from government to private industry and back.
Who will win the Sweetener Wars? Greed versus health, which will win? It’s up to us, the consuming public. One person can and must work to make a difference in the way the world looks at sweeteners.