Jason blogs about the evils of Splenda at Netscape. It’s unfortunate that the safety of artificial sweeteners such as Aspartame and Sucralose (Splenda) is still uncertain today.
Here’s the petition to the FDA from July 2002 to recall Aspartame as a neurotoxic drug: Docket 2002P-0317. Here’s a link to an FDA statement from May 2006 on the European Aspartame Study, where the FDA still claims “[…] the agency has not been presented with scientific information that would support a change in our conclusions about the safety of aspartame.”
Here’s the petition to the FDA from April 2006 to revoke regulations that allow Sucralose as a non-nutritive sweetener in food: Docket 2006P-0158. There’s recent studies from earlier this year that suggest Sucralose may be a trigger for migraines: Migraine triggered by sucralose–a case report, Popular sweetner sucralose as a migraine trigger. I suspect there plenty of opportunity to further study Sucralose than has already been performed.
To see a list of scary things that are “safe” to put in foods, check out 21CFR172: Food and Drugs: Food additives permitted for direct addition to food for human consumption. It’s quite scary how many artificial ingredients can be “safely” glommed onto food products.
Remember Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)? Remember how everyone said all sorts of bad things about it? Here’s an article from the FDA about it from August 1995: FDA and Monosodium Glutamate (MSG). It’s a natural flavor enhancer that people tried to create a scare around and spread a lot of FUD about. Fortunately, the FDA still recognizes it as safe.
I’m sympathetic to people who may have been harmed by artificial sweeteners. By explicit preference, in our household, we do not purchase products that contain artificial sweetners: yes, that means my kids get sugar–real sugar–and I’m okay with that, in moderation. I do, however, realize that all these claims (and until there’s scientific proof, that’s all they are) may not be true and I would really hate to see the FDA buckle under pressure of popular opinion and wrongly remove these sweeteners from the market. I also realize that there’s a big difference between scientific information being inconclusive and there being enough evidence to determine safety. I want what everyone should want: foods that are safe to eat. The FDA has the difficult task of trying to provide this.
Here’s the thing. Based on people having problems with a food additive, I would expect the item on the top of the list to be banned by the FDA would be peanuts.
Humans are really, really, really complicated, so it’s a given that someone somewhere will react badly to an additive (or any natural food). The real problem I see is that additives are being used in favor of real food ingredients because they are cheaper. Artificial sweeteners are one thing, but hydrogenated oils, high-fructose corn syrup, etc, are something else entirely. Unless you are prepared to pay more, you are going to get them, and even then they are hard to avoid. Ultimately, it’s the poor and less educated who suffer because there is no shortage in the U.S. of food, but there is a shortage of affordable _good_ food. There’s a reason obesity is more common among the poor.
Ultimately, we do not understand the real ramifications of much of what we consume, and the only real defense to keep everything in moderation. Of course, as an unrepentant overuser of Diet Mountain Dew, I suppose this physician should heal himself.