Guest Author - Emma Scott-Olubamise
It’s Christmas time. And the sugar plum fairies are out on overdrive. I think last Friday, everybody brought in something sweet to eat. My boss made me a cheesecake…from scratch. It was deceptively packaged. Like a trinket at the Dollar Store that you buy too many of and then you’re not really at the Dollar Store. Or a small slice you see at the counter at the Cheesecake Factory. Then you get a slice and the sheer weight and density of it shocks you. And the first bite sends you’re sugar count through the roof. But you don’t care.
I couldn’t dodge the sugar cookies, the buckeyes, the sugar dough cookies with the chocolate kiss in the middle, the ooey-gooey frosting covered Christmas trees, the mini Snickers wrapped in Christmas paper. I just couldn’t stop. By the end of the day, I was bouncing off the walls, my head hurt and I think I substituted a cream-filled donut sprinkled with red and green dots for lunch. I wondered, what is this, an addiction? What am I doing? I don’t drink coffee with sugar, I try to stay away from sugary filled soda (or pop depending on where you’re from) and I try not to ingest too many artificial sweeteners. There’s so much controversy surrounding sugar and substitutes. I figured now is as good as any to check it out. There are New Year’s resolutions to make. An informed resolution is a successful resolution. That’s the good news.
Here’s the bad news. There is no good news. Well, it’s all so confusing. Is sugar bad for you? Is Aspartame good for you? What should I eat, drink, cook with? I have a friend who is convinced by the recent sugar fast craze that Aspartame causes cancer and, oh, I don’t know…hammer toe? And sugar is the devil in the form of white powder. How she navigates the world is beyond my imagination. She told me to watch the documentary “Fed Up”. It really shook me up… the lobbying, the statistics, and the fear. So, I went on a sugar fast last year. I heard a bowl of M & M’s whisper to me as I walked by. I felt much better, I’ll admit. Fruit tasted better. I actually enjoyed vegetable juice and I didn’t feel as guilty as if I’d eaten a candy bar or donut. I finally learned what quinoa is. That has to be a good thing. But alas, I went back to my old ways, plus a few pounds. Am I addicted to sugar? If I use aspartame, will I get cancer?
Every year, I try to figure it out because this is “that” time of the year. There have been so many studies. But it seems to come down to common sense and inconclusive research. First, let me say that there are a lot of things in this world that damage our health. We all know exercise is a good thing, fresh anything is good, everything else in “moderation”, right? I want to stick with fresh, unprocessed foods because I don’t like eating things that I can’t pronounce. I heard that somewhere. It just made sense. We want our kids to be healthy, too.
So if sugar is a natural substance, why is everyone so scared? Is it because of the processing? I’m no chemist, I have no comment. But according to the Journal of the American Medical Association “people who ate the largest amounts of added sugar had the highest blood triglyceride levels and the lowest HDL (good) cholesterol levels. That study also showed that eating lots of sugar more than tripled the odds of having low HDL cholesterol levels, a strong risk factor for heart disease”. That makes sense and if we don’t move and we keep eating sugary foods, we get fat and we can’t move. It’s a Catch-22. Like me on Friday. I know I gain weight from sugary donuts and cookies. Who doesn’t? Please don’t answer if it is you. I get sluggish and then I feel too sluggish to move and then I say, “Oh well, I’ll stat that diet tomorrow. I’m the only one of my friends who pays Weight Watchers to help me gain weight.
So what about Aspartame? Most people I ask, who “by the way” are not research scientists, go off on the “cancer” tirade. “Oh, they exclaim, that stuff gives you cancer” Or, “Oh, I had to get off of it. I was getting terrible headaches”. True or not. I am still confused by the research and a little disappointed. We’re back to my original question. Is Aspartame good or bad? Cancer.org weighed in. I trust them but again, reports are inconclusive. According to Cancer.org,
“In the largest study of this issue, researchers from the NCI looked at cancer rates in more than 500,000 older adults. The study found that, compared to people who did not drink aspartame-containing beverages, those who did drink them did not have an increased risk of lymphomas, leukemia, or brain tumors”.
Even the FDA has set a limit but still allows the sale of the product for human consumption. They say the recommended level is 50 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg) of body weight. “An adult weighing 165 pounds would have to drink more than 19 cans of diet soda a day or consume more than 107 packets to go over the recommended level”. Think what you like but the FDA isn’t perfect. So, I’m still not convinced.
What I’ve been noticing is that some soft drink manufacturers are now prominently advertising that their products are “Aspartame Free”, as if they’ve just taken the cancer causing chemicals out of a pack of Pall Malls or something. The packaging on other soft drinks boldly demands that you should be impressed because it now contains “real sugar” like it’s a vitamin.
For me, I need some answers. But I’m going on a New Year’s sugar fast but I don’t know why. I’m going to try that natural, plant –based diet theory out too, one day. We shall see. Tell me what you think on my forum? Aspartame or sugar? What do you believe?