What is the safest artificial sweetner to overdose on?
August 18, 2006 11:37 AM   Subscribe

What is the safest artificial sweetner to overdose on?

I'm a pretty healthy guy, despite what I subject my body to. For probably close to 20 years, I gradually increased my daily Coca-Cola intake from the occasional "Big Gulp" to probably 128oz. Then, 2 years ago, i decided to basically quit, cold-turkey.

For a couple of months I was able to subsist on water, but I found that while I missed the Coke to some degree, what I really missed was carbonated FLAVOR in my beverages. And I work somewhere where they are FREE. So eventually I convinced myself that if I was able to give up both the sugar and the caffeine, I would allow myself to drink things like Fresca, Diet 7-Up/Sprite/Squirt, Diet Rite, etc (can't handle the cola-flavored ones, for some reason, though)

Now I'm back up to, say, 6 cans of Fresca per day. Now I doubt that will increase much, given my current situation (and 7-11s or restaurants don't even CARRY diet caffeine-free beverages in their fountains), but I AM a little concerned about my lack of good information about the sweeteners. Sugar, while incredibly caloric, was at least a "known quantity" and there are few reputable doctors who will tell you that drinking refined sugar is going to make you anything but fat.

On the other hand, everyone seems to have their own opinions about the health risks of the "new" sweeteners - aspartame gives you brain cancer; sucralose gives you digestive problems; saccharine gives rats cancer...

Growing up, I've felt comfortable deferring to the FDA about these things. As a skeptic of the Penn & Teller "Bullshit" school, I've got good faith in the scientific method over scare tactics, but my paranoid mind can't help thinking that in this day and age, when every business lobbying entity has its own lab to "counter" the findings of legitimate unbiased researchers (Global Warming? Maybe? Cigarette Harm? Uncertain?), what do we conclusively know about, for instance, the long-term human injestion of 72oz of product containing any of these sweetners?

Again, my system is likely still quite rugged, and I've tried a number of sweetners without any "direct" effects (in the way that like many people report that Splenda gives them digestion difficulty or Nutrasweet gives them a headache) - but at 34, I'm starting to worry about the long-term health issues, and was wondering if there was any research out there that addressed this.

If it helps, I prefer the "taste" of Splenda best, though for some reason the grapefruit taste of Fresca/Diet Squirt is what I've been into the most lately, and they are both aspartame-based. I don't particularly like tea, and juice, while great (and expensive), is just as caloric as Coke.

I realize that most folks' kneejerk reaction will be to say "go back to water", or link to "scare" pages, and I guess I don't mind those kinds of answers, (though they will probably go unheeded) I'd much more appreciate anything with some legitimate scientific "cred."

Thanks in advance, and for tolerating the long-windedness.
posted by stuckie to Food & Drink (23 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Stevia: it doesn't have the caloric footprint of table sugar yet it's 250 times sweeter. South American's have been using it for 2000 thousand years with no adverse affects.

In fact, it's reputed to have heathful properties.
posted by rinkjustice at 11:45 AM on August 18, 2006

If you don't mind Splenda, you should try Waist Watcher brand flavored sodas. Their "citrus frost" is very fresca-like, but my favorite is black cherry. As a bonus, it's usually cheaper than the coke and pepsi brands, at least in the stores around here.

My opinion on artificial sweeteners is that they're fairly safe in moderation. I probably wouldn't down a six pack a day, but a can or two is no big deal for me.
posted by SteveInMaine at 11:56 AM on August 18, 2006

South American's have been using it for 2000 thousand years with no adverse affects.

That's basically unprovable. Especially given their shorter life expectancy.
posted by smackfu at 11:56 AM on August 18, 2006

How about Stevia Drops For Your Water? This link is to the Lemon Drop flavor, but it looks like they have English Toffee, Vanilla Creme, Chocolate Raspberry, Valencia Orange, and Apricot Nectar.

Plenty of healthy choices that will steer you back toward water as opposed to soda.
posted by willmize at 12:08 PM on August 18, 2006 [2 favorites]

Personally, I'd worry less about the effects of all those artificial sweeteners and more about the effects of all that carbonic acid on your teeth. Seriously, 6 cans a day is enough acid to do damage to your tooth enamel, which leads directly to cavities, use of sugar-substitutes notwithstanding.
posted by dseaton at 12:10 PM on August 18, 2006 [1 favorite]

Don't listen to rinkjustice on topics of nutrition and health; he is a nutter who clearly believes that if something is "natural" it is obviously good.

Stevia may be good. It may not be; it has not been adequately studied. But there are questions about mutagenic properties and a possible effect on fertility.

My advice? Stick to real sugar. We know what its effects are and we know how to combat them. Don't pig out on it too much and exercise. Yay, sugar!
posted by Justinian at 12:12 PM on August 18, 2006

dseaton, the acid in sodas is so weak that the changes it makes in your mouth's pH are gone after a few minutes.
posted by Megafly at 12:42 PM on August 18, 2006

posted by MrMoonPie at 12:47 PM on August 18, 2006

Megafly: Say that the acidity of your mouth stays low enough to be harmful to your teeth for just ONE minute for every 12 oz. of soda you drink (which is probably underestimating by a factor of 10, since it takes time to drink a whole can of soda, and each sip you take lowers the pH again.)

1 min / can * 6 cans / day * 7 days / week = 42 low pH minutes a week OR

42 min / week * 52 weeks / yr * 1 hr / 60 min = 36.4 hr / yr

I'm not saying soda's going to destroy your teeth, I'm just saying that there are some good reasons to stop drinking all that soda besides just the sweeteners.
posted by dseaton at 12:55 PM on August 18, 2006

If only someone had asked for reasons to stop drinking all that soda.
posted by mendel at 12:59 PM on August 18, 2006 [1 favorite]

From the artificial sweetners I have researched (Aspartame, Acesulfame, Saccharin, Cyclamate, Splenda) the LD50 was high enough that the water in (fake) sugar-water would cause hyponatremia (water drunkness) before you ODed on sweetner. To OD on it would literally take direct ingestion of mass quantities of the stuff. Quantities that would likely cause a diabetic coma if it were real sugar.

Long term is somewhat less researched. Saccharin is probably the oldest sweetner in existance and it is generally recognized as safe. While it has been shown to cause bladder cancer in lab rats, water (yes, plain old water) has been shown to cause the same levels of symptoms.

For some comfort, why don't you ask a Type 1 diabetic that has been using such sweetners for most of their lives if they feel it has caused them any ill. I think you'll get a response that will make you feel comfortable with them.

Basically, most of the artificial sweetners are actually safer than sugar, since they don't cause the dangerous health effects associated with high sugar intake.

But I'm not a pro, check for the info yourself! Wikipedia is one of the best and least biased resources, IMHO. :)
posted by shepd at 12:59 PM on August 18, 2006 [1 favorite]

As I said in that other thread, aspartame made me very ill. I'd suggest avoiding prolonged high doses of the stuff.
posted by Malor at 1:09 PM on August 18, 2006

I've read Spanish Conquistadors of the Sixteenth Century sent word to Spain reporting South American natives used leaves of the wild stevia shrub to sweeten herbal tea since "ancient times". I also specifically reading it being "2000" years of usage (not "2000 thousand") but I can't find the source online so it's likely print where I read it.

As you can tell stuckie, Justinian is a big fan of mine, and he's absolutely right about naturally-derived foods generally being better than artifical. He's also right about table sugar not being "The Great Satan" some people depict it as being. It just needs to be eaten in moderation.
posted by rinkjustice at 1:33 PM on August 18, 2006

Just stay clear of aspartame and it's superficial ilk. You never know if or when your body will violently react to the stuff.
posted by rinkjustice at 1:38 PM on August 18, 2006

not quite an answer, but what if you essentially make your own carbonated drinks with juice + fizzy water? (Are either of those free at your workplace? If not, can you ask?) I've gotten to the point where cranberry juice or limeade made that way are tastier than any soda I can find, and certainly healthier.
posted by scody at 1:57 PM on August 18, 2006

Just keep in mind that fruit juice is very high in sugar. As I said, I think sugar is just fine in moderation but don't drink two gallons of juice a day and start wondering why you're gaining weight! Two thousand calories of fructose will pack the weight on just as much as two thousand calories of pure table sugar.
posted by Justinian at 2:33 PM on August 18, 2006

Response by poster: Wow - go to a meeting = get a lot of responses!

Stevia: I'll check it out because this seems interesting, but since there aren't many beverages in my company's fridge sweetened with them, this probably won't ultimately help me for this particular issue.

"Immediate" health concerns: As I mentioned, unlike some folks, I don't have any bodily reactions. When I was younger, I got my share of cavities, but none since I got a Sonicare 6 or 8 years ago. I'm beginning to realize how vague this question is - if different people can get violently ill from something I can drink in bulk, the long-term effects will likely be equivalently individual. Skeptical about "mouth pH thing.

Sugar/Juice: Thing is, I kind of have a "drinking problem" in the sense that whatever I'm drinking, I'm usually going to be drinking a lot of. One good thing with drinking diet beverages, though, is that sugared drinks (including, for instance, orange juice) are WAY too sweet for me - I find myself diluting OJ 30% or so with water just to make it drinkable. There are a few kinds of juice that are free here, though no "fizzy water" with which to dilute it. Near the beginning of my "cold turkey" I used to mix OJ and Fresca or Diet 7-11 for taste, but since they contain sugar-substitutes too, it's like getting the worst of both worlds (though it tasted pretty good, if I remember right)

Wikipedia: Probably the best idea in general, though with all the conflicting opinions, matrixing the "likely real" long-term issues with each of the major sweetners and comparing them "holistically" (pardon the word) might still be a chore, but do-able if no one one has already done this somewhere...

Love the answers - I'll probably do some more research myself over the weekend...
posted by stuckie at 3:08 PM on August 18, 2006

Best answer: Here's everything you want to know about artificial sweeteners, from the food nazis that love telling you how Kung Pao chicken is killing you and your little dog, too. That's a PDF file.

The executive summary (listed from the safest to the most dangerous):
■ Sucralose and neotame are safe.
■ Sugar alcohols and tagatose, while safe, may give you the runs if you eat too much.
■ Aspartame probably is safe.
■ Acesulfame and stevia may or may not be safe; there’s not enough good research to tell.
■ Saccharin isn’t safe (though the risk is small).
posted by NortonDC at 5:34 PM on August 18, 2006

I second the fizzy water with juice suggestion. I had to give up the diet stuff because aspartame didn't agree with me (as I said in the linked-to thread), and discovered polar seltzer and its store-brand equivalents. It's becoming more and more popular as a soda alternative from what I've seen (once again, anecdotal.)

Mind you, most juice has at least some high fructose corn syrup, so you'll want to watch out for that. You can find juices that have no extra sweeteners, natural or otherwise. POM, for instance, makes great (pure pomegranate and pom+other fruit mixtures) juices that are 100% juice, plus they're pleasantly strong so that you don't have to use as much to flavor the water. (And this from someone who doesn't much like fruit.)

NortonDC: ■ Saccharin isn't safe (though the risk is small).

The government broke down and took it off the carcinogens list in the not too distant past. (I was hoping this would mean I would be able to buy real Tab again, but the coca-cola company has decided to use the brand to sell some sort of sports drink. Pity.)
posted by Meep! Eek! at 5:59 PM on August 18, 2006

(Background) I have no food allergies, have no history of any particular illness in my family, and yet a swig of Aspartame-laden softdrinks gives me a headache that lasts for at least an hour. I absolutely refuse to believe the stuff is safe, at least for my own physiology.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:22 PM on August 18, 2006

Check out, also, Syfo seltzer; I gather it's flavored but has no sweetners at all. Not sure if it's a regional or not...
posted by baylink at 8:37 PM on August 18, 2006

My own personal experience - Aspartame makes my stomach cramp and gives me an awful headache. I don't think it's good for me. On the other hand, my mom has used Aspartame-based Equal since it came out in '82 without any ill effects.
posted by MeetMegan at 8:04 PM on August 19, 2006

yet a swig of Aspartame-laden softdrinks gives me a headache that lasts for at least an hour. I absolutely refuse to believe the stuff is safe, at least for my own physiology.

Well, eating spicy food makes my GI system very, very unhappy for the rest of the night, but I'd never go around saying that spicy food is unsafe.
posted by mendel at 8:31 PM on August 21, 2006

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