Parents Need Correct Information About Sweeteners

Posted by
August 6, 2015

FIT Blog post Title


by: James S. Turner Esq.

Board Chair Citizens for Health

Author “The Chemical Feast: The Nader Report On Food Protection at the FDA”


In response to, “The Evidence Supports Artificial Sweeteners over Sugar” article, by pediatrics professor Aaron E. Carroll (July 27, 2015 New York Times), Dr. Carroll’s article nails one powerful point—people, especially children, should stay away from calorie containing soft drinks.  He misses an equally powerful point—the calories in these drinks come from high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) not “sugar.” In 2012 FDA banned corn refiners from calling HFCS “corn sugar.” Dr. Carroll overlooks the message and calls HFCS “sugar”.  Still every study he cites shows that HFCS, not sugar, tracks soda risks.

Today per capita “sugar” consumption equals that of the 1909’s, while HFCS consumption has soared alongside soaring diabetes and obesity rates. Dr. Carroll is right–avoid caloric soft drinks and the HFCS that 95% of them contain. Dr. Carroll also misses on two artificial sweeteners.  Saccharin, removed from the list of known cancer causing chemicals in 2000, he calls safe. He fails to report that, for example, the Feingold Association worries that saccharine, a coal tar derivative, may contribute to hyperactivity in children.  “Cancer free” does not mean “shown safe.”  Additives harm in other ways. Nor does Dr. Carroll report that the Center for Science in the Public Interest questions the objectivity of the international committee that urged removing saccharin from the carcinogen list.

Even if saccharin fails to cause cancer, and we have a lot more to learn about cancer before we can be sure, saccharin studies suggest other potential risks that Dr. Carroll ignores and we need to consider. Dr. Carroll’s aspartame story leaves out even more important facts.  He says, inaccurately, “The initial studies showed that aspartame didn’t cause cancer in animals, so it was deemed safer than saccharin.”  In fact unexplained incidents of cancer in rats in initial aspartame studies led the 1980 FDA Public Board of Inquiry (PBOI) to unanimously reject the new sweetener.

President elect Ronald Reagan put Donald Rumsfeld, President of the GD Searle Drug Company, aspartame’s owner, on his transition team. That team picked a Reagan appointed FDA Commissioner who consulted to the 1970s Defense Department led by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld.  As his first act this commissioner overturned the PBOI, releasing aspartame, a suspect sweetener, to an unsuspecting public. Data developed since aspartame’s approval has reinforced the cancer causing potential of aspartame.

The year following its introduction to the market, glioblastomas, the type of brain tumor that turned up in the original studies and troubled the PBOI, increased 10% in the American human population.  In this context later laboratory studies suggesting a possibility of a cancer/aspartame connection heightens concern. Even if Dr. Carroll and, in the case of saccharin the international committee he relies on, made the right call on cancer and saccharin and/or aspartame that does not make these artificial sweeteners safe for children.   Dr. Carroll says “It is true that people with phenylketonuria (PKU), a rare genetic disorder, need to limit their consumption of aspartame, since phenylalanine is one of its components.”  Again he is part right. At the time of the PBOI in 1980 about 30,000 Americans suffered from PKU.

Policy makers saw this as a small enough number of acutely risk aware individuals with a disease condition, screened for at birth, that they felt that a label statement offered enough public protection. In this relatively small, aware group recessive genes of both parents combine to create the PKU.  In genetic terms they are called homozygous recessive. At the same time one in 60 Americans, about fifty million, are heterozygous, one dominant and one recessive PKU gene.  The PBOI, already banning aspartame for cancer causing reasons, declined to address the possibility that the fifty million heterozygous might face a special aspartame risk. Dr. Carroll ignores the issue and stamps aspartame safe for children.

Parents need more caution. Dr. Carroll’s over arching point—data show that caloric sweeteners (95% of which are sweetened with HFCS) should be avoided—is sound.  His points about artificial sweeteners being preferable might work for him and his children but a risk averse parent might want to wait longer before rushing ahead to give their children no calorie soda.  Just because arsenic is not str

ychnine does not mean that it is safe. People, especially parents, need information about sweeteners.  For now data suggests that cane sugar, in moderation, adds up to less risk than either HFCS sweetened sodas (or other foods) or other artificial sweeteners.  Future instalments of Food Identity Theft will provide more detailed guides on how to read articles like Dr. Carroll’s and distinguish the sound information from the misguided.

Read Dr. Carroll’s article at