Namaste Miami: Fake Sugar Abuser

I love aspartame. I love it so much that I used to inhale entire packs of Extra. As soon as they lost a smidgen of flavor, I’d pop in another stick. And another. A few hours later, I’d be surrounded by a heap of silver gobs and an empty pack. In desperate moments, I’d re-chew the gobs. (I know -- grossly out-of-control.) My stomach would gurgle for hours later. That couldn’t be healthy.

About two years ago, I swore myself (or at least tried) from aspartame after a friend’s neurologist recommended she steer clear of it. It’s been hard. It’s in so many fake foods I love: Diet Coke, Crystal Light, sugar-free butterscotch JELL-O. Full disclosure: I allow myself at least one dose a month. It usually comes in the form of a Diet Coke.

Here’s a little aspartame history: The FDA pulled together a public board to look into aspartame in 1980. The board refused to approve aspartame because it didn’t believe there was enough evidence showing it didn’t cause brain tumors in rats. A year later, a FDA commissioner approved aspartame after a review of a Japanese study.

Yet the jury is still out. An excerpt from a buyer’s guide to artificial sweeteners: “For years, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a Washington, D.C.-based consumer watchdog group, has advised consumers to avoid saccharin, Ace-K, an artificial sweetener approved by the FDA in 1998, and even aspartame, after a 2007 study in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives showed increased incidence of cancer in rats with long-term exposure to it. However, a recent review of aspartame in Critical Reviews in Toxicology concludes that there is no evidence to support its association with cancer.”

These days, I pop for Trident, which has Xylitol and is considered a “naturally” occurring food compound though there’s a few questions with it as well. Hopefully, someday I’ll be able to give that up too. Or I could join this aspartame support group.

- Janine Zeitlin


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