Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Low-carb options 1: The devil is in the detail (the 'detail' being the ingredients)

I've spent a considerable length of time this year educating myself (and hopefully some of you) on nutrition. In honesty it's never been something I've been hugely interested in, but this year it just seems to have hit me. And of course, since we all eat, I feel like it's perhaps one of the most important choices we make on perhaps an hourly basis!

I've gone on about low-carbohydrate options and the chemical wizardry behind my advocation of this choice and discussed in detail paleolithic nutrition (as in learning from, not emulating). And the more I read the more I see low-carb, light, carb options, Max, Zero, Diet and the like as products that tell you, "you're right to go low-carb, so here I am!". But is this good and what are they replacing all that sugar and starch with.....

What follows is Part 1; of likely a series of blogs looking at how the food and drink industry has catered to your demand by changing it's product.

Sweet is a bitter pill to swallow
One of the major goals of any kind of artificial sweetener is to reduce calories but still have a sweet taste. This way you (the public) think you're getting the deal of a lifetime. Your taste-buds say "mmmm" and you're happy, right? Well not quite. The problem is at the taste level you send the same signals around your body to say sugar so you still get the same insulin response (e.g. you release insulin to deal with the sugar). But you haven't got the sugar there. Well insulin release is normal, we need it to put amino acids into muscles anyway. In fact, our insulin response will rise when we smell food. But part of the problem is that when our insulin rises we get hungry. In addition elevated insulin levels are good from time to time, but not all the time. You might have heard of insulin resistance, also known as metabolic syndrome, this is bad, our body does not respond to the insulin and it causes all sorts of problems. It can happen when our insulin levels are elevated for extended periods of time. I've best heard it compared this way; if you go into a room and smell perfume eventually your senses adapt to the smell and you don't really notice it after a while. If you leave for a short time and then go back in, then you notice it again. If insulin is there all the time, then our cells become resistant to it.

But what are they replacing sugar with to give us this taste...

Aspartame
Go get the diet soda or juice out of your fridge and take a look at the ingredients.....you see it? Right then, let's continue. When I first came across aspartame it was described to me as being one molecule away from plastic, the idea that our body has to break down this product makes it a little scary, but lets take a closer look.

Symptoms associated with aspartame include:

  • headaches/migraines
  • dizziness
  • seizures
  • nausea
  • numbness
  • muscle spasms
  • weight gain
  • depression
  • fatigue
  • irritability
  • tachycardia
  • insomnia
  • vision problems
  • hearing loss
  • heart palpitations
  • breathing difficulties
  • anxiety attacks
  • slurred speech
  • loss of taste
  • tinnitus
  • vertigo
  • memory loss
  • joint pain
Phew. Did you get bored half way through the list? Yeah; me too. but I list it because I don't want you to sit there and think "well I'm gonna die of something!" Of course you are, hopefully when your very old having led a very fulfilled life. But isn't that the point; fulfilment of life!? This doesn't kill you, it potentially ruins your quality of life.

Now then, as if all that wasn't bad enough, it's been linked to brain tumours, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, chronic fatigue syndrome, parkinson's disease, alzheimer's, lymphoma, birth defects, fibromyalgia and diabetes.

This is something you might want to think twice about putting inside your body.

I 'googled' "Aspartame Products" this is the image I got.
Don't sue me, just stop putting it your products!
Aspartame is made up of aspartic acid, phenylalinine, and methanol. Aspartic acid (and glutamic acid (about 99% of monosodium glutamate (MSG) is glutamic acid - look out for that too)) acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain transmitting information from neuron to neuron. However, too much aspartate (or glutamate) kills these neurons by allowing the influx of too much calcium into the cells. This triggers excessive amounts of free radicals, which then kill the cells. Aspartic acid (when unbound to proteins) raises blood plasma level of aspartate and glutamate.

Of course we have a protector against this; the blood brain barrier (BBB). However:

  • this is not fully developed in children
  • it does not fully protect all areas of the brain
  • it can be damaged by numerous chronic and acute conditions
  • it can still allows seepage of excess aspartate and glutamate into the brain
Hmmm, a little worrying, no? I know I haven't spent the time going in to Phenylalinine and Methanol, but you definitely google them or wikipedia them. Methanol for example is used in anti-freeze! 

My point simply is that fundamentally we know that soda is bad for us right. We know it. So we choose what is labelled as the healthier option. But is it really healthier? I'm someone who up until recently has enjoyed the odd diet soda, but it's time to start asking whether this is a good choice. Ultimately if nothing more this is now an informed choice. I have a bunch of friends with children out there, and hoping they read this for their children's sake for the health and longevity of their spouses.

I guess when it comes to nutritional choices both of food and drink I heard it best described by Drew Baye; "it's not about going low carb, it's about going low-crap!"

Be well

JF

UPDATE: As a result of this blog, I got advised to check out research discussing aspartame and formaldehyde. Apparently the methanol can be broken down into formaldehyde.....which is recognised as a human carcinogen and strongly linked to cancer. I was also guided to this, I know it's Wikipedia which isn't the most reliable source and I haven't read the whole thing but apparently there is a page devoted to Aspartame controversy.

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