Has the death knell sounded for the diet food boom? For years, the artificial sweetener aspartame has been the holy grail for dieters who want something sweet without the calories.
But news broke last week that the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer research arm of the World Health Organization, will classify it as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”
The revelation has understandably caused widespread panic. Aspartame is found in everything from diet drinks to chewing gum and sugar-free yogurt.
In fact, many have claimed that it is the end of the diet food and beverage industry.
But is it really that bad?
News broke last week that the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer research arm of the World Health Organization, will classify the artificial sweetener aspartame as “possibly carcinogenic to the humans”.
It’s important to realize that IARC hasn’t released its safety review yet, so we don’t know for sure what it will include. It uses four categories: “carcinogenic,” “probably carcinogenic,” “possibly carcinogenic,” and “probably not carcinogenic.”
The leaked details suggest that it is not certain that aspartame can be a carcinogen.
Something might have the potential to cause cancer, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it does so in amounts that are normally consumed.
There are many studies on aspartame that conclude that it does not increase the risk of cancer in the amounts that people actually drink and eat.
Various scientific committees have evaluated the evidence over the years and have concluded that it is safe at current permitted levels.
Even if there is a link to cancer, it doesn’t mean that aspartame itself is the cause. Other factors could be involved, such as obesity.
Let me be clear: I am not writing in defense of artificial sweeteners. I’m definitely not a fan of diet foods and drinks, but my antipathy has nothing to do with potential cancer risk. Rather, it is the psychological effect of the sweeteners that concerns me.
I don’t want to say that they have an impact on mental health, there is no evidence of that. But I do believe that artificial sweeteners affect the way we view food.
Dr. Max Pemberton has always been skeptical of the benefits of diet drinks. Evidence shows that they don’t actually help people lose weight at all, and might even contribute to weight gain.
In fact, I think we’re led to believe that we’re allowed to eat and drink what we want, to indulge in treats with gleeful abandon, and this can cause problems when it comes to how we approach other areas of our diet.
I have always been skeptical about the benefits of diet drinks. Evidence shows that they don’t actually help people lose weight at all, and might even contribute to weight gain.
This is the crux of my problem with artificial sweeteners. They foster the feeling that people do not need to show restraint. You can enjoy your sweet tooth as much as you want, without guilt, or so you’d think.
But this has a side effect, which means that people fail to hone the skills of moderation, controlling cravings, and controlling what they eat.
In fact, it actively encourages people to give in to temptation and not bother to exercise self-control. They do not develop the habit of resisting the urge to eat or drink what they want.
This also means they can’t just say no to fatty or processed foods.
I suspect this is partly why diet foods don’t help people lose weight. Sure, you’re not drinking sugary drinks, but you don’t show restraint in other areas.
If you continue to eat cakes and cookies, your weight will not drop.
Artificial sweeteners help create the mindset that temperance is not necessary.
What’s worse, they give people a taste for sweet foods and drinks, which can mean they end up eating large amounts of calories to satisfy the craving if they can’t find a sugar-free alternative.
And there’s more. Sugar stimulates our reward pathways in the brain, which is why we feel good after eating a candy bar or piece of cake.
While sweeteners do not activate these reward pathways to the extent that sugar does, there is evidence to suggest that this is not a good thing because it tricks our brain into eating more to get the same hit.
Research shows that people who consume artificial sweeteners tend to eat more and choose higher-calorie foods than non-sweet eaters, as well as those who eat products that contain real sugar.
Artificial sweeteners have also been shown to increase people’s tolerance and desire for “sweet.”
This means our brains are still craving sugar, so you have a Diet Coke, but pair it with a chocolate bar.
It is much better to learn to enjoy sugar in moderation and challenge ideas about the need to reward or comfort yourself with food than to rely on artificial sweeteners.
The idea that they make something a ‘diet’ food or drink is a marketing gimmick. As always, the boring old adage “everything in moderation” is the best way to achieve or maintain a healthy weight.
KATE DESERVES HER GONG
Broadcaster Kate Garraway (centre) joined her husband Derek Draper (front) at Windsor Castle, where she received an MBE. Draper became UK’s longest-living hospital patient with Covid
I defy anyone not to be moved by the photographs of Kate Garraway’s husband, Derek Draper, proudly attending Windsor Castle to watch his wife receive an MBE.
Derek sat in a wheelchair while his wife received the honor. I have been following Derek’s story and his battle with Covid and at times feared the worst for him.
He became the longest living hospital patient with Covid in the UK. He must have been harrowing for both of them. But he’s bounced back and, while he clearly still has a long way to go in terms of his recovery, it’s wonderful to see him away from home.
Describing her delight that he was able to attend, she said: ‘It’s incredible. It’s a real feeling of “Okay, seize the day.” I believe that this attitude, enjoying the moments as they happen, is the only way to overcome such a test.
Credit, I’m sure, must go to the doctors and nurses who cared for him so expertly, but don’t underestimate the benefits of having a loving partner at your bedside. Kate’s dedication to her husband is an inspiration.
Good for Prince William for trying to tackle homelessness with his new £3 million project.
Before starting my job, I naively thought that people only needed houses. But the cause of homelessness is complex.
More often than not, those on the streets have serious mental health issues and a history of trauma. These people need intense and coordinated help.
I worked with an organization focused on the homeless in London who have since been defunded by the council and can only offer a minimal service.
Other countries have worked around the problem, but it goes hand in hand with services that provide drug and alcohol rehabilitation, mental health input, and housing support.
The Prince has a mammoth task ahead of him, but I hope he succeeds.
DR MAX RECIPES
Musician Sting hasn’t missed a day of ashtanga yoga in some 20 years, and he’s a living example of how it pays to take care of yourself in recent years.
Okay, whatever Sting is taking, I’ll take it too. Have you seen the photos of him recently? At 71, the music icon has a physique that would make people half his age envious.
She hasn’t missed a day of ashtanga yoga in some 20 years, and is a living example of how taking care of yourself, exercising regularly, and eating well pays off in later years.
Consultants in England have voted to strike and junior doctors are planning more strikes.
I understand your anger, but with a cost of living crisis and record NHS waiting lists, the time is wrong for this action.
Also, the striking consultants are still allowed to work privately, so only the poorest will suffer.