October 16, 2006

Gut Rot 101

Im no longer sipping Pepsi Max. Why?

I thought I would call Pepsico NZ and find out the story behind the "no sugar" thing. The lady I spoke with confirmed that Pepsi Max contains sweetener in it - specifically Saccharin (I hear that George Orwell hammered it in "1984" over cancer concerns) and Aspartame (otherwise known as products like "Nutrasweet" or "Equal").

The Aspartame content in Pepsi Max is made of 50% Phenylalanine - which is an amino acid found in the brain - and is why there is a warning on the side of the drink about this (but nothing about Saccharin because NZ is not required to legally - but note it's there on imported fizzies like Dr Pepper).

Some people who can't metabolise phenylalanine effectively must be informed, and those of us who can, need to be wary of how much we consume. If we guzzle too much Pepsi Max, the extreme levels of phenylalanine could lead to seizures, amongst other effects like mood swings, and depression. Mix that with caffeine (naturally present with Cola drinks) and you could become addicted to it!

If thats not enough, 10% of Aspartame is made up of methanol. When that breaks down in our intestines, Formaldehyde (a known carcinogen) is formed and leads to retinal damage, interferes with DNA replication, and can cause birth defects. Thats why I've given it the nickname "gut-rot".

Now, to get an idea of how much methanol is absorbed from Aspartame - a one litre bottle of (Aspartame sweetened) Diet Coke contains 58mg of methanol, while the recommended limit of consumption for methanol is only 7.8mg per day.

Coca Cola NZ's product page has detailed nutritional information - NOT!

Coca Cola NZ at least concede that fizzy drink sales are on the decline (which is why their other products like Keri Orange Juice are growing in popularity/sales) but they are yet to throw a fraction of their billions to promote things like hydration, commercially on radio, tv, billboards etc. Pathetic. A million dollar campaign wouldn't dent their profit, but is easily enough to promote this.

If you think that this is a ploy against Coke and Pepsi - note that even Weight Watchers use artificial sweeteners!

There are 15 different artificial sweeteners permitted in New Zealand food, including:
950 Acesulphame K (or potassium)
951 Aspartame
952 Sodium or Calcium cyclamate
954 Saccharin
955 Sucralose

Look out for these sweeteners marked on the side of products. I've only covered 951 and you'd expose yourself to everything explained above. I haven't even looked at Food Acids contained in Pepsi Max or Coke Zero either... but here's a great link which details which food acids to avoid if this is really concerning to you.

There's also an informative write-up about Aspartame here

NZ's Green Party suggest these things - as these products are pretty difficult to avoid:

• Avoid or reduce your intake of artificial sweeteners and diet drinks containing aspartame, saccharin, or cyclamates. Use sugar, honey, molasses or maple syrup in moderation instead, unless you are diabetic – in which case the natural sweetener herb Stevia can be used.
• Check labels – artificial sweeteners are found in breath mints, sweets, chewing gum, diet drinks, ice cream and many processed foods.
• Check all Weight Watchers products for artificial sweeteners.

So how can we get on top of this?

I suggest to manage your intake by balancing your diet: If you want a bottle of coke, also buy a bottle of water at the same time. If you cannot afford the water, leave the coke behind.

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