I am a Christian. I believe in the God of the Bible, in God the Father, in His Son Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit. I believe in Genesis 1:1 - "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (NIV)" I am a biochemist and a pharmacist by education. As such I have a desire to understand nature. I am writing this blog as my way to express the facts of true science as I understand them, from the perspective of one who believes that all things were created by God, for God and for His purposes.

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Monday, April 25, 2016

Artificial Sweeteners - Getting to Zero


America eats too much! So what is the solution? Eat less? Eat healthier? For some maybe, but for most of us it is now to use zero or low calorie sweeteners in place of those natural sweeteners we discussed in the last two blogs ("How Sweet it Is!" and "Are Nature's Other Sweeteners Better?") to help reduce our calorie intake without cutting out of our diet the things we love. So today we will discuss the most common non-carbohydrate sweeteners. They are often called artificial sweeteners but several are actually from natural sources (made from naturally occurring organic compounds).

The list includes - Saccharin, Cyclamate, Aspartame, Stevia, and Sucralose - the five most common artificial sweeteners used in the United States today.

Artificial Sweeteners

Sweetness (by weight) Trade Name FDA Approval
Saccharin 300 Sweet'N Low 1958
Cyclamate 30-50 SugarTwin Banned 1969 Approved outside of USA
Aspartame 200 NutraSweet 1981 Amino Acid based
Aspartame-Acesulfame 350 Equal Original, TwinSweet 1988 --
Neotame 9000 NutraSweet (mfg) 2002 Chemically similar to Aspartame
Stevia 150 Truvia -- Naturally derived plant sweetener
Sucralose 600 Splenda, Kaltame 1998 Sugar Alcohol
Advantame 20000 -- 2014 --

Many people trying to get off sugar think they can still have their cake and eat it, too. Most use artificial sweeteners for one of two reasons: weight loss or trying to reduce sugar cravings. Sadly, artificial sweeteners do not accomplish these health goals: they can make your sweet cravings worse, resulting in you consuming more carbs or calories than before. Artificial sweeteners actually increase cravings by continuing your addiction to super-sweet tasting foods. It only takes 3-6 weeks of complete abstinence from sweet tasting substances to eliminate your sweet cravings (psychological cravings will remain). You simply have to avoid all sweet tasting foods (including artificial sweeteners) during this time and your cravings will subside.

Artificial sweeteners may also cause your blood insulin to rise, although this has not been proven. When insulin levels rise, your blood sugar levels decrease. Low blood sugar causes you to crave sugar and eat more. Studies have shown that people who consume artificial sweeteners eat more calories than people who don’t, possibly for this reason. Additionally, this rise in insulin signals your body to store fat or not use it as fuel. So, the weight stays on your body.

Some studies show that you may be able to blame it on the bugs in your gut. Some artificial sweeteners appear to dramatically change the makeup of the gut microorganisms, mainly bacteria, that are in the intestines and help with nutrition and the immune system. There are trillions of these gut bacteria - many times more than the number of cells in your body. All these physiological changes also have the potential of slowing your metabolism, resulting in increased storage of body fat.

All of this to say that although some artificial sweeteners may be safe and most have no calories, they are not as helpful as they appear when it comes to weigh loss and cutting down carbohydrate intake. In fact, they may alter the brain's natural response to sweet tastes, resulting in a decrease in the bodies ability to know when enough calories have been consumed. It is best to reduce sugar and carbohydrate intake by reducing or eliminating sweet cravings (and sweet tasting foods) from your diet.

Artificial Sweeteners can increase cravings for sweet foods
Resulting in eating more calories than before.

Saccharin (Sweet'N Low)

Saccharin was the first artificial sweetener and was originally synthesized in 1879. Its sweet taste was discovered by accident. It is 300 to 500 times as sweet as sugar and is often used to improve the taste of toothpastes, dietary foods, and diet beverages. The bitter aftertaste of saccharin is masked by blending it with other sweeteners.

Fear about saccharin increased in 1960 when a study showed a possible link to bladder cancer in laboratory rats. Further studies later showed that saccharin causes cancer in male rats by a mechanism not found in humans. In 2001 the United States repealed the warning label requirement, and in 2010 the EPA stated that saccharin was no longer considered a potential hazard to human health. It is available in the United States and is making a comeback.

Saccharin itself has zero calories per gram and has a Glycemic Index index of zero, meaning it does not raise body sugar levels. It is usually blended with other sweeteners to mask its metallic taste. These other sweeteners are sometimes sugars, such as dextrose, and can add a few calories to the final product.

Saccharin is a sulfa-based sweetener. Reported side effects include allergic reactions for those with sulfa allergies, nausea, diarrhea, skin problems or other allergy-related symptoms. Saccharin is not metabolized in the body and is rapidly eliminated in the urine. The quantity of saccharin in a typical diet soda (12 ounces) is about 100 milligrams.


In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the sale of cyclamate in 1969 after lab tests in rats indicated that large amounts of cyclamates could cause bladder cancer. Cyclamates are still used as sweeteners in many parts of the world, including Europe. It is marketed as Sugar Twin and Sweet'N Low in Canada.

Cyclamate has zero calories per gram and has a Glycemic Index index of zero, the same as saccharin. It is usually blended with saccharin which produces a more "sugar-like" taste. Cyclamate is not absorbed by the body and is probably safe in small quantities. It has been used for about 70 years and despite the fears, no side effects have been reported in humans. It is now believed not to cause cancer directly, but may increase the potency of other carcinogens so it is best to avoid this sweetener.

Aspartame (NutraSweet)

Aspartame was discovered in 1965 at the G.D. Searle company. A chemist was working on an anti-ulcer drug and accidentally spilled some aspartame, an intermediary product in generating a tetrapeptide of the hormone gastrin, on his hand. When he licked his finger, he noticed that it had a sweet taste.

Aspartame is derived from the two amino acids aspartic acid and phenylalanine. It is about 200 times as sweet as sugar. It is not stable when heated so is used as a tabletop sweetener or in frozen desserts, gelatins, beverages, and chewing gum. When cooked or stored at high temperatures, aspartame breaks down into its constituent amino acids.

This is also its metabolic path in the body. It is broken down into L-Aspartic Acid, L-Phenylalanine and Methanol. L-Aspartic Acid and L-Phenylalanine are two of the 23 amino acids our bodies use to build protein. L-Aspartic Acid can be manufactured by our bodies, so it is not an "essential" amino acid. L-Phenylalanine is considered "essential" and must be included in our diet. The genetic disorder, PKU or Phenylketonuria, is a disorder of the metabolism of Phenylalanine and requires those with this condition to closely monitor their intake of this amino acid. Too much Phenylalanine in the diet of someone with PKU can lead to intellectual disability, seizures, and other serious medical problems.

Aspartame is metabolized fully in the digestive tract and is not absorbed intact. L-Aspartic Acid and L-Phenylalanine are found naturally in many proteins and thus we routinely consume these in our diet. A typical "dose" of Aspartame found in a diet soda is about 180mg. This is equivalent to about 70mg of L-Aspartic Acid and about 90mg of L-Phenylalanine. A 12 ounce glass of milk contains about 1140mg of L-Aspartic Acid and about 650mg of L-Phenylalanine.

The third metabolite of aspartame is methanol. Here is where much of the controversy is centered. A typical diet soda produces about 20mg of methanol when the aspartame is broken down. Methanol is a toxic substance and when consumed in large quantities (adult doses in excess of 10 grams per day) can cause blindness and other serious complications. But with the diet soda the quantity is very low. Methanol is oxidized sequentially to formaldehyde, then to formic acid and finally to carbon dioxide. These three chemicals are found in many fruits and vegetables and/or are produced within the body or by gut bacteria as breakdown products of metabolism. The body has a means to eliminate the small amount of methanol produced without harm. A 12 ounce glass of orange juice contains about 36mg of methanol, or about twice that found in a similar serving of diet soda. The bodies own metabolic processes can handle several grams per day of methanol without toxic effects.

The safety of aspartame has been studied extensively, including animal studies, clinical and epidemiological research, and post marketing surveillance. Aspartame is one of the most rigorously tested food ingredients to date. Aspartame has been deemed safe for human consumption by over 100 regulatory agencies in their respective countries.

There are claims of many adverse reactions to aspartame, including increased risk of cancers and multiple sclerosis. Others claim that the amino acids in aspartame are chemically manipulated or the amount of methanol produced is toxic. There does not seem to be any hard scientific evidence to support these claims. The amino acids are joined as they would be in any protein and the amount consumed, even from drinking numerous diet soda a day, is not outside of what would be found in proteins from a typical diet. As mentioned above, the quantity of methanol is very low and easily handled by our bodies existing metabolic processes. The one area of concern, as with all artificial sweeteners, is the undocumented possibility that consuming "sweet" substances my alter our bodies processes for recognizing caloric intake and possibly causing an increase in sugar cravings with a subsequent increase in consumption.

A typical diet soda with Aspartame alone contains about 180 mg of aspartame. When combined with Acesulfame, it drops to about around 120 mg. Since aspartame is basically a "protein", consisting of two amino acids, it contains approximately 4 calories per gram, or essentially zero calories in a 12 ounce diet soda. Aspartame has a Glycemic Index of zero.

Aspartame & Acesulfame Potassium (Equal Original, TwinSweet)

Acesulfame potassium (Ace-K) is 200 times sweeter than sucrose and has a slightly bitter aftertaste. It is often blended with other sweeteners (usually aspartame or sucralose), which give a more sucrose-like taste, whereby each sweetener masks the other's aftertaste and also exhibits a synergistic effect in which the blend is sweeter than its components.

Unlike aspartame, acesulfame potassium is stable under heat, allowing it to be used in baking or in products that require a long shelf life. It is also used as a sweetener in protein shakes and pharmaceutical products, especially chewable and liquid medications, where it can make the active ingredients more palatable.

One of the major concerns expressed about this sweetener is that it contains methylene chloride, a known carcinogen. Methylene Chloride is used as a solvent in the manufacture of acesulfame but is tested for in the final purity testing of acesulfame and is not detected. The limits of testing for methylene chloride is 40 parts per billion, so the maximum undetected would be 0.0016 micrograms (1 millionth of a gram) in a 12 ounce diet soda. Actual quantity of methylene chloride present is probably much less since it is a highly volatile substance and would be lost during final synthesis of acesulfame. Methylene Chloride is metabolized in the liver and human systems are capable of handling these amounts of methylene chloride safely. Although it is best to avoid exposure when possible, methylene chloride is found in other foods at higher concentrations, such as beer, decaf and some spices as well as in the background air (exposure as high as 30-300 micrograms per day).

Acesulfame is not metabolized by the body and is excreted mainly via the kidneys (95%) with the remainder in the feces. One minor breakdown product is acetoacetamide. In large doses, it has been shown to affect the thyroid in rats, rabbits, and dogs. This may be one reason to avoid this no calorie sweetener however exposure to this breakdown product is almost negligible from acesulfame used as a sweetener.

Of all the artificial sweeteners, acesulfame-K has undergone the least scientific scrutiny and other sweeteners are available so this may be one to use in moderation, if at all, for now.


Neotame is not sold to the consumer market. Food producers mainly use it. It is chemically related to aspartame, but the difference confers greater chemical stability, enabling this new sweetener to be used in baked foods. It is not metabolized into its related amino acids, as aspartame is, and is eliminated quickly. It is de-esterified and eliminated in the urine and feces. Neotame is 7,000 to 13,000 times as sweet as sugar, depending on the use, and 40 times sweeter than aspartame so the dose needed is significantly less than with other sweeteners. It has zero calories and a Glycemic Index of zero. Since it is not broken down into its two constituent amino acids, unlike aspartame, there are no concerns for use in PKU.

Over 100 corporate-sponsored studies were conducted on Neotame to prove its safety prior to FDA approval. Neotame is one of only two artificial sweeteners ranked as “safe” by the consumer advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest. It is not used in diet soda currently but based on its sweetness the dose would be about 5mg in a 12 ounce can.

Neotame’s main concern seems to be guilt by association. Because it is a chemical derivative of aspartame, critics of that product are also negative towards Neotame. However, given the number of products containing Neotame now on the market, there have been few reported side effects. The main reason for this may be the tiny amount of the sweetener per serving. Unless new information arises, it appears to be safe.

Stevia (Truvia)

Stevia has been widely used as a natural sweetener in South America for centuries. It is an herb native to Paraguay that is about 150 times sweeter than sugar. It has been found in many studies to be completely safe. It even has some health benefits. It appears to improve insulin sensitivity to fight obesity and diabetes and can reduce hypertension.

Stevia comes in many forms. It comes dried, powdered, and in a concentrated liquid extract. Due to its characteristics of zero glycemic index and zero calories, it is fast becoming popular world-wide. Stevia consists of two active components, rebaudioside (Reb A) and stevioside. Most studies of Stevia have shown it to be completely safe, but most of the research on long-term use with stevia extracts has been done with stevioside, not rebaudioside A or Rebiana, the ingredient in most Stevia brands on the market. Much is known about the safety of stevioside (the extract used for years in Japan), but more information is needed about the extracts that are in use today. Stevia contains 80% stevioside and 8% rebaudioside A. Like any sweetener, Stevia should be used in moderation and not consumed in large doses.

Since Stevia is a plant based natural sweetener, there are a growing number of Stevia options on the market; however, not all are the same in quality, taste, bitterness or sweetness. Most powdered versions have some form of sugar as a "filler" since the dose of Stevia is very small and needs to be "bulked up" with another powder.

Clearly, Stevia is a good alternative to the other artificial sweeteners on the market as well as a good alternative to sugar. It has no calories, a Glycemic Index of zero and is appropriate for people with sugar regulation problems.

Sucralose (Splenda)

Sucralose is a chlorinated sugar that is about 600 times as sweet as sugar. It is produced from sucrose when three chlorine atoms replace three hydroxyl groups. It is used in beverages, frozen desserts, chewing gum, baked goods, and other foods. It is stable when heated and can therefore be used in baked and fried goods. About 15% of sucralose is absorbed by the body and most of it passes out of the body unchanged, suggesting a reduced risk of toxicity. Sucralose is extremely insoluble in fat and, therefore does not accumulate in fatty tissues; sucralose also does not break down and will dechlorinate only under conditions that are not found in the body. The FDA approved sucralose in 1998.

There are few safety concerns pertaining to sucralose. In determining the safety of sucralose, the FDA reviewed data from more than 110 studies in humans and animals. Many of the studies were designed to identify possible toxic effects, including carcinogenic, reproductive, and neurological effects. No such effects were found, and FDA's approval is based on the finding that sucralose is safe for human consumption.

Most of the controversy surrounding sucralose is focused not on safety but on the marketing of Splenda, a sucralose sweetener. It has been marketed with the slogan, "Splenda is made from sugar, so it tastes like sugar." Sugar manufacturers objected to what this slogan implied. Sucralose has zero calories and a Glycemic Index of zero. Splenda contains dextrose or maltodextrin as bulking agents and has about 3 calories per gram.


Advantame is a high-intensity artifical sweetener based on aspartame, similar to neotame but modified with isovanillin instead of a dimethylbutyl group. These additions block the breakdown of the aspartame group into the two amino acids, aspartic acid and phenylalanine. It is about 20,000 times sweeter than sugar and was approved by the FDA in 2014.

Although studies generally show it to be safe, its tie to aspartame has automatically made it suspect. Much of the concerns are based on the supposed problems with aspartame, not on anything found specifically with advantame. Further testing is sure to be in the works.

Some other, less common, artificial sweeteners


Erythritol is a sugar alcohol that is about 70 percent as sweet as sugar. It occurs naturally in some fruits, but virtually all of the erythritol used as a food additive is produced by fermenting glucose. Many companies use it to bulk up other sweeteners and mask their unpleasant after-tastes, such as rebiana (from stevia), aspartame, and sucralose. It contains about 0.2 calories per gram and has a Glycemic Index of zero.

Other than occasional allergic reactions, the main safety concern about erythritol is that eating too much of it could cause nausea. Erythritol’s relative safety is due to its being mostly absorbed into the bloodstream and excreted unchanged in urine. Because 90% of erythritol is absorbed before it enters the large intestine, it does not normally cause laxative effects, as are often experienced after consumption of other sugar alcohols.


Sorbitol naturally occurs in fruit and is a close relative of sugar. It is about 60 percent as sweet as sugar. Moderate amounts of sorbitol are safe, but large amounts may have a strong laxative effect and even cause diarrhea. The FDA requires foods “whose reasonably foreseeable consumption may result in a daily ingestion of 50 grams of sorbitol” to bear the label statement: “Excess consumption may have a laxative effect.” Sorbitol may aggravate irritable bowel syndrome and other gastrointestinal conditions even from small ingested amounts. Sorbitol has 2.6 calories per gram and a Glycemic Index of nine (glucose = 100). It is generally considered safe.


Xylitol resembles sugar in consistency and taste, but has only 2.4 calories/gm and a Glycemic Index of seven. It is a great sugar alternative, much like sorbitol. It is as sweet as sugar, but is a sugar alcohol, which can cause intestinal problems. Xylitol is found in fruits and vegetables, but most is made from corn. Birch tree derived xylitol is a great alternative for those who want to avoid corn based products.

Xylitol is used mainly as a sugar substitute in chewing gums, because it produces fewer cavities and reduces plaque. Xylitol may also inhibit cavities by denying plaque bacteria the sugar they need to erode tooth enamel. Xylitol may also help control yeast infections, such as thrush.

Daily consumption of more than 25g of xylitol may cause diarrhea. It can also cause other gastrointestinal issues, such as gas and bloating. Xylitol is generally considered safe, having no known toxicity in humans. It is, however, toxic to dogs with ingestion frequently being fatal.

Monk Fruit Extract

Monk fruit extract is 300 times sweeter than sucrose but contains no calories and has a Glycemic Index of zero. Monk fruit extract can be used in baking as well as in anything calling for sugar. It is combined with erythritol (discussed above) to produce a product that looks and tastes like sugar and can be substituted one-to-one. The sweet taste of the fruit comes mainly from mogrosides, a group of glycosides that make up about 1% of the flesh of the fresh fruit. No incidents of negative side effects of Monk fruit have been reported.

Final Words

In summary, most of these sweeteners are probably safe when used in moderation. The problems seem mainly to arise when taken in larger doses or for extended periods of time, such as when consumed in beverages as a substitute for sugar. Although they help reduce the caloric intake in a person's diet, there is the possible issues with confusion of the food reward pathways, particularly with the sweeteners that contain no calories. Sweetness decoupled from caloric content offers partial, but not complete, activation of the food reward pathways. Activation of the hedonic component may contribute to increased appetite. We seek food to satisfy the inherent craving for sweetness, even in the absence of energy need. Lack of complete satisfaction, likely because of the failure to activate the postingestive component, further fuels the food seeking behavior. Reduction in the reward response may contribute to obesity by increasing overall caloric intake to compensate for the lack of closure in this cycle.

It seems that, once again, it is best to reduce total sugar (and sweetener) intake and thus reduce the craving for sweet foods, rather than try to substitute another, lower calorie, sweetener for sugar. This ultimately will reduce the total caloric intake and give the desired result of weight loss. This is easier said than done, however, in that we all, to varying degrees, have a sweet tooth. We can not have our cake and eat it too! Moderation is the key, not trying to fool our bodies.

1 Corinthians 6:12 (NIV) “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything.

Friday, April 8, 2016


TheCall has been bringing together the body of Christ for 15 years now and it is culminating in AZUSA NOW tomorrow, April 9th, 2016, on the 110th anniversary of the Azusa Street Revival of 1906 here in Los Angeles. 120,000 will be filling the LA Memorial Coliseum to fast and pray for the fulfillment of a prophetic word from William Seymour at that Revival - "In 100 years there will come a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit far eclipsing that of this Azusa Street Revival".

Lou Engle, the founder of TheCall, says that the prophecy "Is overdue but it is time!" Azusa NOW.

Make Us ONE as You are ONE
Not just Azusa then but AZUSA NOW

Learn, Watch and Pray - visit TheCall or GOD TV for more information.