Sugar & Sweetener Will Not Kill You

Sugar & Sweeteners Will Not Kill You

Sugar gets a really bad rap. It's up there with the Nazi's. You've got to keep the sugar low man, or it's going to make you fat. It's because of the insulin. It's dangerous, and it's everywhere. Like some kind of sugary big brother; it's the nanny state of bodily hormones. It's lurking behind every delicious morsel of sugary goodness. I've also heard it may punch you in the groin.

Ice - Cream = No
Doughnuts = No
Bread = No
Fruit = No

It seems I need to remove all of my favourite foods or I'm going to die. Probably tomorrow. Or maybe none of that is true and we should talk about toxicity. It is a very real thing. But it's a thing for every single element and compound in the Universe. 

All substances are poisons; there is none which is not a poison. The right dose differentiates a poison from a remedy. 
Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim

This guy has the best name ever. I mean how could he not be right with that preposterously amazing name. Anyway he said that in the 1500's which means this isn't new information. But if you were to listen to a large amount of the "information" out there you might be forgiven in forgetting to remember this.

Cyanide is toxic of course...But wait, it's in apricots...Why am I not dead?
Water can kill me, you say...Crap I'd best put down that bottle right now.
Oxygen is toxic...Jesus everyone hold your breath RIGHT NOW!

Damn it looks like we're fucked. Or maybe, just maybe, the dose matters.

Let's look toward something know as the Median Lethal Dose (the dose required to kill approximately half of the population of a species).

Here are some fun Median Lethal Dose levels

  • Table Salt - 3g/kg - 0.6lbs for a 180lb guy
  • Sugar - 30g/kg - 6lbs for a 180lb guy
  • HOLY CRAP SALT IS 10 TIMES AS TOXIC AS SUGAR - EVERYONE FREAK OUT
  • Cyanide - 0.01g/kg - 0.8g for a 180lb guy
  • Caffeine - 0.2g/kg - 16g for a 180lb guys

The table below should give you an idea as to what toxic really means

Taken From The Dose Makes The Poison. Image Linked.

Taken From The Dose Makes The Poison. Image Linked.

If you can't tell from my blindingly sarcastic tone I'm saying that when someone tells you that a substance is TOXIC or dangerous, please ask this question:

At What Dosage?

Without that information, the conversation is meaningless. Imagine going shopping, asking the assistant how much something is and being told that it costs money. It adds no new information. Obviously it costs money because it is in a shop. Likewise we know that any substance we can consume has the potential to be toxic because it can be ingested. It is inherent in the statement.

We must stop fear mongering without context.

If you want to say sweeteners are bad for you and you should stay away from Diet Coke, you must also provide a dosage or your advice is meaningless.

We must be consistent in our advice.

If we are to say no to sweeteners or sugar without understanding dosing we must also say we should avoid proteins, triglycerides, fibre, vitamins, minerals and anything else we can eat or drink. 

Here is a link to a the current guidelines on Aspartame from the Food Standards Agency UK, dosage included. But here's the summary for our enquiry.

"...SCF(Scientific Community on Food) reviewed more than 500 papers published in the scientific literature between 1988 and 2001 on the safety of aspartame, including studies supporting the safety of aspartame and others pointing to potential adverse effects, which concluded, in 2002, that there was no evidence to suggest a need to revise the outcome of their earlier risk assessment or the Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) previously established for aspartame of 40 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day (40 mg/kg bw/day).

"As a result, it concluded in December 2013 that 'aspartame and its breakdown products are safe for human consumption at current levels of exposure'."

"In the case of aspartame, an adult would have to consume 14 cans of a sugar-free drink every day before reaching the ADI, assuming the sweetener was used in the drink at the maximum permitted level. In practice most drinks use aspartame in combination with other sweeteners so that the level is considerably lower."

Take Home Points

  • Enjoy sugar. And sweetener. And whatever else you choose to because you're an adult.
  • Try to eat according to your needs and goals. 
  • Try not to demonise or moralise foods.
  • Oranges hold no moral superiority over cookies, even if most of the time you would be more likely to benefit from the orange. There are no intrinsically good or bad foods. 
  • No food can be discussed without context and dose.
  • As a final note, please don't Strawman me into saying you can eat all the sugar or sweetener in the world. I'm not. I am saying that any advice must be clear, specific and context dependent.
Paul StandellComment