Should Sugar Be Regulated As a Toxin? And What About Artificial Sweeteners?

I’m passionate about mindful eating, particularly since I’ve become a mom, so I try to stay on top of the latest news about what we eat and drink. Sugar and artificial sweeteners come up a lot–after all, these substances can adversely affect our children’s health (and ours), yet so many of us consume them without a second thought. Two recent reports about sugar and artificial sweeteners came my way this morning, and I think both offer important information.

Let’s start with the report about sugar. According to a LiveScience.com report: Sugar and other sweeteners are, in fact, so toxic to the human body that they should be regulated as strictly as alcohol by governments worldwide, according to a commentary in the current issue of the journal Nature by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).

These researchers propose regulations such as taxing all foods and drinks that include added sugar, banning sales in or near schools and placing age limits on purchases, according to the report. They make a pretty convincing case that, as noted in the report, “added sugar–or, more specifically, sucrose, an even mix of glucose and fructose found in high-fructose corn syrup and in table sugar made from sugar cane and sugar beets–has been as detrimental to society as alcohol and tobacco.”

I love the idea of tougher regulations on sugar, particularly since, as writer Christopher Wanjek points out, it’s been proven to increase your blood pressure and cholesterol, as well as your risk for liver failure, obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. These regulations would affect me, too–sugary drinks are my downfall. As I write this blog post I’m sipping on a (sugary) caramel latte, and it’s absolutely delish.

But while we’re at it, why stop with sugar?

I also vote for controls on artificial sweeteners and products that contain artificial sweeteners. I try to avoid artificial sweeteners–and I don’t give Mason anything with artificial sweetener–but when I really need an Orange Crush or a Cherry Coke, the diet option sometimes wins out. As a busy working mom, I don’t have the luxury of my pre-preggo personal training sessions at the gym, and I worry about getting fat. Turns out my vanity, and perhaps even yours, could put us at greater risk for cardiac problems–and our logic appears to be wrong about diet soda keeping the pounds at bay, anyway.

A new study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine shows that drinking diet soda every day is linked with a higher risk of stroke and heart attack, according to a report published yesterday in The Huffington Post. (Researchers did not find the same risk with people who drank diet soda more occasionally, between six a week and once a month.) Why do some people drink so much diet soda? According to Health.com, the explanation is really quite simple:

Although diet soda clearly isn’t as addictive as a drug like nicotine, experts say the rituals that surround diet soda and the artificial sweeteners it contains can make some people psychologically — and even physically — dependent on it in ways that mimic more serious addictions. And unlike sugared soda, which will make you gain weight if you drink too much of it, zero-calorie soda doesn’t seem to have an immediate downside that prevents people from overindulging.

However, according to HuffPo, a study presented at the American Diabetes Association meeting showed that drinking diet soda is linked with having a wider waistline. So much for that diet soda = skinny waist logic. In a statement, study researcher Helen P. Hazuda, Ph.D., a professor and chief of clinical epidemiology at the University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio’s School of Medicine, says: “Data from this and other prospective studies suggest that the promotion of diet sodas and artificial sweeteners as healthy alternatives may be ill-advised. They may be free of calories but not of consequences.”

Thoughts? Share them here!

Photos: Shutterstock, area381 (sugar); Shutterstock, ER_09 (soda)

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  1. by mandy

    On February 4, 2012 at 5:42 pm

    ok sure – i see SOME of the points with banning sugar and artifical sweeteners, but you have to remember that some of these items cater to those of us WITH diabetes. i cant afford to chose the regular coke – my blood sugar would be crazy high. so i can enjoy a soda/pop at times, i have to chose the diet kind.

    also, i rely on sugar-added drinks as well. when my blood sugar does get low, why should i be punished because i am trying to, in a sense, save my life with a regular soda or a candy bar? why should the ‘sins’ of others so adversely effect the whole population? since when do we need the government to do everything for us, including monitoring what we feed ourselves or our children? i just think enough is enough with all the push to have the government do everything for us – maybe we should just use common sense for once.

  2. by anonymous

    On February 4, 2012 at 5:54 pm

    I second what Mandy said. The government has no right to make my choices for me. That’s where moms come in. Help your kids make the right and healthy choices you believe they should be making. We all need to take responsibility for our own actions.

  3. by Aimee

    On February 4, 2012 at 6:48 pm

    Funny how the “solution” to the problem is to tax it…which isn’t going to stop the people who overindulgence, who are in essence those who are “in danger”. People still smoke don’t they? Just goes to show the government will jump on any bandwagon to try and get more tax dollars and get more control over choices we should be able to make ourselves.

  4. by Ginger

    On February 4, 2012 at 8:00 pm

    Way to much gov’t control. Taxing it won’t help and what kids can’t go into the store and buy candy any more..so I have a pic in my head, in high school me and my friends would hang a few doors down from the liqour store and try and find someone and usually would to go into the store and buy it for us..We’ll have 5 years old hanging out side of gas stations asking adults to buy candy..This is probably one of the stupidest things I”ve heard of taxing and regulating things don’t make people stop doing it.

  5. by Michelle

    On February 4, 2012 at 8:23 pm

    At what point have we had enough of the Government interfering in our daily lives? First, it’s sugar. Then, salt. Next, fat. Finally, our right to choose what we eat has all been taken away. The solution for every problem isn’t a ban, or a tax. If you don’t want sugar in your house, fine. You have that right, but why should your right to NOT have sugar in your house supersede my right to have it? The needs and opinions of the many should certainly outweigh the needs and opinions of the few. If you can’t parent without the government telling you what to do, and when to do it, perhaps you shouldn’t be having children.

  6. by Tara

    On February 5, 2012 at 8:45 pm

    On one hand, I understand the points behind regulating sugar as we regulate alcohol and tobacco. I, for one, would love to have a better reason than “because it’s not healthy” for why my kids can’t have every snack and treat that is thrust in their direction.

    On the other hand, isn’t a dangerous and slippery slope to allow the government to regulate our food intake? I understand the higher insurance costs of bad choices, and we do regulate safety issues like seat belts, but this seems like an unnecessary place for the government to get involved.

    Having said all of that, I avoid artificial sweeteners like the plague. If I’m feeling so strongly about imbibing in a Mountain Dew (or whatever), then I’m going to go for the one that’s got the greatest percentage of real foods. :) There are just too many question marks in terms of chemical sweeteners and how they interact with our bodies. Based on your first article, however, maybe there are those same questions about sugar. Time will tell, I guess!

  7. by Stacey C

    On May 21, 2012 at 8:35 am

    To go back to truly healthy eating we would have to return to an agrarian society. I try to serve my family healthy foods and hopefully other people do, too.

    Of course, as long as we live in a country where a burger is less than a dollar, but a salad is $5, there are going to be food-related health problems.

  8. by sali81

    On May 21, 2012 at 11:45 am

    It seems to me like education has always gone farther than regulation in helping people stop harmful behaviors. Maybe just a simple step like putting a warning label on things that contain added sugars listing some of the side-effects would be enough to make people think twice before buying. Or even some advertisements or a 20-20 program about it. Education seems to have helped a lot with the smoking situation. If it’s us against the “mean government who keeps us from our rights”, we all lose. If it’s the entire community fighting for health, we all win.