Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Splenda: My Tummy & I Aren't Fans

Splenda is EVERYWHERE. I have a very hard time avoiding it. My favorite Starbucks concoction, the Mocha Frappuccino Light, is loaded with it. As is Danon Light yogurt and Diet Pepsi. And a lot of other so-called "diet" foods.

I genuinely try and keep Splenda out of our home except for my once-a-week splurge treat at Starbucks...the aforementioned Light Frappuccino. But lately, I've noticed that my super sweet, low calorie and highly caffeinated beverage has been giving me a very, very bad stomachache. So I decided to do a little more investigation into the wildly popular Splenda sweetener and figure out what the possible connection could be between it and my not-so-happy belly.

The first thing I found out is that Splenda has been basically feeding us a big 'ol line with the claim of "Splenda is just like sugar." Truth be told, Splenda has completely different molecules than sugar. Without getting too scientific, there are no natural compounds in Splenda while sugar is produced naturally. Note to the marketing department at Splenda: it's disingenuous (and downright wrong) to compare Splenda's properties to the properties of sugar, even at the atomic level!

But what really interested me is what happens once Splenda enters the body. I was disheartened to discover that Splenda is not easily absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract. Instead, it hangs out in the gut and keeps the intestinal tract from finishing up its work. In fact, as much as 85% of the sweetener ingested stays in the gut, which throws the normal bacteria off-balance and results in digestive upset.

One study fed adult male rats a "normal" dose of Splenda. The rats had significantly less digestive bacteria present in their GI tracts and they had increased weight gain.

While Splenda may look like a dieter's dream, this information underscores the fact that it is not a natural product, and, in turn, is not friendly to the body, overall. It's hard enough for the body to keep its "good" bacteria levels in balance, particularly given a typical American diet of empty calories, but it can be equally difficult to replace the good "bugs" in your gut considering the treacherous route Splenda must take through your digestive system.

My advice? Use "real" sugar, in moderation. Buy plain yogurt and sweeten it yourself with honey, agave syrup, or organic fruit preserves. Ditch the diet soda. Use sugar and cream in your coffee, in smaller amounts. As for Starbucks? Avoid any "Light" or "Sugar Free" drink there. Once a week is not too frequent to enjoy a smaller version of your favorite coffee drink, even if it is a Frappuccino...I think I've even finally convinced myself!

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