A proposed ban on large-sized sugary sodas may drive consumers to sodas filled with formaldehyde. Action Alert!
On June 12, in an attempt to combat the obesity epidemic, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg will ask the Board of Health to ban the sale of sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces by movie theaters, restaurants, mobile food carts, and delis, though not grocery stores or convenience stores—so 7-Eleven’s 44-ounce Super Big Gulp is safe.
The proposal would exempt diet drinks—not to mention fruit-based drinks, dairy-based drinks, and alcoholic beverages, no matter how many calories they contain. There will then be a three-month comment period before the Board votes on the proposal. If the Board agrees, the ban could be in effect as soon as next March.
Most soft drinks are sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup. HFCS is a corn syrup that has undergone enzymatic processing to convert some of its glucose into fructose to produce a desired level of sweetness. HFCS may suppress the chemicals that signal when you should feel full. For this reason and others relating to the metabolism of sugar into fat, it has been linked to obesity. In addition, because of its processing, some brands of HFCS may contain mercury, a known neurotoxin.
We have ourselves pointed all this out in the past. But it is not the whole story. Note that the mayor has exempted so-called diet drinks featuring artificial sweeteners. The mayor seems to like them and his proposal will undoubtedly push more people into choosing them. There is evidence that these drinks are extremely dangerous, potentially more so than the drinks they would replace.
- Aspartame and Neotame (Equal and NutraSweet), which are used in more than 6,000 diet products, beverages, and pharmaceuticals, have carcinogenic effects at a dose level within range of human daily intake—effects that are magnified when exposure begins during fetal life. One packet of Equal contains 33 mg. of aspartame; one can of Diet Coke (355 ml.) contains 131 mg. of aspartame; and one-half cup of Jello Light contains 40 mg. of aspartame. A 44-pound child would only have to consume 400 mg., about the equivalent of three Diet Cokes per day, to reach the carcinogenic 20 mg./kg. bodyweight dose. Even the artificial coloring in diet soda is carcinogenic!
- Ten percent of aspartame is methanol, which is converted to formaldehyde—which, in turn, is converted to formic acid, which is used to strip epoxy. The other 90% is composed of phenylalanine and aspartic acid. These amino acids are normally harmless, but in isolation they are neurotoxic.
- Aspartame has been implicated in the development of Gulf War syndrome. Huge amounts of diet drinks were shipped to Gulf War troops, who were drinking it in high temperatures. In 1985, Coca-Cola apparently expressed reservations about proposed FDA approval of aspartame for beverages, noting that aspartame is uniquely and inherently unstable and breaks down in the can. When stored or heated above 85 degrees F, aspartame may decompose into formaldehyde (embalming fluid), methanol (wood alcohol), formic acid (ant sting venom), diketopiperazine (an agent in brain tumors), and other toxins. Of course, Coca-Cola started using aspartame in Diet Coke in 1983.
- In a study on seven monkeys, five had grand mal seizures and one died, a casualty rate of 86%. The Aspartame Consumer Safety Network has set up a hotline for pilots; ACSN reports that pilots are having grand mal seizures in the cockpits of commercial airline flights due to aspartame, and others are crashing the flight simulator at training facilities while in seizure. Aspartame also decreases the availability of tryptophan, which reduces the brain’s levels of serotonin—a chemical that regulates aggressive behaviors and sleep patterns.
- Sucralose (Splenda), which is increasingly used to sweeten diet drinks, alters the microflora in the intestine and “exerts numerous adverse effects,” according to one Duke University study, including an increase in body weight (not quite what a “diet aid” is supposed to do!), and an elevation of liver enzymes, which negatively affects the bioavailability of nutrients. Sucralose is an organochloride—just like insecticides, herbicides, and pesticides. In an article entitled “The Lethal Science of Splenda, a Poisonous Chlorocarbon,” Dr. James Bowen warns that “any chlorocarbons not directly excreted from the body intact can cause immense damage to the processes of human metabolism and, eventually, our internal organs. The liver is a detoxification organ which deals with ingested poisons. Chlorocarbons damage the hepatocytes, the liver’s metabolic cells, and destroy them.”
- Diet sodas in general are linked to a 61% increase in strokes and heart attacks, according to the American Stroke Association. Interestingly, the population studied for this landmark report were all New Yorkers!
Mayor Bloomberg needs to seriously rethink his proposed ban; it demonstrates a complete ignorance of science on his part. When government tries to force people to behave a certain way on pain of fines or worse, there is always the risk of unintended consequences, as there is here, quite apart from the question of whether government should be telling people what to eat in the first place.
What even the most informed scientists know about food (and medical treatments) is continually changing. Beliefs should compete in the market of public opinion and consumer purchases. Over time people will become better informed and with luck better choices will be made. If government officials jump in with their heavy-handed punishments, there is too much risk that they will get the science wrong, as the mayor has, or they will freeze today’s science in law even though that science should continually evolve.
The mayor, in his usual “father-knows-best” style, says that opposition to his ban is “ridiculous.” But it isn’t. There are many reasons to oppose it, including scientific as well as civil libertarian ones.
Action Alert! Please write to Mayor Bloomberg and the New York Board of Health (even if you don’t live in New York City), and point out some of the science suggesting that diet sodas may be potentially even more dangerous than sugary ones! Take action now!