Artificial sweeteners an environmental pollutant?
Choosing yogurt for our kids’ lunches has become a pain. We just switched to single serve yogurt because our kids won’t eat plain yogurt sweetened at home. They’re not milk drinkers either and were in need of a lunchbox revival since summer didn’t seem to cure their lunchbox boredom.
Who knew that deciphering single serve yogurt packages would be so complicated?
As if figuring out brands and flavours, fat content and probiotics wasn’t enough, we keep tripping up with all of the sugar options.
Flavoured yogurt is basically pudding with gut-friendly bacteria added, which I accept but so many varieties are artificially sweetened that you need to be good at label reading to avoid accidentally grabbing the fake stuff – which has happened.
Not only does artificially sweetened yogurt taste, well, artificially sweet, artificial sweeteners aren’t very healthy and are implicated in a laundry list of health concerns. Because they have become one of the most common food additives they have now become environmental pollutants too.
The root of the environmental concern is the fact that artificial sweeteners are making their way in to our water systems, to the point that scientists have become alarmed. From the Gulf of Mexico to the Grand River in Ontario (supplies drinking water for a population of half a million), measureable amounts of the sweeteners are turning up in water test samples.
Scientists have no idea what impact this might have on these ecosystems. What they do know is that there is a growing body of research detailing what artificial sweeteners are doing to our bodies and they may or may not be able to extrapolate that information to possible effects on the aquatic life in the marine systems affected.
Several studies in the past year have found that artificial sweeteners could lead to insulin resistance, increasing the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and increasing the risk for obesity among those who consume them. More research is needed but the evidence is piling up.
In the meantime, these sugar substitutes are piling up in the environment.
Since our bodies can’t break down sweeteners such as sucralose for example, 90 percent of it is eliminated by our bodies and ends up in sewerage treatment plants, but sewerage treatment plants aren’t set up to break down sucralose either so it makes its way to our waterways.
In the Grand River study, scientists discovered that the equivalent of 80,000 to 180,000 cans of diet pop pass through the river every day on their way to Lake Erie.
In the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency considers sucralose a “contaminant of emerging concern,” but it isn’t just the worry of aquatic life ingesting the sweeteners. Some artificial sweeteners like Aspartame can break down when exposed to sunlight, producing toxic compounds like formaldehyde.
Avoiding artificial sweeteners takes work since they go by so many different names and are in so many products. But if medical conditions don’t prevent you from eating real sweeteners, steering clear of artificial sweeteners is worth the effort.