Debunking myths told about nutrition

EATING WELL D

September 24, 1991|By Colleen Pierre, R.D.

At a dinner party recently, we played "What ever happened to . . ." regarding nutrition issues that had been really hot in the past, but seem to have vanished without resolution.

Sweeteners were of particular interest to the group, since all have young children.

Here are some formerly burning issues raised by consumer groups, and their scientific resolutions.

Everybody knows that sugar causes hyperactivity

Wrong.

The sugar issue was raised in the days of the Feingold Diet, when we believed sugar made kids hyperactive. Several researchers worked with kids diagnosed by Dr. Benjamin Feingold as undeniably hyperactive. Parents and teachers swore they could tell immediately when these kids ate sugar. But, in "double blind" studies, when no one knew when the kids had sugar and when they had a placebo, no one could tell.

In fact, despite extensive research, there is no evidence that sugar is responsible for any disease except tooth decay. Further, FTC there is no evidence that current consumption levels are a hazard to the general public.

While acknowledging this information, the American Dietetic Association points out that recommendations for the use of sugar must be made in the context of the total diet. Important nutrients may be crowded out if too many "empty calorie" foods replace the basics recommended in the U.S. Dietary Guidelines.

Everybody knows Aspartame (Nutrasweet) causes headaches and seizures

Wrong.

According to a white paper by Catherine Adams, Ph.D., of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Aspartame was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1974 after more than 100 scientific tests, but was not marketed until 1981 because critics challenged the FDA's decision. A recent General Accounting Office (GAO) report found that the process used by the FDA in addressing the safety issues raised internally and by outside scientists and concerned citizens was sound.

In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and the FDA have investigated more than 3,000 consumer complaints and can find no serious, widespread, adverse health consequences attendant to the use of aspartame, although they do acknowledge that a few individuals may have an unusual sensitivity to the product.

The American Medical Association, the American Diabetes Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Epilepsy Institute all have acknowledged Nutrasweet to be safe at current levels of use by both the general healthy population and their own specific populations of concern.

Everybody knows that saccharin causes bladder cancer.

Wrong.

In 1977, the FDA proposed a ban on saccharine based on two-generation studies in rats fed the human equivalent of 850 cans of diet soft drinks a day.

Since then, studies of 6,000 people with diabetes, 5,000 bladder cancer patients, and 9,000 disease-free men and women have shown no association between bladder cancer risks and artificial sweeteners.

Former GRAS (Generally recognized as safe) recommendations limited saccharine intake to 500 mg/day for children and 1,000 mg/daily for adults. Current intakes range from 25-173 mg/day.

Colleen Pierre, a registered dietitian, is the nutrition consultant to the Union Memorial Sports Medicine Center in Baltimore and national spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

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