False Advertising?

Yesterday my coffee cup came with an advertisement that read, “Splenda Essentials – Sip your way to a HEALTHIER METABOLISM with a sweet boost of vitamin B.”

And all I could think was, “Ugh, where do I begin…”

Advertisements are designed to sell product, end of story.  They often include a nugget of truth that hits on a hot button topic and people are intrigued.  People buy the product hoping it will live up to its claim.  But, as most of us have experienced, a product rarely ever lives up to its advertising.

So, where is the nugget of truth in the ad on my coffee cup?  Can an artificial sweetener like Splenda with a boost of Vitamin B really help you get a healthier metabolism, or is this just more clever advertising filled with empty claims?

What is a Healthy Metabolism?

A healthy metabolism, simply put, is system of balance.  The body is sensitive to the regulating hormones of the metabolism and an ideal balance between appetite, energy expenditure, lean muscle mass and body fat is maintained.  When the fine balance between the regulatory hormones of the metabolism is lost because, usually because of poor diet and lifestyle choices, the metabolism becomes deranged.  This imbalance and derangement of the metabolism, believed to effect 25% of the United States population, is known as (Metabolic) Syndrome X.

What is Syndrome X?

Syndrome X, Metabolic Syndrome X, or pre-diabetes, is a combination of medical conditions/cardiac risk factors that put you at high risk for developing both cardiovascular disease and diabetes as well as causing premature death.  The risk factors the define Syndrome X include:

  • Obesity – 20% above ideal weight with predominate abdominal fat storage
  • Waist circumference of 40 inches or more for men; 35 inches or more for women
  • Triglyceride levels (fats circulating in the blood) of 150 mg/dL or higher
  • HDL or “good” cholesterol of less than 40 mg/dL in men, 50 mg/dL in women
  • Blood pressure of 130/85 mm Hg or higher
  • Fasting glucose of 100 mg/dL or higher
  • Abnormal blood clotting

The medical conditions and risk factors that define Syndrome X stem from the changes that occur when the body’s tissues can not respond normally to insulin.

Insulin is the hormone produced by your pancreas in response to sugar in the blood.  Insulin’s role is to move sugar, toxic to the body at hight levels, from the blood into your cells.  When insulin can not move the excess sugar from your blood into your tissues, this is known as insulin resistance.

Why We Love Sugar and the Birth of Artificial Sweeteners

In nature, sweet is a treat because it is so hard to come by.  Over the course of human evolution we have been hardwired to crave sweet foods.  Seeking out and eating sweet foods ensured we would ingest enough calories and to our survival.  This wiring also ensured we would come back for more.

When we eat pasta, bread, cookies, cake, or any other carbohydrate source, those carbohydrates are ultimately broken down into sugar (glucose).  The sugar (glucose) from the digested carbohydrates enters our blood steam via our intestines for the purpose of feeding our cells.  However, when that sugar reaches the brain, the brain releases natural chemicals called opioids (think morphine, heroine & cocaine), which stimulate the brain’s reward centers and activate the areas that reinforce behavior.  These receptor sites, when stimulated, create intense feelings of pleasure, block sensations of pain, and affect stress hormones in ways which provide a sense of temporary reprieve from anxiety.  This why that tray of brownies is especially appealing after a particularly stressful encounter.

In our modern environment where food and especially sweets are readily available, this essential survival mechanism has backfired horribly.  We no longer need sweets to ensure our calorie needs are met, but the effect on our brains remains the same – we are hardwired to always come back for more.

So, to get the sugar fix we crave without the extra calories modern science invented artificial sweeteners.  Unfortunately, recent studies are showing that we may have tricked the taste buds, but we have not outsmarted the rest of the system.

The Effect of Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners, as research is now showing, increases our appetite for sweet things instead of satisfying our cravings.  When our body tastes something sweet, signals are sent to the brain that sugar calories are incoming, but none actually arrive.  This dissociation between a sweet taste and and no calorie intake confuses the body and puts the regulatory system that controls hunger and body weight out of sync.

Recent studies conducted on rats have conclusively shown that artificial sweeteners like saccharin and aspartame disturb the fine balance of a healthy metabolism.  These artificial sweeteners, when ingested, stimulate the cells in the pancreas to change insulin secretion, alter the function of hunger regulation in the brain and increase blood sugar all while causing weight gain.

In addition to disrupting a healthy metabolism, some artificial sweeteners interfere with our perception of sweet.  Splenda has a taste 100x sweeter than sugar.  After repeated exposure, our taste buds become desensitized causing us to crave sweeter and sweeter foods to satisfy a sweet craving.  Naturally sweet foods like fruit no longer taste sweet and other healthful foods no longer seem appealing.  This change in our perception of taste decreases our likelihood of consuming the foods necessary to maintain good health.

Lastly, artificial sweeteners are relatively new.  The production of sugar substitutes has recently become a major industry in the United States and other nations, but we don’t yet know the long term effects of artificial sweetener consumption on our bodies or the environment.

But what about the Vitamin B?

Here is the nugget of truth in our advertising.  Together B Vitamins play an important role in regulating, particularly increasing, our rate of metabolism.   Each B Vitamin plays a slightly different role in ensuring we get maximum nutrition from the foods we eat.  In addition B Vitamins help us maintain healthy skin and muscle tone, enhance immune and nervous system functions, and promote cell growth and division.

But, if your diet regularly includes these foods a Vitamin B supplement from any source is not necessary.

  • Nuts & seeds like sunflower seeds and almonds
  • Leafy green vegetables like kale
  • Meats like liver, salmon, steak, chicken and pork
  • Eggs
  • Fruits & vegetables like oranges, avocados, mushrooms, broccoli, and carrots

Besides, B Vitamins are water soluble and any excess you ingest is excreted in your urine as anyone who has ever taken a multivitamin can attest to.

In the end…

So, where does this leave our Splenda advertising campaign?  Are they really offering us a vehicle to a healthier metabolism by adding Vitamin B to an artificial sweetener, or is it simply another ploy to get us to buy more product?  What do you think?

7 thoughts on “False Advertising?

  1. amy says:

    We have a drawer at work full of chewing gum (all artifically sweetened of course) and one of the packs say “now with B vitamins!” I cant wait til it reads “Chew your way to a healthy metabolism!”

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