Thursday, February 7, 2013

What is Bad in Our Food? - Aspartame

This post goes out to my friend Andrew.  When we were talking a few weeks ago, I was talking about how a lot of my research has shown me the bad aspects of processed foods and has caused me to pursue a more natural path.  He responded by saying that I appear to have neglected to tell him some important points! Well he is right, and I thought it was time that I actually started highlighting why some of the foods available to us are bad, in addition to talking about the healthy choices.

Why Aspartame is Bad for You

Diet sodas have aspartame in them.  Now, despite arguments I have had with others about this, aspartame IS BAD for your health regardless of the quantity.  Although the damage you do to yourself is going to be proportional to the amount that you intake.

An Article in Environmental Health Perspectives followed various daily aspartame intakes over the lifetime of rats.  There were 7 categories:  100,000, 50,000, 10,000, 2,000, 400, 80, or 0 ppm of aspartame and 100-150 rats per category.  This was to represent a daily intake of 5,000, 2,500, 500, 100, 20, 4, or 0 mg/kg of body weight in humans.

“Our study shows that APM (Aspartame) is a multi-potential carcinogenic compound whose carcinogenic effects are evident even at a daily dose of 20 mg/kg bw, much less than the current ADI for humans in Europe (40 mg/kg bw) and in the United States (50 mg/kg bw).” The negative health effects that they are referring to are an increase in malignant tumors as well as increases in lymphomas and leukemias.”

Just so you know, there is 180mg of aspartame in a can of diet coke.  Lets assume that you weigh 60Kg, 132lbs.  If you drink 1 can a day you have an intake of 3mg/Kg.  Not too bad, but once you hit your 7th can, you’re over the limit.  This also doesn’t account for the aspartame you inject from diet cookies, jams, juices, yogurt…etc.

Now, aspartame itself would be okay, and is water soluble, so if it remains intact it can leave our system fairly easily.  The problems arise when our body starts to digest it. From Wikipedia, the process if described as follows:

“Upon ingestion, aspartame breaks down into residual components, including aspartic acid, phenylalanine, methanol,[27] in ratio of 4:5:1 by mass[28] and further breakdown products including formaldehyde[29] and formic acid, accumulation of the latter being suspected as the major cause of injury in methanol poisoning. Human studies show that formic acid is excreted faster than it is formed after ingestion of aspartame. In some fruit juices, higher concentrations of methanol can be found than the amount produced from aspartame in beverages.”[14]

Now seems like a good time to talk a bit about PKU.  PKU is short for Phenylketonuria, a rare condition where a child is born without an enzyme called phenylalanine hydroxylase.  This results in the baby being unable to break down the amino acid pheylalanine.  The child does require the AA, but only in small quantities.  The disease can be treated by limiting the intake of phenylalanine by the child.  Excess intake is harmful to the central nervous system and cause brain damage.  I remember one student I was helping out years ago that had PKU and was drinking Coke Zero like it was going out of style.  He had no idea that Aspartame converts to phenylalanine and drinking a lot of this pop was actually hurting him.

Another interesting point lies in what I found when I was researching the effects of aspartame.  One of the articles I found was refuting the research in favour of negative effects.  I thought that the name of the publisher seemed reputable.

When I was reading it, I thought that the timing was a little too convenient, then I saw this in an interview with Dr. Russel Blaylock a retired neurosurgeon and professor of Biology.  He has written several books including: Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills (1994), Health and Nutrition Secrets That Can Save Your Life (2002), and Natural Strategies for Cancer Patients (2003).

“No matter how much a newspaper wants to tell the truth, they're not going to do it. This is the kind of pressure these people are under. Even if you have a good writer who wants to write the story, his editor is going to override him and prevent it or water it down considerably. You see this in journals like the Journal of Clinical Nutrition or College Nutrition. Look at who funds them: The Monsanto Company, and they used to be sponsored by G.D. Searle. They're not going to want to put articles in their journal that will infuriate their primary source of income. Even medical and nutrition journals are controlled by these people.”

You can access the full interview here:

Let me just conclude with a quote from Dr.Fuhrman’s book Eat to Live.
“Clearly this is a controversial subject because much of the research documenting the so-called safety of aspartame was financed by the aspartame industry, and a huge amount of political and monetary pressure led to eventual FDA approval. My opinion is that the possible dangers of aspartame are still unknown. Utilizing such artificial products is gambling with your health. Aspartame also exposes us to a methyl ester that may have toxic effects. I recommend playing it safe and sticking to natural foods. Getting rid of your addictions to unsafe substances is valuable in achieving long-term success.”

The one point I left out here came from the movie FoodMatters. They talk a bit about how Aspartame is an excito-toxin.  There are several different foods that we consume that qualify as excito-toxins so I have decided to do a complete post on them next so that I can do the subject justice.

Vitamin B1 aka Thiamine

My original intent was to have one post on the B Vitamins, however, there is so much pertinent information it would be a ridiculously long post.  Instead, I am going to break the post into individuals.  Since there are 8 B vitamins, this will be a multi-part series! All of the B vitamins are used to metabolize food and fuel the body. They also help maintain healthy skin, hair, eyes, and liver. They also help the nervous system function properly, and are needed for good brain function.

Vitamin B1

What is it?
The common name for this one is Thiamine.  Whenever we don’t have B1, it actually causes detrimental health effects since it is essential in the formation of neurotransmitters acetylcholine and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).  Acetylcholine is used in your Peripheral Nervous System in receptors called Nicotinic Receptors.  I know, now you're thinking about Cigarettes and Nicotine.  Well, you're not that far off the mark.  While the Nicotinic Receptors respond to acetylcholine, they also respond to nicotine (hence the name).  This type of receptor is important for cognitive functions in your brain such as attention, learning, and memory since Acetylcholine reinforces your brain’s ability to detect and respond to meaningful stimuli.  GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter in mature individuals and is mainly linked to its role in changing the electrochemical gradient in cells (making them more or less negative depending on the situation).  This can help out greatly in the regulation of muscle tone.
In a developing brain, GABA helps stem cells to spread and form into specific types, and also assists in the formation of synapses.

Where Can you get it? - According to

#1: Yeast Extract Spread (Marmite) Good news for you Brits.
Marmite provides 9.7mg (647% DV) per 100 gram serving, or 0.5mg (39% DV) per teaspoon. 100g is a bit excessive, but a couple tsp a day seems reasonable.

#2: Sesame Butter (Tahini) and Seeds
In asian cuisine, ground sesame seeds is referred to as tahini.  It is one of the main ingredients when making hummus. 100 grams of tahini will give you 1.6mg (106% DV) of vitamin B1 or 0.2mg (15% DV) per tablespoon. Roasted sesame seeds only give 0.1mg/tbsp (7.5% DV).

#3: Sunflower Seeds
Sunflower seeds give you 1.48mg of vitamin B1 in a 100g serving (99% DV). That is about 6% of the DV for two tablespoons of sunflower seeds.

#4: Dried Herbs and Spices
Dried coriander leaves provide 2% DV per tablespoon.
Poppy Seeds give you 57% DV per 100g
Dried Sage gives 50% DV per 100g
Paprika has 43% DV per 100g
Mustard Seed give you 36% DV per 100g
Rosemary gives you 34% DV per 100g
Thyme will give you 34% DV per 100g

#5 Pork Chops
A 100 gram serving will provide 1.2mg (83% DV) of thiamin

#6: Pine Nuts
Pine nuts provide 1.2mg (83% DV) in a 100 gram serving, or around 1% DV in 10 nuts.

#7: Pistachios
100 grams of pistachios provides 0.87mg of thiamin (B1) or 58% DV. That is 0.24mg or 16% of the DV per ounce.

#8: Macadamia Nuts
Macadamia nuts provide 0.7mg (47% DV) of vitamin B1 per 100 gram serving, or 0.2mg (13% DV) per ounce.

#9: Fish
Pompano provides 0.68mg (45% DV) of thiamin (B1) in a 100 gram serving
Tuna fish provides 0.5 mg (33% DV) per 100 gram serving.

#10: Pecans
Pecans provide 0.66mg (44% DV) of vitamin B1 per 100 gram serving, or 0.19mg (12% DV) per ounce.

How Much do you Need?

According to the National Academy of Sciences, the recommended daily intake of vitamin B1 is as follows:

Newborns - 6 months: 0.2 mg (adequate intake)
Infants 7 months - 1 year: 0.3 mg (adequate intake)
Children 1 - 3 years: 0.5 mg (RDA)
Children 4 - 8 years: 0.6 mg (RDA)
Children 9 - 13 years: 0.9 mg (RDA)
Men 14 - 18 years: 1.2 mg (RDA)
Women 14 - 18 years: 1 mg (RDA)

Men 19 years and older: 1.2 mg (RDA)
Women 19 years and older: 1.1 mg (RDA)
Pregnant or breastfeeding women: 1.4 mg (RDA)

What Happens if you don't have enough?

There are a lot of conditions that stem from vitamin B1 deficincy, but I'll just quickly summarize here:

Beriberi - Sounds funny, but it is actually quite serious.  There are 3 categories, but we'll just focus on the wet and dry.
Dry beriberi causes impairment of sensory, motor, and reflex functions, while the wet beriberi causes mental confusion, muscular atrophy, edema, tachycardia, cardiomegaly, and congestive heart failure in addition to peripheral neuropathy.  Fortunately, this condition can be reversed by bringing your vitamin B1 levels back up.

Alcoholic Brain Disease
This is a neuro-psychiatric disorder characterized by paralysis of eye movements, abnormal stance and gait, and markedly deranged mental function

What happens if you have too much?
So far as we know, there is no adverse effect to consuming too much vitamin B1.  The excess amount is simply excreted in the urine.