The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Monday February 6th

It’s just too sweet to be true

	<p>Holly Beilin</p>
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Holly Beilin

You’re at a party having the time of your life. You head over to the refreshments table for a pick-me-up, and there it is: that suspicious white powder you’ve seen more and more lately, tempting you…

OK, get your mind out of the gutter. I’m talking about sugar, America’s favorite sweetener and a primary ingredient in that leftover Halloween candy and the pumpkin pie we’re about to demolish at Thanksgiving. I’m not going to repeat facts (newsflash: sugar isn’t healthy!) but new studies have brought up even scarier statistics.

Eating too much sugar can eat away at brainpower, according to a study at the University of California Los Angeles that showed how high fructose corn syrup sapped rats’ memories. The sugar-fed rats’ brains were slower with less synaptic activity than those in the control group.
Sugar is also seriously detrimental to earth’s health. Sugar cane may be responsible for more biodiversity loss than any other crop, due to habitat destruction, intensive water and chemical usage and pollution runoff. This can be seen in the Florida Everglades, a formerly-huge natural marsh (and coincidentally, my backyard). After decades of sugar cane farming, tens of thousands of acres of the Everglades have been degraded into useless land.

So sugar’s out for a healthy and safe sweetener. What are the other options? Aspartame, Sweet’N Low, isn’t appealing; despite its usage in diet sodas, the research showing its tendency to become toxic to brain cells and the reports of users experiencing headaches and other ailments is enough to turn me off.

Sucralose — or Splenda — is lauded for passing through your body without a trace; in other words, no effects, no calories, no hint it was there. Although this sounds like an improvement, it’s been found that after the chemical leaves our bodies, it travels through sewage and winds up in surface and ground water. No one knows how it will affect the ecosystem, but scientists are worried that it could change organisms’ feeding habits and put entire food chains at risk.

Stevia, the hottest new sweetener on the block, is extracted from the leaves of the stevia plant and turned into a liquid or powder. It contains zero calories and doesn’t have any significant impact on the environment — in its natural form, it is just a small garden-variety plant.

But it won’t be untouched for long: both Coca Cola and Pepsi got the green light to use sweeteners made in part from stevia later this year. In what form and quantity they plan to use it, I’m not sure. But stay smart — a label that says “natural” doesn’t mean it’s right off the tree.

So should we just give up on our sweet tooth altogether? Well, until the day comes when I can drink my coffee black and give up desserts (hint, never) I will need to find some sort of sweetener. The least we can do is make the vice a little more virtuous by using natural ingredients: honey, fruit sugars or stevia. And above all, moderation: making a little go a long way is the best way to ensure our bodies, brains and the planet have the sweet dreams we deserve.

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