Alcohol (ethanol) is the product of the fermentation of sugars in the absence of air. These sugars can be in free form or come from starches or grains. Ethanol is toxic to the body at moderate to high doses, but in low infrequent doses can have a beneficial effect on artery health. Alcoholic beverages are also full of the by-products of the fermentation proces and additives to flavour the drinks. Some of these can be beneficial, such as the tannins in red wine. Alcohol generally is counterproductive to a healthy lifestyle, but can be enjoyed sensibly and in moderation without fear of long term ill effects. Alcohol has 7 calories per gram. For an indepth look at how alcohol is toxic to the body, see here: The effects of alcohol on the body
- Beer, Cider, Mead
- Spirits & Liquers
- Medicines, mouthwash and some herbal extracts
- Ingredient in some foods, eg: cakes, etc.
Artificial sweetners are used as a no or low calorie substitute for sugar. There is much controversy surrounding some of them and links to diseases have been claimed. Some are completely artificial whilst others are extracted from natural sources. In general consumption of these should be limited. They are almost always found in processed foods, although they may be added to more wholesome foods to provide sweetness without sugar.
Sugar Alcohols: Polyols
Sugar alcohols, also called polyols - are a class of carbohydrate that are neither sugars nor alcohols. This group includes maltitol, sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, erythritol, lactitol, and hydrolysed starch hydrolysates (HSH). These popular sugar substitutes provide the bulk and sweetness of sugar and corn syrup, but are incompletely absorbed in the intestine. Thus they provide fewer calories and carbs than sugar, and result in a much slower, and smaller rise in blood sugar and insulin. They are generally recognised as safe for diabetics to consume for this reason, and products sweetened with these products may legally be labelled "sugar-free" in both Canada and the US. Polyols contain approximately 2 calories per gram.
Acesulfame Potassium (K) was approved for use by the FDA as a safe artificial sweetener in July, l988. It is a derivative of acetoacetic acid. Unfortunately, several potential problems associated with the use of acesulfame have been raised. They are based largely on animal studies since testing on humans remains limited. Acesulfame K stimulates insulin secretion in a dose dependent fashion thereby possibly aggravating reactive hypoglycemia ("low blood sugar attacks").
Aspartame, a dipeptide of aspartic acid and a methyl ester of phenylalanine, is approved for use in pharmaceutical products and is being used increasingly in chewable tablet and sugar-free formulations. Labels for both prescription and nonprescription products must include the phenylalanine content. The major consideration in the use of aspartame in children is in patients with autosomal recessive phenylketonuria.
Headache is the most common adverse side effect attributed to aspartame but is seldom confirmed by single-dose double-blind challenge.
In anecdotal reports, aspartame has been linked to various neuropsychiatric disorders, including panic attacks, mood changes, visual hallucinations, manic episodes, and isolated dizziness. None of these conditions has been rigorously proven to be caused by aspartame, but carefully conducted double-blind challenges may be indicated in patients with histories that suggest aspartame as a cause. Patients with underlying mitral valve prolapse or affective disorders may be at increased risk for neuropsychiatric effects; several studies have shown that individuals without psychiatric or seizure disorders do not demonstrate these effects.
Foods containing saccharin no longer carry a label stating that the "use of this product may be hazardous to your health ...contains saccharin which has been determined to cause cancer in laboratory animals." This warning was lifted in 2001 by the American FDA as saccharin no longer has been connected to cancer in human beings.
Saccharin may be present in drugs in substantial amounts. Ingestion of the recommended daily dosage of chewable aspirin or acetaminophen tablets in a school-age child would provide approximately the same amount of saccharin contained in one can of a diet soft drink. Saccharin is an O-toluene sulfonamide derivative and causes similar dermatologic reactions. Cross-sensitivity with sulfonamides has been demonstrated; therefore, children with "sulfa" allergy should also avoid saccharin. Other reactions include wheezing, nausea, diarrhea, tongue blisters, tachycardia, fixed eruptions, headache, diuresis, and sensory neuropathy. The American Medical Association has recommended limiting the intake of saccharin in young children and pregnant women.
Splenda, also known as sucralose, is an artificial sweetener, which is a chlorinated sucrose derivative. Despite the manufacturer's mis-statements, sucralose does break down into small amounts of 1,6-dichlorofructose, a chemical which has not been adequtely tested in humans. More importantly, sucralose must break down in the digestive system. If it didn't break down and react at all, it would not chemically-react on the tongue to provide a sweet taste. The truth is that sucralose does break down to some extent in the digestive system.
Another sweetener, stevioside, is championed by natural-foods advocates in the United States and is used in several countries, most notably Japan. Stevioside comes from the leaves of the stevia plant (Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni), a perennial shrub of the Asteraceae (Compositae) family native to Brazil and Paraguay. Stevia contains sweet-tasting glycosides, mainly stevioside; but also rebaudiosides A, B, C, D, and E; dulcoside A; and steviolbioside. Stevioside has a slight bitter aftertaste and provides 250 to 300 times the sweetness of sugar.
High Fructose Corn Syrup There are many forms of "syrups" , HCFS is the most common.
High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is produced by processing corn starch to yield glucose, and then processing the glucose to produce a high percentage of fructose. HFCS has the exact same sweetness and taste as an equal amount of sucrose from cane or beet sugar but it is much more complicated to make, involving vats of fermenting liquid, fungus and chemical tweaking. HCFS consumption is linked to reduced insulin sensitivity, obesity and diabetes. It should be mostly avoided by those seeking to eat healthily.
There are hundreds of additives used in food preparation and preservation, far too many to list here. Here is a link to a site with a food additive database.