Will companies please stop forcing me to consume aspartame?

Years ago, many more years than I would care to admit, low calorie alternatives hit the supermarket shelves. My mother always controlled the amount of junk we ate or drank, not just because it could make us fat, but to protect our teeth. I wasn’t really that bothered, if I was honest. They were treats, fizzy drinks, sweets, puddings. But you can imagine that there was some celebrating when we found out we could have puddings more than once a week, and that we could have a glass of pop out of necessity, and not as a treat. I also started using Canderel in my tea and coffee, because even as a child, I preferred hot, “grown up” drinks.

I started getting headaches, and then migraines. I was taken to the doctor, who put it down to “growing pains”, and said it was common among pre-teens and early teenagers. I was then sent away, with the advice to take paracetamol when an attack came. I ended up with a permanent headache, with waves of crippling migraines.

Both me and mother realised at the same time that the headaches and migraines only started with such ferocity after the change in diet. We decided I wouldn’t eat or drink any of the stuff containing artificial sweeteners, and I went back to using sugar, and having the one glass of fizzy pop a day (full-fat). The headaches cleared within a week.

As an experiment, I tried a glass of One Cal, and was ill again within hours. I’ve learned over the years that the migraines are caused by aspartame. Saccharin only (only, *rollseyes*) gives me bad headaches.

Since then, I’ve avoided sweeteners. I check labels to the extent I’m paranoid, because I’ve discovered over the years that some manufacturers put sweeteners into things without a big warning. Simple things like yoghurts can use aspartame, which I find baffling, as they’re supposed to be flavoured with fruit, which surely is sweet enough.

Fizzy drinks have always been simple; I drink the “normal” version, but avoid the diet ones. However, in recent years, both Tango and
Fanta have had that funny taste, and I’ve checked the label, and had to pour the contents down the nearest sink. They now contain aspartame. A couple of weeks ago, I discovered Sprite now has sweeteners in the non-diet version. There was no notice of the change, apart from a tiny statement on the back of the can, which I wouldn’t have checked, as until recently, it was “safe”. Caveat emptor, indeed.

Fruit cordials aren’t safe from sweeteners, either. I love lime cordial with my vodka and soda, but have to pay for the premium brand, as the supermarket own brands mostly contain aspartame. Again, I’m perplexed, as cordials are meant to be diluted before drinking. A pint of orange squash cannot contain anywhere near the amount of sugar a can of fizzy pop, but I struggle to find a brand I can drink. I went to buy a bottle of still, ready to drink Vimto last week, and saw that now contains aspartame, so that’s another drink I cannot buy. I cannot bring myself to check the label on the cordial bottle.

Sugar has now become the pariah of dietitians, and is being blamed for the increase in obesity in the UK, especially among children. Whilst campaigners may advocate for switching to the low cal versions of popular treats, they fail to address that they are just that – treats. I don’t know how anybody could drink more than a couple of cans a day, they’re too sweet, regardless of what is used in them. We should be drinking more water; swapping one version of pop for another is not going to change attitudes, just as making chips lower in fat will not make people eat healthier, more nutritious food. Making out sugar is the enemy is like blaming matches for fire. It’s harmless, if used correctly. We need some sugar in our diets, it’s where we get our quick release energy from. It’s the way we use the sugar available in our diets that is the problem. People need to accept that they are in control of what they put into their bodies, and that too much sugar, or salt, or fat, is not conducive to a healthy lifestyle, but we need a certain amount, even if it’s just small (as for the fat, and salt issues, there’s another couple of blog posts).

Swapping sugar for chemicals that cannot be processed by the human body is not the answer. Search through Google, and you will see I’m not the only person who has a problem with sweeteners. My body can cope with sugar; it can’t deal with chemical sweeteners. Manufacturers may be under immense pressure to do something about obesity, but perhaps they should be looking at their aggressive marketing strategies, promoting fizzy drinks, or sweet desserts as part of a lifestyle, instead of a treat every now and then. This “easy option” of surreptitiously adding sweeteners to their products is forcing people like me, who cannot consume aspartame, or saccharin, to stop buying anything from these companies.

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