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No sugar for 90 days – Day 57

This weekend I learned a lesson. You know that thing they say about not consuming too many artificial sweeteners as they can cause stomach symptoms? Well, they’re not kidding and stomach symptoms doesn’t begin to describe it.

I have an Australian houseguest who we took to the seaside yesterday. For Aussies, the British seaside – as opposed to The Beach, mate – is quaint and charming. I love taking them through the traditions one by one from fish and chips with mushy peas to 99s to cream tea. Obviously I resisted the latter and had no real desire to have any. But when we got to the bit about the boiled sweets and rock with the name of where you are printed into the sweet coloured stick, I went a bit crazy. Mr Simm’s Sweet Shoppe in Margate you see had a wild array of sugar-free boiled sweets.

sugar free

On top of that, there was an entire shelf full of sugar-free chocolate. I was like well, a kid in a candy shop and loaded myself up with a bag full of strawberries and cream (sugar-free) and a whole pack of white chocolate (sugar-free). The label said it was sweetened with maltitol.

Now sugar expert David Gillespie, the author of the Sweet Poison line of bestselling books and Healthista regular had been to the office and explained to me in detail in the above film how all sweeteners are basically sugar. ‘Methadone for sugar addicts,’ he said, and behave in the same way as sugar in the body in terms of leading to an insulin spike that comes with a subsequent crash and more cravings. But I was in the vicinity of sugar-free chocolate. I was at the seaside. I conveniently forgot I’d ever even spoken to him.

GalleryEF_059_1.JPGWe walked along the pier from Margate all the way to Westgate-on-Sea while I sucked on jube after sugar free jube. Then at home, over episodes six and seven of Nurse Jackie (how good is season four?) I inhaled all the chocolate. See I told you once I get a taste I can’t deal with leaving any behind.

Well, about an hour later it started. The strangest and most embarrassing noises and – hmmm, how to say – scents were coming from a certain part of me, coupled with cramping.

It continued through the night and the next day in the gym. Today at work, my stomach was so explosive that – without tipping the Too Much Information scale into unbearable – it can only be described as the kind of bug you might pick on the subcontinent. Only I didn’t feel ill. There was only this awful windy cramping and well, you get the idea.

I never really believed the warnings on artificially sweetened items such as chewing gums and sweets. But then I came across this review entitled The Day That Will live in Infamy  from ‘Amazon customer lcm3447’ who, after consuming two handfuls of sugar-free Gummy Bears, had a similar yet much more newsworthy reaction (the Amazon review went totally viral in hours).  He writes delightfully even if it is cringeworrthy: ‘It took only moments before the volcano Mount Anus had blown its top.’ Hilarious (I can tell you from experience, too true and not funny when it’s happening in your own loo).

How much damage can a few sugar-free gummy bears do. A lot it turns out.
How much damage can a few sugar-free gummy bears do. A lot it turns out.

So why do artificially sweetened treats have this explosive effect? I put the question to Alison Clark, a practicing, registered dietitian and spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association.

‘Some  artificial sweeteners are what we call a fermented carbohydrate,’ says Clark. ‘Instead of being digested they get fermented in the large colon and that fermentation process can cause latent stomach distention [bloating], constipation, diarrhea and pain, because of the fermentation process.

‘The effect doesn’t happen in everybody but some people are more sensitive to it.  Some  handle very small amounts in their diets but when it comes to larger quantities, get these typical laxative effects, bloating and cramping’.

What culprits should we be looking for on labels then? Anything with -ol on the end Clark says, such as mannitol, maltitol, xylitol and sorbitol but also isomalt. ‘Typically they’re in chewing gum, sugar free mints, sweets, chocolate and many protein powders.’

The moral of this story is that you can’t beat the system when it comes to going sugar-free. Believe me I am trying. Up to now, I have been cheating with bits of Stevia on my yoghurt, syrupy vanilla essence (which is sugar really) on my porridge when deep down I know they are sugar because the bloody things taste sweet. A dead giveaway.

I figure that yesterday’s debacle is a sign from nutrition universe that as I approach the final 30 days of this odyssey it’s time to cut the bollocks and give up all forms of sugar and all the ways it hides. So, I won’t be doing my sugar-free chewing gum or any artificial sweeteners or essences or weird syrups or powders. Plus, as I have been kind of overdoing the fruit thing with about four pieces a day I will – for the last 30s days only – cut out fruit too. May the force be with me.

Anna best headshotRead more from Anna Magee’s No Sugar for 90 days blog

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