Entry 597: Splenda in the Grass

Back in March, my wife was headed to the store one day and asked if I needed anything. “Splenda,” I replied.

I use artificial sweetener in my coffee. I probably shouldn’t, but I do. I probably shouldn’t drink as much coffee as I do, either.

If I’m in someone else’s house, and I have a cup of coffee and they don’t have anything other than sugar, I’ll drink my caffeine unsweetened. I won’t use sugar. And here’s the chandlers_saccharin_pelletsthing: I really don’t know why. Some vague notion about calories, I guess, although going by appearances, you wouldn’t think that mattered much to me.

My parents never used sugar in their coffee. They would actually drop a small pill into their cup. This was saccharin. It was super-sweet. It’s why, even today, if something is just too, too precious, we’ll sometimes say it’s saccharin.

sanka_instant_coffee1My parents, it should be pointed out, were not gourmets. They may never have brewed a pot of coffee in their lives. They used the 1950’s version of a Keurig: dump a spoonful of instant coffee in a cup and add boiling water. Sometimes it was freeze-dried coffee. Sometimes it was Sanka®, which was what my parents called decaf. In those days, restaurants didn’t even make decaf. They’d give you a cup of hot water and a packet of Sanka. If my father was alive today and ever ventured into a Starbucks, he might actually order a Venti Sanka Latte.

Anyway, given the quality of the coffee my parents drank, it didn’t much matter what sort of sweetener they put into it.

In the late 50’s, Sweet ‘n Low came out. It came in pink packets. It was mostly saccharin, but it was powdered, so it didn’t look like your spouse was slipping you a mickey when he or she sweetened your coffee. Then, in 1960, it turned out your spouse was trying to kill you because it was announced that saccharin caused cancer in rats.

My family kept using it anyway. In the 50’s and 60’s, nobody cared about health. In my cancuhome, “fresh” referred to how long ago the can was opened. I think I was eight or nine before I realized that peas and carrots didn’t naturally grow together.  The only way I knew that carrots didn’t originate as small cubes was by watching Bugs Bunny cartoons. (I still don’t like most vegetables).

I mean, jeez, in those days, people smoked cigarettes to soothe a sore throat!*

Anyway, a few years after they announced that saccharin caused cancer in rats, scientists determined that rats were, in fact, not humans. Saccharin maybe didn’t cause cancer in people, they told us. Or maybe it did. I’m not sure we ever got a definitive answer on that. My family didn’t care either way. All that mattered was that it goldwasn’t sugar.

I don’t know why.

Then aspartame was invented. And it was blue! Well, the powder wasn’t blue, just the packet. It was for boys! But we finally had a sugar substitute that didn’t cause cancer in rats. The rats were safe! All we had to worry about were eye problems and migraines. Oh, and joint pain. And sometimes stomach cramps.

But at least it wasn’t sugar.

Then we got Splenda, which was sucralose, which was supposedly made from sugar but somehow wasn’t sugar. More importantly for our times, it was a gender-neutral yellow. Somewhat less importantly, it appeared to be perfectly healthy for rodents to use in their coffee.

So we had pink, blue and yellow. Sometimes, when you were in a coffee shop, they’d even cupask you for your preference that way. “Pink, blue or yellow?” There’s a green one floating around, too, Truvia or Stevia or something, that’s made from some weird plant, but, really, we already have too many colors of sweetener. I tried Stevia once and didn’t like it. It tasted more chemical-y than the other brands. Or maybe it just tasted like different chemicals. And, besides, there was a kid in elementary school named Steve who I didn’t much care for.

Mostly I’m not very particular when it comes to which sweetener I use. When I’m in Dunkin’ Donuts, for instance, I’ll use whichever low calorie sweetener I grab first to go with my coffee and chocolate-covered donut.

And on that day last spring when my wife Barbara asked me if we needed anything at the store, I only said Splenda because that happened to be the color we were almost out of.

So off she went, as I sat down at my computer to scan the day’s headlines.


Uh, oh.

I read on…

Splenda, the artificial sweetener whose main active ingredient is sucralose, has been deemed unsafe by a new study. Apparently, the product, once considered safe, and still found in popular cold drinks, may contribute to serious health problems like leukemia and other blood cancers.

So I sent Barbara a text: “Maybe not Splenda. Get another color.”sugarsubstitutes_6121

And because she knows me, I didn’t need to add “As long as it’s not white.”

See you soon.

*For years, “A treat instead of a treatment” was Old Gold’s tagline. I have no idea what sort of treatment they were referring to. Chemotherapy? Radiation? Lobotomy?

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