Sugar Shock

I have a question, maybe you can help me. Ever since Jackson figured out how to chew gum without swallowing it, he's had a half-pack-of-Trident-a-day habit, and I hadn't thought much about it. My mother used to buy cinnamon Trident for us by the case. Sugar-free gum! It's what's for breakfast.

In those days I think Trident was made with stuff that causes long-term brain damage. I'm pretty sure; I would be more certain except, you know, for the fact that my short term memory is, uh . . .

The New Yorker had an article about artificial sweeteners a few weeks or possibly months (surprise! I can't remember) ago, but what I managed to retain about the story was that Splenda is taking over the sugar-free world (unless you try to cook with it; it is a colossal failure in the kitchen -- nothing bakes, melts, or browns like real sugar). Which is, like, hooray, no more cancer-causing saccharin, no more brain-eating aspartame! Except in this New Yorker piece they included a quote from a scientist who looked at the molecular structure of Splenda and felt nauseated, or his hair stood on end, or one of any number of unpleasant gut reactions that I can't, of course, recall. He was just like, "Yeah, I guess they proved it's safe, but something about that formula gives me the creeps and I don't know why but you couldn't make me put that stuff in my mouth on a bet."

Which got me thinking about that Malcolm Gladwell book Blink that I read at Christmas, where he interviewed these experts who would have these inexplicable gut feelings about what they were looking at, like an expert in Greek sculpture would look at some newly discovered kouros that the Met paid sixteen gazillion dollars for, and he wouldn't be able to put his finger on what he didn't like about it, the tone of the statue's flesh just made him uneasy. And then, voila! it turned out that someone had dipped the thing in coffee and buried it in their garden for three years to make it look olde fashioned and fool a bunch of wizards at Sotheby's.

Anyway, when I read that some scientist looked at the formula for Splenda and then, whatever, turned around and threw up in a wastepaper basket? He had a gut feeling.

So I have stopped buying foods with any artificial sweeteners in them, including my beloved Hansen's Diet Black Cherry soda. Which means now I buy Jackson real rootbeer, not diet. And real Bazooka*, much to his father's consternation.

But it's really hard for me because I'm a freak about dental health. I have fillings, crowns, or root canals in every tooth in my head; I have paid thousands of dollars to save my teeth from a childhood of living on M & M's and Dr. Pepper, and I spaz right the fuck out at the thought of Jackson going through the same thing.

I brush and floss Jackson's teeth every night. I asked the dentist yesterday if that was absurd behavior on my part, and she raised her eyebrows and told me the pediatric dental guidelines recommend that you brush your kids' teeth, or at least climb into their mouths and supervise them, until they're nine.

(Jackson turned five yesterday, did I mention that? We had a party and thirty kids showed up. God. It was mayhem. My hands are still shaking. He had a ball.)

So I ask myself, could I say no to sugar? Could I say, "I'm sorry, sonny boy, you will spend the rest of your childhood without knowing the sweet taste of Pixie Stix, and from now on your birthday cakes will be flavored with honey and carob"?

I'm not sitting here clutching my chest in horror or anything, but that does seem a little bleak.

I would just like to hear what people think about sugar and fake sugar and their long-term health consequences. Feel free to write long, rambling comments about stevia, government conspiracies to include high-fructose corn syrup in every possible commercially produced foodstuff, and how you plan to combat the ill effects of alien gamma rays with your tinfoil hat. Seriously, I want to know.

* A couple of months ago I noticed that the Trident packaging changed and the started showing off this new ingredient called Xylitol, which is an alcohol-based sugar that's miraculously supposed to protect your teeth from cavities. It is also fatal to dogs, except our dog, who chewed up a good portion of a pack Jackson left on the floor one night to no discernable ill effect.