Bitter Living Through Chemistry

June, 2013

No, its not nice, considering.....

Aspartame may not be your friend.   Today my old food additive allergy came back, courtesy of some aspartame-laced drink mixes. For those of you who do not know of such things, Aspartame is a sugar substitute  formerly known as NutraSweet.

When I was a kid- some 40-ish years ago- I had ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder- or All Day Hyper Drive). The joke I tell people now is that when I was in Kindergarten, I could color with 8 crayons simultaneously, recite the entire alphabet in a single syllable, and disassemble the classroom piano singlehandedly. This was quite the bummer for my teachers, classmates, family, relatives and anybody else who had to put up with me back then.  In my teenage years, it was discovered that most of my ADHD was caused by food allergies- artificial colors & flavors, preservatives – and some natural entities- like almonds.   I cut these out of my diet at age 15 – and became almost human immediately.  I began to discover which foods tended to give me headaches, make me irritable or cause me to lose focus and concentration, and stay far away from them.  Certain food colorings were especially nasty.  I had a few surprises along the way, but in a few years I had everything pretty well regulated.  I managed to become a relatively productive well misadjusted member of society.  I am an engineer—but don’t hold it against me.

Now, at age 51 and loose change, my family doctor told me that I need to lose about 30 lbs. of saturated fat and cholesterol- or become diabetic.  Some choice.  So I started exercising and cutting out the excesses in my diet, including saturated & trans fats, free floating carbohydrates ….. and all processed sugar.  Two months later- and I am down by 20 pounds with 10 to go,  so far, so good.

Today I decided to try a powdered drink mix (Nice! brand – from Walgreens–mix a small packet into a 16 oz. bottle of water- suddenly it’s  Orange–ish). I figure- no sugar- no foul.  I figure I can handle the swill for only having 10 calories a pop (so to speak).   I gave it a try.   Big mistake.  Twenty minutes after finishing off the 16 oz. bottle – my brain gets fuzzy and I have severe difficulty stringing any three cohesive thoughts together.  I started staring down my cubicle walls, and for the next two hours-  any critical thinking I tried became a CHORE.  It’s like becoming semi-detached from reality. The last time anything like this happened to me was back in 1985, and it involved  ¾ of a pound of artificially flavored chocolate, and an afternoon spent in the Twilight Zone.

It’s not as fun as it sounds.  It’s more like having somebody else forcibly shutting down half of your cogitative capacity- and you know it’s still there—but you can’t reach it or wake it up. There’s just a fuzziness in its place.  After about an hour the fog starts to lift, but it gets patchy for the rest of the afternoon, and the headache afterwards is not something that one looks forward to.

The Aspartame content in this particular drink was especially high, along with a generous amount of Red #40 (one of my old enemies).  I am especially sensitive to these food additives. You may be also- to a lesser degree.  So keep an eye on some of this stuff, it might be causing you grief that you’re not quite aware of. If you happen to run into Rod Serling  after shotgunning a bottle of Nice! brand Orange drink or Crystal (meth)Light lemonade, don’t say I didn’t warn you.