Splenda, Leukemia and Playboy Magazine—Yes, They’re All Connected (for me, anyway)0March 15th, 2016
I stopped putting any kind of sweetener in my coffee when I was 20 years old but it wasn’t for health reasons. It’s because I was too hot. Seriously. It was the summer of 1999—I was living in New York City and interning at Playboy magazine. BEST SUMMER EVER but also one of the hottest on record (we’re using my records here—I’m not actually looking it up). Anyway, I lived with three other students in an apartment on Gramercy Park South—right next to the National Arts Club. The Playboy offices were on Fifth and 57th—nearly 40 blocks away—but I usually walked to work because it was easier than learning how to use public transportation. Also, it seemed too hot to go underground.
Every morning on my way uptown, I’d pick up a large coffee from a little deli a few blocks north of my apartment. I liked my coffee with skim milk and sugar and at this place they put the milk in for you. But you had to do the sugar yourself on a tiny table with other sweaty people sweetening their coffees. Seems simple enough and yet that one extra step turned me into a literal hot mess—and this is before the term hot mess even existed. After a few thick, 80-degree days of fumbling around with my work bag, my shoe bag, my sunglasses, a steaming cup of coffee, my still-wet hair stuck to the sweat already dripping down my neck, I just said %&*@ it and stopped putting the sugar in**. And I never looked back. I had intended to look back but once I got used to the unsweetened stuff—it happened quickly—I completely lost my taste for sugary drinks. 17 years later, I still just put a splash of milk (whole now) in my coffee and nothing else. Thank you, Playboy!
I’m sharing this anecdote with you as an intro to the news about Splenda (I could have just said SPLENDA IS GONNA KILL YOU! like some other blogs but dropping in that I used to work at Playboy seemed way more fun). The Splenda news, which you may have already seen: In a recent study, researchers found that the sweetener (in high doses) caused leukemia in mice. Given my history with that particular disease I was particularly disturbed. I have family members who can’t live without Splenda and I’d like them to do just that—live…without it. More testing has to be done, of course, and Splenda is fighting back saying their chemically-made sweetener is totally fine, of course, but…I’m dubious. This is not the first time Splenda has been called out and it probably won’t be the last.
Please follow the story as it develops. Even if the leukemia stuff turns out to be a false alarm, maybe use it to rethink what you put into your daily drink—and to read labels more closely. Splenda (and other sugar substitutes) can be found in A LOT of processed foods and drinks, marketed as “healthy” or “low calorie.” As with most things in life, if something sounds too good to be true—a chemically-made sugar substitute, zero-calorie anything—it probably is. The good news: if you like your coffee or tea sweet there are many great natural options. Now that I’m off Gleevec I’m taking a closer look at everything I put into my body and will be writing more about that here. You’ve been warned
**This was pre iced-coffee craze otherwise I would have stayed cool by ordering an iced latte and still sweetening it–probably switching to Splenda at some point and probably would have had leukemia by now. Oh wait….
P.S. Working at Playboy was the best experience ever ever ever. Ask me about it sometime!