If it tastes too sweet, it's probably not that good for you

By: Judy Davie - The Food Coach

These days I use the Google maps app. on my phone to guide me pretty much everywhere and although most of the time it never lets me down, there has been the odd occasion where I've followed its lead despite knowing in my heart that we were heading in the wrong direction.

As was the case with a tea I've instinctively felt was not that great.

A couple of Christmases ago Jonathan and Sarah Wiggins gave me a delicious box of cinnamon tea and although I don't have a particularly sweet tooth this tea was "naturally" sweet and scrumptious. So much so that recently, when I saw a box of Hot Cinnamon Sunset Tea at Thomas Dux supermarket the other day I bought it. The brand is Harney & Sons and the tea is manufactured in New York. I was disappointed to read - after I'd bought the tea - that as well as black tea, cinnamon, sweet cloves, and orange peel, it also contained natural and artificial flavours. I called the company and was told that the sweet flavour comes from the artificial flavouring, liquid cinnamic which, I was told, was similar to vanilla essence - extracted using the same process used to make vanilla essence, but with cinnamon or cassia bark instead. That didn't sound too bad, however I still had the nagging feeling that I was being led off in the wrong direction. The tea is really sweet and I don't know any substance which would produce such an intensely sweet flavour in such small amounts other than intense sweeteners like aspartame.

I contacted applied scientist Vic Cherikoff , the Australian authority on native wild foods, who has a background in clinical pharmacology and nutritional science to ask what he knew about liquid cinnamic. According to Vic liquid cinnamic is also known as cinnamic acid which is a precursor to the sweetener aspartame via enzyme-catalysed amination to phenylalanine. It's an artificial sweetener, listed on the box as an artificial flavour.

Even if artificial sweeteners were perfectly safe (and I don't believe they are) a new study released last week suggests that artificial sweeteners create a type of starvation state in the brain and cause some organisms to seek energy by eating more food.

Studies on fruit flies found that flies which were fed on artificial sweeteners consumed 30% more calories than those fed on sugar. What's more, on a prolonged diet containing artificial sweeteners the flies developed a greater sensitivity to the sweet taste which suggests they grew to like it more and more.

I was liking my tea more and more and it really was too good to be true.

Scientists believe when sweetness versus energy is out of balance for a period of time, the brain recalibrates and increases the total amount of kJ consumed. In other words, when the brain detects sweetness in the absence of actual kJ energy, it compensates by increasing the palatability of sugar, driving increased food consumption.

As my friend Vic said, "Caveat emptor" - Let the buyer beware.

I should have known better, I should have trusted my instinct, and I should have read the label. My penance, the contents of a flash $16 box of tea going straight into the bin.

And the take home message to all of this is: It's better to blend your own black tea with cinnamon and spices and sweeten it yourself with a little sugar or honey.


Jun 6 2022 9:54AM
I have the same concerns as many people do about the sweetness of Harney and Sons' Hot Cinnamon Tea, which I love iced during the summer. Yet it's so sweet that I have to temper the sweetness by mixing it with a berry-hibuscus blend to add some tartness. So I was happy to be led to this site.

However, what I found on line, while not contradicting the chemical information here, differs in its interpretation of the information.

First I came up with this page on Healthline.com: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/cinnamic-acid Not only does it suggest that cinnamic acid is safe, but that it has anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. it actually touts the possible benefits, linking each one to an article on Pubmed (which you can, in turn, read). The supposed benefits include improved gut health, memory, reduced incidence of diabetes, and potential uses in fighting cancer, periodontitis, and more.

Additionally, I found a site (apparently from a Chinese food industry, so caveat lector?) which confirms something referred to above: "Cinnamic acid synthesizes L-phenylalanine by microbial enzyme method. L-phenylalanine is an important food additive, the main ingredient of sweet Aspartame." But I'm not even sure what that means. If it creates (i.e., "synthesizes" L-phenylanine, does that mean one is essentially ingesting aspartame (which has another compound in it as well)? --And how much, anyway? I note that aspartame is considered safe in the US (where I live), but I am wary of artificial sweeteners in general.

I am not sufficiently knowledgeable to make a decision here, but I'll probably put less of this tea in my iced-tea blend (which in any case I generally dilute over lots of ice). I generally don't drink this tea in the winter anyway--it's too sweet!!

I'd be interested in reading a knowledgeable response.
Comment by: thebkin

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