Assessing the Presidential Debates, and the Candidates

White HouseEach of us forms our own notions about these Democrat and Republican presidential debates. Frankly, I don’t spend any time thinking about which debate, CNN, CNBC, FBN, FOX, or others to come, is best. That is a subjective question that has no right or wrong answer. We can argue about that for hours, because there are no determinate metrics.

Chris Cillizza in his Washington Post column today, offered his assessment decrying the recent Fox Business News, FBN, debate. In his article he stated two purposes for these debates: to learn something new and to put the candidates out of their comfort zone. He then added a third, to see how they think.  Because in his opinion the candidates were rarely put on the spot, he criticized the debate as unsuccessful.  Obviously, he wants to see Republican candidates “put on the spot.”

Most of us, including most professional journalists, are vulnerable to confirmation bias. According to an article published in the Washington Times on November 8, 2015, an amazing 93 percent of journalists within the Washington Beltway and also in New York City are Democrats.  When they donate to political campaigns, they contribute exclusively to the Democrat party and its candidates.

We all tend to see and affirm what we want to see and affirm, but we often ignore or at least discount that which runs counter to our previous judgments.  Remember this when you consider the opinions of these pundits.

Many of the reporters, editorial writers, and talking heads of the national newspapers, magazines, and networks criticize candidates for not offering detailed policy proposals.  Again, is this important for voters to know, or for the pundits as fodder for them to chew and digest, only to be regurgitated when strategically advantageous?

I decide who I’m supporting based upon each candidate’s demonstrated and apparent principles and which policy initiatives are a priority.  The details of those policies are unimportant to me during a campaign, precisely because an effective president is going to listen to the people, and then work with Congress, important stakeholders, and knowledgeable experts in order to forge appropriate legislative proposals.  Developing detailed policy statements during a campaign demonstrates a certain authoritarian impulse derived from arrogance.  There is a danger these politically motivated prescriptions might commit a president to act incorrectly once in office, following through on a campaign commitment in order to avoid criticism and to appear consistent, even if detrimental to the country.

Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.  [Proverbs 16:18 King James Version (KJV)]

Do these candidates believe they can bypass Congress, just because what they propose in a campaign might be popular with their supporters?  Don’t they realize that a President serves the entire nation, not just those who support them with their votes?

Most importantly, how well a candidate performs in a debate tells us very little about their potential to be an excellent President of the United States.  Sure, it tells us something, but not nearly enough. I’m looking at the candidates and trying to judge their integrity and wisdom. I want to know if they have principles and the courage of their convictions. Are they compassionate and eloquent? Finally, I want a president who has some humility. This is an obvious indicator of their tendency to listen to the voices of the people, as well as their advisors. It is an indication of their tendency to weigh their options carefully, without the arrogance that often hides ignorance. To the extent that presidential debates allow me to discover these qualities, they are helpful, but definitely not sufficient.

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Kim Davis, the Kentucky Clerk and Marriage v. Marriage

Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk, is confused. No wonder! The Supreme Court confused the entire country with their recent marriage ruling. As I wrote one year ago in Marriage v. Marriage, the institution we call marriage is two different things. The government now defines marriage as a legal relationship of two individuals regardless of their gender which affords them certain government and commercial entitlements. On the other hand, various religions define marriage according to their faith and scripture. A couple married in a church, synagogue, temple, mosque, or some other facility by an official of that religion is subject to the benefits and restrictions of their particular faith. Marriage authorized by a government is not the same as marriage authorized by a religious entity. Unfortunately, we now use the same word for both.  Traditionally, most marriages were of both kinds: we get a license from our county, and then we get married in a manner sanctioned by our faith.

The Kentucky clerk apparently believes that her office authorizes marriages that fit the religious definition in accordance with her own particular religious beliefs. She is sadly mistaken. When she signs or allows her name to appear on a county marriage license, all she is doing is certifying that the two individuals, regardless of their gender, meet the legal qualifications for that license. She is doing this so they can enjoy a legal and secular status that accrues various government benefits and limitations. The couple’s private life together is absolutely none of her business and definitely not the concern of any government. The couple’s religious beliefs should not trouble her.  She is a government official whose authority is prescribed by statute, not by the Bible.  She is not responsible for their behavior or lifestyle, and her actions neither condone nor sanction their future relationship.

It will be interesting when two people, perhaps two women or two men, apply for a marriage license in order to file a joint tax return or set up a home together for financial reasons. They know that being married entitles them to certain benefits otherwise unavailable. The marriage license authorized by the county and state has nothing to do with their sexual behavior or any possible romantic connection, whatsoever. Under the ruling of the Supreme Court, they may get married. No county clerk is going to ask them what kind of physical or emotional relationship they have or intend to have in the future. That is not the business of government.  I’m sure there are marriages of convenience between men and women that have nothing to do with romance or sex. We don’t ask these people to certify their intended private sex lives before we give them a county issued marriage license.

Kim Davis is acting as if she were authorizing a religious marriage. She is not!  As an elected representative of the people, she should comply with the responsibilities of her office, and those responsibilities do not conflict with her religion in anyway.  If a couple who receives a marriage license from her subsequently behaves in a manner that she would not approve, it is none of her business, and it is definitely not her fault.  She is confused about her role.

Although, the media and the LGBT community celebrated the Supreme Court ruling as a victory for homosexuals, in fact it allows any two people to get married and married (duplication intended) regardless of their relationship or lifestyle.  There are many pragmatic reasons why two people may choose to be married under the government’s authority.

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Choosing a President of the United States of America

At last count, twenty individuals have formally declared their intentions to seek the office of President of the United States of America.  Each of these men and women is stating a case to the people of our great country.  Each candidate is demonstrating to us why we should support his or her candidacy by casting our precious vote in the 2016 election.


This will be the fourteenth presidential election in which I have been eligible to vote. I am proud to say that I’ve voted in each of the previous thirteen. I’ve voted for the winner seven times, and the loser six times. In other words, I’ve been with the plurality 54 percent of the time.

Each of the two major political parties is now beginning the process of selecting a nominee. A series of primary election contests leads up to formal nominating conventions of the Democrats and Republicans held in the summer of 2016 at which time party officials will decide who they believe will be the best person to represent their interests. We the people have been invited to participate in this nomination process and in the general election that follows.

What qualities or personal character traits do we consider when choosing a President?

To be frank, the election process is totally subjective and somewhat irrational. So much so that I’m amazed that our country has survived and even prospered since George Washington assumed the office 226 years ago. Fortunately, the Founders recognized their own limitations, as well as the inability of ordinary people to objectively decide for whom they should cast their vote. They created a durable system of governance in which no single person or group could gain enough power for long enough to do great harm. We are truly a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, and the selection of a person to lead the executive branch of this government results from our collective decision, as crazy as it may seem.

The irrational nature of the process is demonstrated in the absurd assumption that our collective ignorance averages out as an intelligent choice. Think of that for a moment. In the most recent presidential election, approximately 136 million votes were cast. How informed were these voters? What information did they have? How objective was that information? Where did they get their information? How did they decide? See what I mean?

How do people decide how to cast their vote? Some vote out of loyalty to a particular political party. Others follow the advice of various special interest groups to which they belong such as unions, churches, and countless organizations and associations. Many voters pay attention to the advice of so-called experts, including newspaper editorials, radio talk show hosts, and partisan spokespersons. I’ve observed that some listen to a close friend or family member they trust or not, and decide how to vote, or how not to vote.   I’m sure there are people who just flip a coin, or decide when they stare at the names on the ballot without any consideration beyond what name they like best, or which one is listed first or last on the ballot. Of course, many people do not vote which is their right. Why should someone vote if they don’t know the candidates? Why should we want these people to vote?

Even politically focused junkies who follow the nomination process very closely will make different decisions. No one knows the absolute best candidate, because no one can predict the future, or the circumstances that will challenge and possibly overwhelm our next president. Nevertheless, I’ve identified seven qualities that I believe we should consider. These have nothing to do with political party affiliation or policy positions. These are personal character traits that would make a great world leader and a remarkable President for our country.  They follow in order of increasing importance.

Humility – It is important to know oneself, to understand one’s own limitations, and to appreciate the extraordinary potential of other voices and ideas. Effective leaders surround themselves with excellent people, and they are good listeners. They readily give credit when it is deserved. They deflect attention away from themselves recognizing the value of teamwork, everyone having something important to contribute.

Eloquence – Presidents who have the ability to communicate their ideas are more likely to earn our respect and our commitment. They possess the wonderful ability to explain the challenges facing the nation in a way that gets our attention and ensures our collective understanding. We may not always agree, but at least we understand. That understanding encourages meaningful and constructive dialogue. We know the President’s thinking on the great issues we face. Sometimes there are no good choices, and an excellent leader helps us to know what needs to be done, what is the best course of action.

Courage – Effective leaders exhibit the courage of their convictions. They consider the voices of the people, they consider the recommendations from their advisors, but they decide what is right and in the best interest of the country for the long-term. They reject populist impulses, just to be popular. If the right course of action is unpopular, they explain their reasoning. They are not afraid of pressure groups and they recognize the people elected them to be leaders, not followers of popular opinion or political expedience.

Compassion – Strong leaders care about people from all walks of life. They genuinely strive to find solutions that will resolve difficult problems and improve the lives of all people. They do this without regard for political benefits that might accrue to themselves or others in their immediate circle. They are focused on the important issues of the day, and are genuinely troubled by our failings to mitigate society’s calamities. They are tireless in their efforts to streamline government’s response, to render more effective aid and comfort to those in need or turmoil.

Principles – We want a President who has an ideological framework, a moral compass, and a thorough commitment to the heritage and founding principles of the United States of America. We want a President who understands the underlying philosophy behind the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. It is important that the President guarantee the continuing development of our nation and the prosperity of the people.

Wisdom – Intelligence is essential in an effective leader and a President, but wisdom is the ability to use those gifts to make good decisions. Wise leaders anticipate the future and they anticipate the consequences of their decisions and actions.  They consider alternatives and use rational methods to ascertain their relative viability. Wise leaders are not swayed by false prophets nor by populist purveyors. They understand people and the infinite complexity of social systems. They take appropriate action when time demands it. They are decisive and thoughtful.  They do what is right and smart.

Integrity – The most important quality of a President is integrity. This is beyond honesty for truth rises above human discourse. Integrity is in the heart and soul.  It guides them, it gives them strength and conviction. We want a President who tells us what they believe, without concern for political correctness. Presidents with integrity are absolutely immune to conflicts of interest. They place the rights of the people foremost in their thinking, and they never attack others for purposes of self-aggrandizement. Integrity is the foremost quality. Never vote for a candidate for President who does not tell the truth and who is morally insecure and vulnerable. Nothing surpasses integrity as a quality we should expect from the leader of our nation and the leader of the free world.

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The Dangerous Ignoratti

While walking the dog this morning, my rather undisciplined mind stumbled over a surprising insight. It came to me, out of the blue so to speak, that there are really two definitions of ignorance: 1) lack of knowledge and 2) refusal to learn. We can be truly ignorant if we refuse to open our minds to possibilities, no matter how much we think we know. I’ve written before about the unfortunate marriage of arrogance and ignorance illustrated by so-called experts dripping with condescension as they discount, deride, and ridicule anyone who dares to challenge their authority.

So there are two dimensions of ignorance, one measured by how much knowledge we possess, and the other measured by whether we are open or closed-minded. This leads to four possible categories of people. I will choose to use these categories and their labels in the future when it is helpful. Yes, I’m retaliating against those who drip or hose their condescension on others. I’m tired of being bullied by the know-it-alls who really do not know enough.

On almost any subject each of us possess some knowledge. We fall somewhere along a continuum from uninformed to informed. For the sake of argument, let’s arbitrarily divide the world into those who are knowledgeable on a subject and those who are not. Likewise, each of us might be described as open or closed-minded to some degree about almost any idea. Someone who is open to other ideas might be considered as humble, in that they appreciate their own fallibility. On the other hand, someone who refuses to listen to any alternatives might be considered to be rather arrogant.  Using these definitions, we arrive at four kinds of people: knowledgeable and open-minded, knowledgeable but closed-minded, not knowledgeable but open-minded, and not knowledgeable and closed-minded.

Arrogance and Ignorance Matrix

Most of us fall into the normal quadrant. We do not consider ourselves to be experts on most subjects, but we are willing to learn and appreciate new understanding. We recognize and respect intelligent people who seem to know a great deal and who we recognize for their knowledge. I believe they earn that status by their open-mindedness and their humility. No matter how much they know, they are very aware of how much they still have to learn.

Unfortunately, there are some in any society who are uninformed and unwilling to learn. They hold onto superstitions and false notions with a very tight grip. They do not listen, they do not read, they go through life without appreciating the many possibilities that exist. I cannot think of a kind word for those who fit this description, so I reluctantly call them stupid. I have some hope for these people because they can be salvaged through enlightened education. They just don’t know better. Perhaps they have not had many opportunities in their lives.

I’ve saved the worst kind of person for last. I call them the ignoratti. They are usually well-educated and often considered as experts. Unfortunately, their arrogance hides their true limitations, in their own fields as well as other fields of knowledge well beyond their expertise. They are the insufferable fools. They use ad hominem attacks toward anyone who disagrees with them. They are condescending and derisive, discounting anyone who dares to challenge them. They may possess advanced degrees from the finest institutions of higher learning, they may have studied and published copiously, but they just don’t accept the proposition that they might be wrong. These are the most dangerous people in any society.

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God and Science

img_0352.jpgThroughout my life, I’ve engaged in considerable thought about God. Admittedly, more thought than careful study. I have no formal theological preparation, unless you count 72 years as a baptized and confirmed, fairly regular church-attending member of several Episcopal Churches, having taught Sunday school and serving as senior warden of the vestry.   With due humility, I don’t consider this life experience to be a formal preparation for any learned discussion of religion. I am no religious scholar, not even close.

Like many of my friends and family, I do delight in certain passages in the Bible, but if asked to quote them, I’d struggle to paraphrase, having never made much of an effort to commit them to memory. My offerings would spring from at least three different translations of the Good Book mixed with my own unencumbered interpretation. For this reason, I usually avoid quoting scripture.

In the Old Testament, I marvel at the wisdom in the Proverbs and the Psalms. Having been raised in a Christian home, the teachings of Jesus Christ provide an essential framework for my own faith and for my life. Here is my favorite lesson carefully copied word for word from the King James Version.

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.  Matthew 22:37-40.

It doesn’t matter what religion claims your allegiance, or if you don’t belong to any. It doesn’t even matter if you are an atheist who devoutly denies the existence of any divinity. This beautiful sentiment, expressing an infinite love and trust in a greater good combined with a deeply felt respect and love for every human being, including yourself, represents an inspired teaching we should all strive to follow. It further directs us to use all of our heart, soul, and mind. In other words to embrace new understanding, new knowledge, new discoveries, and greater wisdom.

Another favorite passage is also from Matthew as written in the King James Version.

Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16.

We are told to let our light shine, in other words to seek greater wisdom and use it. Wisdom comes from greater knowledge and good works usually result from such enlightenment.   I interpret this passage as our license to seek to understand the natural universe and to teach others what we have learned. I see this passage as divine authority for science and for lifelong learning. These passages are directing us, all of us regardless of our religious faith or tradition, to seek greater understanding of our natural universe, our humanity, our history, our technology, and even our ability to learn.  I believe that God intends us to learn as we live our lives, and to pass on what we learn to succeeding generations.  In this manner, humanity grows more enlightened and more prosperous.

My formal education focused on the sciences, although I would never consider myself a scientist. I am an educator, although now retired from that profession. Perhaps this website is proof that I’m still engaged in teaching and learning. My feathers ruffle whenever I detect unchallenged ignorance, especially when it is used maliciously or dishonestly. I’m profoundly embarrassed when I see it in a mirror, figuratively.

My love of God grows stronger, the more I learn about life and the cosmos. Early in my studies, I realized there was no end to knowledge. No matter how much we know, we are no closer to knowing everything. In truth, that false objective moves further away with each epiphany. Knowledge of our natural universe is an infinite realm, but with no restriction to its access but our curiosity and our imagination.

There is no conflict between God and science. God gives us free-will. With that comes inspiration and joy but also great dangers and even death. It is this gift of wisdom that helps us pursue the former and the courage to face the latter. We should never fear learning wherever our curiosity and our responsibilities lead us. Science is just one human endeavor that helps us better understand our existence. It is using all of our minds to allow our light to shine wherever it may enlighten us or others in our lives.

Those who attempt to use the methods of science or the knowledge gained from its practice to prove or even to disprove the existence of God are making a serious mistake. They place science above God. Natural laws appear to govern our physical reality, but where do they come from? What is beyond our universe? We have no idea! Our laws of nature and the universe do not apply in such a realm. Even such cosmological notions as the Big Bang prove this point. Our two great scientific frameworks come into irreconcilable conflict as this idea is conceived. In fact, time itself fails to exist at the instant we describe as the Big Bang. To ask what comes before it, is to ask what comes before time itself, a meaningless question.

What if God is life? What if God is Love? What if God is the perfect good? Or all of these and more? These questions exist in our minds, but they are not answered by scientific exploration. What if God is present in all times and in all places? Again, such an idea is beyond our comprehension, for we are not present in all times and in all places. I’m not saying that science should not try to understand life, love, and a perfect good, but Science is not capable of finding God by its limited methods. God’s realm is beyond the experience of mere mortals and of their science.

Truly religious people should not fear science, although they should remain wary of scientists who believe they are greater than God. And all of us should be equally concerned about religious people who refuse to learn or accept new knowledge, for they are not obeying the commandments of the God they say they love and trust.

As Americans, we believe we are endowed by our creator with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In my opinion, happiness is most enjoyed when we are learning, and when we are free to learn. This includes our pursuit of greater scientific understanding of our natural universe. Thank God for science and for our ability to comprehend its glorious discoveries.

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Dr. Ben Carson is the Actual Winner of Recent Quinnipiac Poll

Earlier this week, Quinnipiac University released its latest poll of the Republicans seeking the nomination for President of the United States. There are many ways to look at this or any poll, but this one was interesting because of a second question in the survey that asked who would definitely not be supported. Donald Trump was the winner in the first question but the biggest loser in the second. In other words, he enjoys the most support as the favorite candidate, but also carries the most baggage as the candidate who is least likely to be supported as the nominee.

Unfortunately, this seemingly paradoxical result merited little comment from the various political analysts who weighed in on this most recent national poll. Looking at the numbers in another way, you arrive at the conclusion that Dr. Ben Carson is actually the most preferred candidate in the field with the least baggage at this early stage of the election.

The media generally focused on the percent of those polled who preferred each candidate. Donald Trump easily led with 28 percent, followed by Dr. Ben Carson with 12 percent, followed by Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio rounding out the top five with 7 percent each. But Donald Trump also led with 26 percent saying they would definitely not support him as the nominee of the party. In other words, only 74 percent would support him. By contrast, all the other candidates were more acceptable with Dr. Carson enjoying the support of 95 percent of those who responded to this question.

I decided to look at the poll results in three ways. How does each candidate rank as the first choice? How does each candidate rank on the support question? How does each candidate rank when the percentages of preference and support are combined?

By combining the results of these three questions, I developed a Support Preference Index (SPI) which is a measure of how close a candidate is to being ranked first using all three calculations.  The top five candidates (rankings in parentheses) using this analysis are:

  1. Dr. Ben Carson (2, 1, 1)
  2. Mr. Marco Rubio (4, 3, 3)
  3. Mr. Scott Walker (6, 3, 5)
  4. Mr. Ted Cruz (4, 6, 5)
  5. Ms. Carly Fiorina (7, 3, 6)


As stated, there are many ways to manipulate numbers, but if you are interested in who enjoys the most support and has the least baggage among the seventeen candidates, this is one way of answering the question.  Its early in the nomination process.  I wonder how this will change over the next year.

Update 8/28/2015:

Here is the spreadsheet to show the calculations used in this analysis.

Spreadsheet - Poll Rankings Combined - 20150828

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Pink, White, Blue, Green, Yellow, or Nada? (updated 8/20/2015)

Over the course of the last several years, I’ve been conducting a study of human preferences.  Admittedly, it’s a work in progress, and I’m careful not to describe it as a scientific investigation.  Indeed, it’s just an observational exercise, but I am ready to offer a hypothesis.

There are exactly seven kinds of Homo sapiens extant in the USA.  They may be labeled as Pinks, Greens, Yellows, Whites, Blues, Nones, and Anys. The distribution of these different members of our species is not uniform.  There are regional, gender, age, political, and even religious factors that contribute to the behaviors that determine the exclusive membership in each group.

The distinctive behaviors can be observed around mealtimes, in homes and in restaurants. It can also be observed during shopping episodes in grocery stores, convenience stores, and other places where we might choose to satisfy our sweet tooth.  Yes, I’m talking about how or if we choose to add something that tastes sweet to our food or drink.

What are you?  And more importantly, why?  That is the focus of my study.  Please leave a comment describing your preference and the reasons for it.  In a future essay I will share the results of my investigation.

Update: 8/20/2015

My research has come to a satisfactory conclusion.  These are the important findings.

  1. Sugar and its various substitutes are safe to eat in moderation for most people.
  2. Each of us is unique, and our diets should reflect our individual differences, tolerances, and preferences.
  3. Our preferences for food, and sweeteners, are often derived from magical or superstitious notions, and rarely from the sciences of nutrition and human physiology.

If you wish to read a brief but unbiased summary of the various sugar substitutes, I suggest, but even Wikipedia has some good information.

The reasons people give for choosing the pink, blue, green, white, yellow, or no packages to make their coffee or tea sweet are all over the map.  Some use what their friends use.  Some are influenced by advertising, negative or positive.  Many are influenced by news reports of various studies, as well as various FaceBook postings favoring one over another.  Quite a few base their choice on taste.

My obsession about the reasons we choose different sweeteners started when my wife and I went shopping in a Target store while traveling in California.  We were staying in a nice resort north of San Diego on the coast and our suite included a nice kitchen, and most important of all, a coffee maker.  We drink coffee in the morning and we needed to purchase the makings for our perfect brew.  For me, that requires blue packages of Equal or one of the other brands with aspartame as the sugar substitute.  To my amazement, that California Target did not stock any sweetener with aspartame.  Every other sugar substitute on the market was present, Splenda, Stevia, Sweet & Low, and of course sugar.  I asked a store employee and was told no one would buy it, so they stopped offering it.  Back home it’s one of the most common sweeteners.

My formal education was in the sciences.  Early in my career I taught several different college level general and organic chemistry courses, as well as other related disciplines. I studied biochemistry and human physiology in my graduate studies. Several of those courses were in the College of Medicine, although I was a graduate student not a medical student.  Since completing my formal education, I continue to study in these areas of the sciences even after I left the classroom.  I share this to illustrate that I know something about the ingredients of the various things we eat, and how they are metabolized.

Competition is brutal among the various companies that market sugar and its sweet substitutes.  Advertising is rarely encumbered by the facts.  It is impossible to make a wise decision about how to sweeten your tea or choose a sweet beverage to drink, if you rely upon advertising, posts shared on Facebook, and peer pressure.  Apparently in Southern California, if you want to add Equal to your iced tea, you have to order it from Amazon, have it shipped in a non-descript package, and hide it from your friends.

Because I know what sugar and its sweet substitutes are and how they are metabolized, I’m fascinated by the different notions that people have about each of them.  Again, I must stress they are all safe for most people, but each of us is unique.  Allow me to describe each one starting with sugar.

Table Sugar (White) is actually sucrose.  It is a disaccharide which means it is composed of two monosaccharides or simple sugars, glucose and fructose. Glucose is perhaps the most common organic molecular species found in nature.  Starch and cellulose are comprised of glucose which is also known as dextrose. It is our fuel, our energy source. Many of the things we eat are converted to glucose for use by our muscles or stored as glycogen (short term) or fat (longer term) for future use. We cannot live without glucose.

Fructose, is the other monosaccharide in table sugar. It is not readily converted to glucose in the liver.  If we eat too much sugar, most of us are unable to convert much of the fructose to glucose, and it is instead converted to liver fat, as well as fatty tissue in other organs such as the brain, kidneys, etc.  Some people are fortunate to be able to handle the conversion better than others, and this is certainly related to lifestyle, age, and genetics.   Fatty deposits in the liver and in other organs may lead to conditions such as fatty liver disease, metabolic syndrome, and others pathological conditions including Type II Diabetes.  Until modern times, most human diets contained very little fructose, except in fibrous fruits and some vegetables where the absorption of fructose into the blood stream was slow and limited.  Recent studies indicate that high concentrations of fructose in the bloodstream may cause an inflammatory response in arterial walls, as well as cardiac and other vascular tissue rendering them sticky to lipoproteins and other molecules  transported in the blood.  For most of us, sugar should be eaten in moderation and best eaten in fruits not from little white packages.

Sucralose (Splenda – Yellow) is a derivative of sucrose made by substituting chlorine atoms for hydroxyl groups on the disaccharide molecule.  The result is a substance which is as much as 700 times sweeter than sucrose, meaning that very little is ingested when it is used to sweeten beverages or other foods.  It passes through the digestive system without entering the bloodstream and therefore does not provide energy.  It is a zero calorie synthetic sugar substitute.  It is useful in food preparation because it does not break down when it is cooked retaining its sweetness.  Recent studies raise questions about the effect that sucralose might have on the intestinal micro biome (gut bacteria). Since it is a relatively stable chlorinated hydrocarbon derivative, there are also concerns about its persistence in the environment and in sewage treatment.  Fortunately, due to its extreme sweetness very little is actually ingested or subsequently delivered into the biosphere.  The FDA suggests limiting the daily ingestion of sucralose to not more than 9 mg/kg of body mass. More studies are needed about this sweetener usually offered in yellow packages.

Saccharin (Sweet & Low – Pink) has been used as a synthetic sugar substitute for a very long time, over a hundred years.  It was discovered in 1879 and has been approved as a food additive since 1912 without any known adverse effects. The less formal chemical name is benzoic sulfimide, and it may be about 400 times sweeter than table sugar but this varies depending upon its formulation.  It’s safety as a sugar substitute has been demonstrated over a long period of use, but recent studies also call into question its impact on the bacterial environment of the gut.  It has an unpleasant metallic or bitter aftertaste which is why it is often mixed with glucose and other sweeteners to mask the effect. The official Acceptable Daily Intake of Saccharin is 5 mg/kg of body mass.

Stevia (Green) is a mixture of steviol glycoside compounds extracted from plants of the species Stevia rebaudiana. This sweetener has been in common use in Japan for many years.  Certain of the glycosides received approval in the United States in 2008 and Europe in 2011, and are sold as Truvia by Cargill and Coca Cola, and PureVia by PepsiCo.  The plant extract was originally banned in the Unted States in the early 1990’s because of carcinogenic fears later alleviated through testing and subsequent restrictions to specific glycosides present in the plant extract.  Stevia sweetener is a non-caloric additive because it passes through the digestive system and into the intestine where it is metabolized by bacteria without the glucose or steviol entering the blood stream.  The micro biome of the gut is definitely affected, but apparently without adverse effects. The green package and marketing as a “natural” sweetener have helped promote its use, but the FDA approval is limited to daily ingestion of 4 mg/kg of body mass because of concerns about its safety, less than half the recommended limit for sucralose and the lowest recommended daily intake of all.  Certainly, not all “natural” plant extracts are safe, in fact some are deadly, and green is just one of the colors of the rainbow.

Aspartame (Equal – Blue) is the methyl ester of a dipeptide of the naturally occurring amino acids aspartic acid and phenylalanine, and therefore, the only sugar substitute with an entirely natural composition. Virtually all proteins contain these two amino acids and they are present in most cells in our bodies.  Phenylalanine is an essential amino acid, meaning it is one of the eight that must be included in our diets because we lack the biochemical pathways to make them ourselves. Aspartic acid is among the most common amino acids in natural proteins.  It is just about impossible for a human to avoid eating foods with protein containing aspartic acid, phenylalanine, and the methyl ester functional group in quantities much larger than when ingesting aspartame as a sugar substitute.  It is about 200 times as sweet as sugar, and the official Acceptable Daily Intake is 50 mg/kg of body mass, or at least ten times safer than other sugar substitutes and sugar itself.  When ingested, it is hydrolyzed to the two naturally occurring amino acids which are absorbed into the blood stream as are other amino acids from the digestion of protein.  These metabolites are then available for various metabolic pathways involving the amino acids such as the making of proteins and enzymes essential for our health.  Like the other sugar substitutes mentioned above, aspartame is very much sweeter than sugar, and that is why it has almost no calories.  The amount present in a blue package of Equal is so small that it is almost not visible.  Most of what you see in that blue package is glucose and a starch derivative added for packaging purposes only.  The downside of aspartame is its relatively short shelf-life.  If you heat it, it breaks down to the two amino acids which have no sweet taste.  This also happens over time which explains the expiration dates on containers of foods and drinks sweetened with aspartame.

There is a warning label on all foods and beverages that include aspartame.  The warning is related to the essential amino acid phenylalanine.  Individuals with the extremely rare genetic condition known as PKU Syndrome must follow special diets that restrict the intake of this amino acid because of the absence of an enzyme that metabolizes tryptophan, which we make from phenylalanine.  Too much phenylalanine in the diets of these people can lead to the toxic buildup of tryptophan with harmful consequences.  All babies born in the USA and most developed countries are tested for PKU at birth.  Only 1 in 10,000 infants test positive for PKU.

Aspartame has been the victim of numerous internet hoaxes.  It is one of the most studied food additives by the FDA, and no harmful effects have ever been shown in legitimate scientific research.  This is really not surprising when you know what it is. Aspartic acid and phenylalanine are already in our diets in the proteins we eat, and so is the methyl ester functional group (one glass of wine or beer contains far more than a twelve pack of diet soda).

Other sugar substitutes such as the sugar alcohols and acesulfame are also used alone and in combination with the above to sweeten our foods and beverages. Again, they are generally safe in moderation.  Acesulfame, also known as Ace-K, is usually found in combination with saccharin and other sweeteners to mask the aftertaste. The recommended daily intake is 15 mg/kg of body mass.

Sugar alcohols are not sugars, thereby adding to our confusion. A sugar is defined as a poly-hydroxyl aldehyde or ketone, and since sugar alcohols lack the aldehyde or ketone functional group, they don’t have to be listed as sugars on the label. It is a marketing game. These substances are not zero calorie sweeteners.  Additionally, the bacteria in our guts metabolize them causing some gas and other discomforts in people who eat foods containing large quantities, especially sugar-free candies and cookies among others.

Conclusion: Whether you choose pink, yellow, white, blue, or green packages to sweeten your beverages, you are generally safe if used in moderation.  Beware of packaging and labeling, natural doesn’t always mean natural, and sugar free doesn’t always mean low calorie.  Green and yellow are not necessarily good for you or the environment.  Just because your grandmother only used white packages doesn’t mean you should.  If you live in California, you might have to hunt for blue, because Donald Rumsfeld once served as CEO of S.B Searle and Company.

By every measure and scientific study, aspartame is the safest and nutritionally best for you to use to sweeten your food or drink.  For most of us who aren’t 16 year old athletes, sugar is probably the least healthy.  But again, we are each unique, and of these sweeteners are  safe in moderation.

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