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Just when I thought my list of reactive foods couldn’t get any weirder, I recently discovered I was reacting to acesulfame potassium, an artificial sweetener used in many food items, particularly diet beverages.

When I realized I was deficient in vitamin E, I was on a mad search to find something easy and low (or no) calorie to help fill in the gaps, much like I use V8 when I need more vitamin A. My first choice was to stock up on Bai Cocofusion drinks, but when I went to the grocery store to get some, they were out. I looked over the drink section of the store, from bottled waters to flavor packets trying to find something with vitamin E (and ideally without any vitamin E antagonists) that I could consume as a ready source when I felt it was needed. That’s when I discovered the Propel bottled waters and flavor packets. I loved the flavors of the bottled waters and flavor packets that I tried. I bought boxes of the flavor packets to keep on hand at work and at home. When I was out and about and just needed a drink, I figured I’d just pick up one of the bottles. I began drinking Propel, which contains acesulfame potassium, fairly regularly to make sure I was keeping up my vitamin E levels. Along with drinking Propel, I was also drinking a lot of diet soda because the carbonation was soothing for my throat irritation. I’ve never been sure what causes it exactly, but doctors have looked at my throat and have seen nothing wrong. It seems to come and go, but it’s definitely annoying when it comes. Diet sodas almost universally contain acesulfame potassium. My favorite diet soda, Coke Zero, contains it.

Over time, I began to notice my acne worsening. I was also becoming more constipated. I really wasn’t sure what was causing the symptoms. I chalked them up to my body still adjusting to other changes and possibly still getting over other issues causing the same symptoms. I had just found out that I needed to be back on thyroid medication, and perhaps I was still adjusting to that. Maybe I was still dealing with vitamin and mineral deficiencies yet to be uncovered. I just decided to take things one day and a time and see what developed. One day, I decided to stay away from the artificially-sweetened drinks. The day after that, I noticed that I felt a lot better. I also noticed that my digestion seemed to be working better. I knew that I had been drinking way more artificially-sweetened drinks that I ever had in recent memory, and I knew that acesulfame potassium was a common ingredient among them all. Since I always have to read the ingredient labels of food and beverage products I buy, I know and remember what’s in them. As an experiment, I decided to consume a beverage with acesulfame potassium in it to see what would happen. I remember feeling pretty fatigued that evening, but the next day, my digestion took the opposite turn.

Diet Dr. Pepper and Diet Coke do not have acesulfame potassium!

I was back to being constipated again. The day after that, a red and painful acne cyst appeared on my forehead. It looked like acesulfame potassium might very well be a culprit. I began researching alternative products that don’t have the ingredient and stocking up on those. I switched out my Ensure shakes, except for the Plus because it doesn’t have acesulfame potassium, for Boost shakes. I ordered bottles of Bai Cocofusion drinks online so I could have them on hand at home. I left my supplies at work in the break room and the fridge for others to use. I switched out the canned sodas I kept at home with Zevia. Zevia sodas are sweetened with stevia and are actually very good. I very happily discovered that two mainstream diet sodas, Diet Coke and Diet Dr. Pepper, do not have acesulfame potassium. I have a much greater appreciation for these sodas now, ones that I rarely would drink in the past. I’d always liked Coke Zero better than Diet Coke, and Diet Dr. Pepper was one I liked but just didn’t drink often for whatever reason. I’m so thankful that I have these options available because I can’t exactly find Zevia at a convenience store. Sparkling waters are more available now, but to me they’re not as good. I will drink them occasionally, but they are far from my first choice. There are also drinks out there that have sucralose without acesulfame potassium. The Kist flavored sparkling waters are really good, and CVS has a similar product that is also free of acesulfame potassium. When I tried diet drinks like Diet Coke and the Kist beverages, I noticed no issues or reactions. To this day, I’ve not noticed any issues with diet-type beverages that are free of acesulfame potassium.

I’m not sure how I would classify my reaction to acesulfame potassium. To me, it’s a lot like my reaction to guar gum. Both of these reactions began after consuming a lot more of the substance than previously. Also, I never really noticed reactions to either until the following day. The symptoms over time were very similar, the constipation, acne, and tiredness. These are very different from my wheat allergy reactions, which come very quickly and to very small amounts. Flaxseed caused eosinophilia, and I don’t believe either guar gum or acesulfame potassium have caused that sort of a response. With exposures to trace amounts of wheat from other sources possibly occurring around the same time, it’s possible I may not have even been reacting to the acesulfame potassium at all, but I did notice a difference in how I felt after cutting that out and not changing anything else, so it does seem likely that it’s a problem for me. Time will tell.

It’s strange that I would develop a reaction to a substance like acesulfame potassium when all my other reactions are to natural plant foods (or ingredients derived from them). Perhaps it’s a sign that I need to cut back on the diet drinks, and I have cut way back on the more mainstream types. I have found that my throat irritation isn’t so bad that I need to drink a carbonated beverage to relieve it. Also, I’ve been doing fairly well keeping up my vitamin E levels without drinking so many of the fortified beverages. I do, however, treat myself to a cold can of Zevia whenever I shop at Earth Fare. Avoiding products with acesulfame potassium hasn’t been as troublesome as I thought it might be in the beginning. There are good options available, especially with healthier options like Zevia out there. I’m hoping I won’t continue to develop more food reactions!

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