False confessions

Swimming pool crowded with adultsSometimes I think of my blog posts as episodes of True Confessions. I bare my soul to so many people, many of whom I do not know, with each post. Well, not today. I’m taking the day off disclosures. I need a break, a boundary reboot, a moment to catch my breath. So expect only a trite review of some compelling research conducted by researchers at the University of Alberta. When you read about this study, you will appreciate that Alberta is a hotbed of medical research.

You may have heard about this recently published study already, since even NPR and the Guardian believed it worthy of reporting. The study assessed the amount of urine in public swimming pools, and the findings were not pretty. In an 830,000 litre pool, they estimated 75,000 litres of urine. That’s a lot of pee. Don’t blame the kids, either, since prominent U.S. Olympic swimmers confessed to peeing in the pool if nature calls. (I’m sure Canadian Olympic swimmers would never be so base.)

The amount of urine was estimated from the detected amount of acesulfame potassium (Ace K), an artificial sweetener added to a variety of processed foods. This substance leaves the body unaltered, allowing researchers to estimate the total amount of urine. Using this measure, all pools had urine in them, and one hotel hot tub contained 3 times as much urine as the number 1 pool with Number 1. I’ve always been leery of hotel hot tubs, and now I have a valid reason.

There is an obvious solution to this problem, other than swimmers peeing in toilets, that is. If people would stop consuming foods with Ace K in them, they could pee freely in the pool and their urine would go undetected. There’s only one fatal flaw with this solution: Ace K is in EVERYTHING. In fact, I copied the following list of foods potentially containing this substance from the official Ace K website.

  • Carbonated beverages
  • Non-carbonated beverages
  • Fruit juices
  • Beverage concentrates
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Tabletop sweeteners
  • Dairy products
  • Ice cream
  • Desserts, gelatins
  • Fruit and vegetable preserves
  • Jam, jelly and marmalade
  • Baked goods
  • Confectionery
  • Chewing gums
  • Marinated fish
  • Toothpaste and mouthwash
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Yogurt
  • Milk products
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Processed fruits and vegetables
  • Salad dressings and sauces
  • Condiments and relishes
  • Snack foods
  • Soups
  • Vitamins

I almost neglected to tell you about this study, but I was driving in my car and I grabbed myself a piece of sugarless gum. I don’t know why I chew sugarless gum occasionally. My breath needed a refresher, probably. And I got to wondering whether my gum contained this offending substance. Of course it did, and it does, and had I brushed my teeth instead, I’d still have potentially ingested Ace K. I’ve given you yet another reason to do away with processed food (and toothpaste), folks.

Did you know I used to be a swimmer? For years, I’d be in the pool at 7 a.m., doing laps or a deep-water aerobics class. And I’m sure in that time I swallowed gallons of pool water. But did I ever pee in the pool? Honestly, I can’t remember–I stopped swimming several years back–but if I could recall, I wouldn’t tell you. I said no true confessions today, didn’t I?


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