Elizabeth, from Swadlincote, Derbyshire, suffered a severe allergic reaction from the artificial sweeteners aspartame and asphetame – both of which are used in high quantities in diet drinks.
The 30-year-old has had to avoid artificial sweeteners her entire life, with her two sons Matthew, 6, and Jacob, 2, also being at risk due to the allergy being genetic.
The mum-of-two said she realised ‘straight away’ she had been served Diet Coke, despite having made clear the importance of drinking the full-fat version to members of staff in the pub.
I’d asked for a full fat Coke, and stressed that it had to be full fat as usual to the bartender. But once I took my first sip and straight away, I knew it tasted strange, and I could feel the usual sickness start, like I was going to be sick.
I instantly felt dizzy and felt the room go dark as my body tried to fight off the allergic reaction. I learnt later that a friend had guided me into a chair but I’d just passed out.
I had less than a sip of diet cola and I was rushed to hospital, in a coma for three days. And it had taken three days for it to work its way out of my system – it was terrifying.
Elizabeth said the problem lies with the fact that most people ‘don’t seem to see the difference’ between full-fat and diet drinks, although for her, the difference could be life or death.
Now, with the sugar tax coming into effect in April last year, Elizabeth said it’s easier for her family to simply ‘forgo’ any social outings so they know exactly what they’re eating and drinking at home.
The mum-of-two explained how the sugar tax has made her family’s life ‘hell’ as it’s no longer cost-effective for pubs or shops to have the sugared versions of things, meaning fewer and fewer places are serving the full-fat drinks.
So much so that Elizabeth now has to constantly be on the lookout for sweeteners in anything she buys, as even a little mistake could prove fatal.
Because Elizabeth and her two sons don’t have the enzymes needed to break down the sweeteners, she said they are like ‘instant poison’ and will immediately cause them to become dizzy and start vomiting if they consume any.
It breaks my heart, especially for the boys. They can’t even have birthday cakes like their friends because the icing contains the artificial sugars.
For Matthew’s birthday, at the last minute I was told I would have provide the meals for my boys whilst their friends enjoyed the party food.
It feels like we’re penalised for needing the sugared versions of things when really, it’s a necessity – we need it to survive.
Despite checking and double-checking every ingredient in various different food products, it’s become necessary for Elizabeth to make the family’s food and drink from scratch to avoid any similar incidents.
As a result, everything in Matthew and Jacob’s lunchboxes is entirely homemade by Elizabeth – from yoghurt to juice – which the mum says can be extremely time-consuming.
Hopefully the mum’s dedication to protecting her sons will pay off and the family won’t have to go through such a scary experience again.