Aspartame is one of the most common artificial sweeteners in use today. It is sold under the brand names NutraSweet® and Equal®. Aspartame is made by joining together the amino acids aspartic acid and phenylalanine. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins and are found naturally in many foods.
Aspartame is used in many foods and beverages because it is about 200 times sweeter than sugar, so much less of it can be used to give the same level of sweetness. This, in turn, lowers the calories in the food or beverage.
Rumors claiming that aspartame causes a number of health problems, including cancer, have been around for many years. Many of these continue to circulate on the Internet.
My son-in-law put this to the test several years ago when he suffered from constant debilitating migraines. He drank 1-2 diet sodas a day at that time. My daughter urged him to eliminate aspartame from his diet and within a week, his migraines were gone and the nerve problems he was experiencing in his wrist had greatly subsided. Many people are seemingly more sensitive to aspartame and cannot tolerate even small amounts of it. My son-in-law was extremely happy when Pepsi® began making their diet soda sweetened with Splenda®. But they have since then reverted to aspartame and he now gets his soda fix from small local soda makers that do not use it.
So, looking beyond this one personal story, is aspartame actually dangerous? If so, why is it permitted in so much of our foods?
Does Aspartame cause health problems?
There are actually quite a few studies on this, so here are links to various viewpoints and conclusions:
- The National Cancer Institute does not believe that aspartame causes cancer. Links to their research and findings on various artificial sweeteners are here.
- The American Chemical Society breaks down (haha) the chemical properties and reactions to aspartame in this short video on PBS NewsHour
- A small but involved study was conducted on detecting sensitivities to aspartame and found no conclusive links to aspartame and the symptoms reportedly caused by it…
- Interestingly, Livestrong explores the angle of aspartame side effects being related to an allergic reaction.
- Various websites are devoted to the negative effects and harmful potential of aspartame, but since these are often selling something, their information should be taken with a grain of salt (or sugar?).
Who regulates this?
In the United States, artificial sweeteners such as aspartame are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). These products must be tested for safety and approved by the FDA before they can be used. The FDA also sets an acceptable daily intake (ADI) for each sweetener, which is the maximum amount considered safe to consume each day during a person’s lifetime.
The FDA has set the ADI for aspartame at 50 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg) of body weight. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which regulates food additives in the European Union, recommends a slightly lower ADI for aspartame, at 40 mg/kg.
This would be 3,750 milligrams per day for a typical adult weighing 75 kilograms (about 165 pounds). A 12 ounce can of diet soda usually contains about 192 milligrams of aspartame and a packet of the tabletop sweetener contains about 35mg. An adult weighing 165 pounds would have to drink more than 19 cans of diet soda a day or consume more than 107 packets to go over the recommended level.
But Who Watches the Watchmen?
No, not the comic book characters… The FDA bases their decisions in part by reviewing studies conducted by the company seeking approval themselves, so this raises the specter of self-regulation. However, there have been so many health concerns raised about aspartame that quite a few studies have been done on it outside of the FDA.
I avoid aspartame in general because why take chances? Maybe it’s not definitely poison, but I don’t really see much benefit in it for me personally. I’ve researched and tried other more natural sweeteners that work better for me.
What has your experience been with aspartame, positive or negative? What do you use instead of it?