Aspartame sweetener may be harmful
Though aspartame is popularly the non-sugar sweetener contained in diet soda, it is also contained in tomato ketchup, yogurt, and an assortment of dry packaged foods. Aspartame artificial sweetener mired in controversy as unsafe for good
Though aspartame is popularly the non-sugar sweetener contained in diet soda, it is also contained in tomato ketchup, yogurt, and an assortment of dry packaged foods.
Aspartame artificial sweetener mired in controversy as unsafe for good health; no consensus on claims
Aspartame is one of the most popular artificial sweeteners available on the market. In fact, chances are good that most consumers have drank a diet soda containing aspartame within the past 24 hours. In 2010, one-fifth of all Americans drank a diet soda on any given day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While the sweetener remains popular, it’s also faced controversy in recent years. Many opponents have claimed that aspartame is actually bad for your health. There are also claims about long-term repercussions of aspartame consumption.
Unfortunately, while extensive tests have been conducted on aspartame, there’s no consensus as to whether aspartame is “bad” for you.
What is aspartame?
Aspartame is sold under the brand names NutraSweet and Equal. It’s also used widely in packaged products — especially those labeled as “diet” foods.
The ingredients of aspartame are aspartic acid and phenylalanine. Both are naturally occurring amino acids. Aspartic acid is produced by your body, and phenylalanine is an essential amino acid that you get from food.
When your body processes aspartame, part of it is broken down into methanol. Consumption of fruit, fruit juice, fermented beverages, and some vegetables also contain or result in methanol production. As of 2014, aspartame was the largest source of methanol in the American diet. Methanol is toxic in large quantities, yet smaller amounts is also be concerning when combined with free methanol because of enhanced absorption.
Free methanol is present in some foods and is also created when aspartame is heated. Free methanol consumed regularly may be a problem because it breaks down into formaldehyde, a known carcinogen and neurotoxin, in the body. However, the Food Standards Agency in the United Kingdom documented that even in children who are high consumers of aspartame, the maximum intake level of methanol is not reached. They also state that since eating fruits and vegetables is known to enhance health, methanol intake from these sources is not a high priority for research.
Alan Gaby, M.D., reported in Alternative Medicine Review in 2007 that aspartame found in commercial products or heated beverages may be a seizure trigger and should be evaluated in cases of difficult seizure management.
A number of regulatory agencies and health-related organizations have weighed in favorably on aspartame. It’s gained approval from the following:
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, World Health Organization, American Heart Association, and the American Dietetic Association/
In 2013, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) concluded a review of more than 600 datasets from aspartame studies. It found no reason to remove aspartame from the market. The review reported no safety concerns associated with normal or increased intake.
At the same time, artificial sweeteners have a long history of controversy. Aspartame was developed around the time the FDA banned the artificial sweeteners cyclamateTrusted Source (Sucaryl) and saccharin (Sweet’N Low). Lab tests showed that massive doses of these two compounds caused cancer and other disorders in laboratory animals.
While aspartame is indeed approved by the FDA, the consumer advocate organization Center for Science in the Public Interest has cited numerous studies that suggest problems with the sweetener, including a study by the Harvard School of Public Health.
In 2000, the National Institutes of Health decided saccharin could be removed from the listTrusted Source of cancer-causing substances. Though cyclamate is available in more than 50 countries, it’s not sold in the United States.
Products with aspartame
Whenever a product is labeled “sugar-free,” that usually means it has an artificial sweetener in place of sugar. While not all sugar-free products contain aspartame, it’s still one of the most popular sweeteners. It’s widely available in a number of packaged goods.
Some examples of aspartame-containing products include: diet soda, sugar-free ice cream, reduced-calorie fruit juice, gum, yogurt, and sugarless candy.
Using other sweeteners can help limit aspartame intake. However, to avoid aspartame altogether, consumers also need to make sure to look out for it in packaged goods. Aspartame is most often labeled as containing phenylalanine.
This article first appeared in the Healthline website.