Aspartame. Friend or foe?

 

First, what is it?

Aspartame is a chemically-derived product comprising methyl ester from dipeptide of amino acids L-aspartic acid and L-phenylalanine. Under either acidic or alkaline conditions, aspartame can yield methanol through hydrolysis.

Yikes!

This sounds so scientific and technical! It’s scary to think we put that stuff in our bodies.

But why would we want to bother consuming natural sugars, when they've been associated with obesity, diabetes and tooth decay? Heck, we can avoid 140 unnecessary calories by opting for that can of diet cola in place of the regular version!

Why would anyone want to even bother with sugar anymore, when you get the 200 times the effect by comparison, using aspartame – without the calories?

Well, this is a debate which has lingered for several years – and is set to continue still.

Background and testing

Since aspartame’s introduction into the market some 30 years ago, there has been study after study. There have been those commissioned by pundits and manufacturers of the product, and others intended to refute claims that this artificial sweetener is safe, implying several dangers associated with the consumption of aspartame.

There is not a day that goes by without some article popping up in the media. Be that as it may, aspartame has been cleared in more than 90 countries as safe for human consumption.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has ruled that aspartame is "one of the most thoroughly tested and studied food additives the agency has ever approved."

And as per a European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) ruling in 2013, "aspartame and its breakdown products are safe for human consumption at current levels of exposure." 

So, the question again: is aspartame safe?

I have read far and wide and I can say that I find my opinion still uncertain.

For all the food-testing agency studies that indicate the aspartame is safe, there are as many points-of-view which oppose this.

So I guess that no matter how much we investigate, there will never be absolute certainty on whether it's safe or unsafe – which means I can keep this webpage reasonably short.

Do I use aspartame?

Yes.

But I'm fully conscious of the fact that aspartame is not without controversy, and 'may' be harmful. Yes, I do realize there could be associated dangers, which over the long-term, might cause damage to my health.

why do i use it?

I use aspartame and other forms of non-nutritive sweeteners to substitute a part of the sugar in my eating plan.

And yes, I get a lot of flack from the naysayers.

Let me be clear though: I use aspartame and artificial sweeteners NOT because I view sugar as bad or wrong. I can't stress this enough. I simply want to avoid the unnecessary empty calories from sugar in my coffee or cereal. I get the same sweet effect with far fewer calories by using a sweetener.

I can then use the calorie-saving elsewhere in my day. Like for the odd chocolate bar or portion of ice-cream.

The reason is that simple.

Am I recommending you to use aspartame?

Absolutely not.

While aspartame forms part of my own eating plan, I'm still hopeful that one day we'll hear, once-and-for-all, that it is either cleared of any and all controversies without reservations, or that a better substitute is found. When I say 'better', I mean a product which will be factually proven beyond all doubt to be safe.

Although stevia has emerged as a 'safer' more natural option, I personally dislike the bitter, licorice-like aftertaste.

So, until we consumers know better where we stand, I will use aspartame – but in moderation (to reduce any possible health side-effects), and hope that I'm doing the right thing.

Recommended intake

The FDA recommends a daily intake of no more than 50 mg of aspartame per kilogram of body weight. That amounts to around 22 cans of diet soft drink for an average 175-pound man, and around 15 cans for an average 120-pound woman. I think most people could manage to stay well within these safe recommendations of consumption.

Besides my daily can or 2 of diet soft-drink, I limit my use of aspartame to sweetening my coffee and my breakfast cereal. I don't believe it's a good idea to create too much of a nutritional imbalance by eliminating ALL sugars. For that reason, I have no issues consuming foods like fresh fruit, marmalade, honey and sugar-containing condiments.

For me, it's all about an eating plan that is healthy, enjoyable and sustainable. Here's a sample of my typical day

My best advice?

It's a no-brainer.

I'd advise anyone to employ moderation in the consumption of aspartame – or any of the other popular artificial/non-nutritive sweeteners like sucralose, saccharin and cyclamate. Better still, if you don't have a sweet-tooth, and want complete peace-of-mind – you could always avoid 'any' or 'all' of these.

However, as per research-findings, to reach 'dangerous' levels, you'd literally need to consume hundreds of grams a day.

And remember, even water can be toxic at high enough levels.

Whatever your point-of-view, if you have a strong opinion on the topic, you’ll know that there are many supporters and critics around the globe in constant debate. And it won’t be long before the next report or finding is published.

Regardless, let’s be responsible about the use of artificial sweeteners while we watch this space.

REFERENCES

  1. High-intensity sweeteners. US Food and Drug Administration. 19 May 19, 2014. Retrieved September 20, 2015.
  2. FDA Statement on European Aspartame Study. US Food and Drug Administration.  April 20, 2007. Retrieved September 20, 2015.
  3. Food Additive Approval Process Followed for Aspartame. HRD-87-46. US Government Accountability Office. July 17, 1987. Retrieved September 20, 2015.