Get advice on healthy eating, nutrition, and weight loss from expert dietitian Tara Gidus.See all posts »
Do you drink a lot of diet soda and wonder how safe some of those sweeteners are? Today I will talk about aspartame, one of the most commonly used artificial sweeteners. Aspartame was approved by the FDA back in 1981. Since that time, it has become a very popular artificial sweetener. In order for an artificial sweetener to be approved, it goes through rigorous testing for safety to make sure it is safe to be in our food supply.
A report was published in this month’s (September, 2007) issue of Critical Reviews in Toxicology. The report is the findings of an analysis of all scientific information available to date on aspartame. The scientists concluded that aspartame is perfectly safe.
You may have heard some people claim that aspartame breaks down into harmful components, causing everything from Alzheimer’s disease to cancer. These claims are completely unfounded according to the report. No credible evidence was found that aspartame is carcinogenic or has any other adverse effects when consumed even at levels many times higher than the recommended limit.
Aspartame breaks down into aspartic acid, phenylalanine, and methanol. Aspartic acid and phenylalanine are amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. Methanol is a natural breakdown product of many foods and is not found to be harmful.
How much is safe?
The FDA has approved 50 mg of aspartame per kg of body weight per day as the safe level, or Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI). The average intake of people who use aspartame is 4.9 mg/kg/day, or less than 10% of the ADI.
Is it OK for me?
Aspartame has been shown to have no adverse effects. It is safe for pregnant women, lactating women, diabetics, children, obese individuals, and almost everyone. The only exception is people who have phenylketonuria (PKU). PKU is a rare inherited disease where a person does not break down phenylalanine properly.
Other interesting info on aspartame
- Discovered by accident in 1965
- It is in over 6000 food and pharmaceutical products
- It is approximately 200 times sweeter than sucrose
- It has the same number of calories as sugar on a weight to weight basis but since it is so sweet it is used in much smaller quantities
- Aspartame accounts for nearly 60% of all artificial sweetener use
- A serving of skim milk has 6 times more phenylalanine and 13 times more aspartic acid than the same amount of beverage sweetened with aspartame
- No evidence has been found that aspartame contributes to weight gain. The opposite is actually true—you can cut calories by using aspartame in the place of sugar
No medical evidence to date links aspartame to headaches, depression, weight gain, etc. If you think aspartame gives you a headache, avoid it. If you are not sure whether it is safe for you during pregnancy, avoid it. I trust the research done to date, but everyone's body is unique and you have the personal choice whether you want to use it or not.
For more information on Aspartame, visit www.aboutaspartame.com
For recipes using aspartame, click here
For information on aspartame and other artificial sweeteners, visit the Calorie Control Council
Image of Equal box courtesy of www.equal.com