Demystifying the Controversy: Is Aspartame Bad or Good for You?
Today’s consumer foods and beverages have one thing in common; artificial sweeteners. These are synthetic sugar alternatives, which are way sweet, but have no significant calorie contribution. Sucralose and aspartame are some of the most popular artificial sweeteners with a unique combination of high sugar and low-calorie content. However, there are lots of controversies surrounding artificial sweeteners.
Aspartame has gained popularity since it was first approved for use as a table-top sugar alternative in 1981. Two years later, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave its consent for the application in carbonated drinks. Several other product approvals followed and in 1996, aspartame found its way to foods and beverages.
Despite its strong presence, the internet is full of myths with countless people asking questions like “is aspartame bad or good for you?” “is aspartame safe?” “does it cause cancer?” “is aspartame bad for diabetics?” This post demystifies the controversies and answers your questions about the product.
What is Aspartame?
Known to others as ‘NutraSweet’ or ‘Equal’, aspartame – denoted E951 – is an artificial sweetener used in a variety of consumer foods and beverages. It has achieved global usage and is famed for its little to no chemical taste, low-calorie content, and its sweetness – it is 200 times sweeter than sugar.
Aspartame undergoes a manufacturing process of fermentation, synthesis, and purification to output a whitish powder that looks much as a supplement. Its exposure is through the consumption of products containing aspartame. Some medicines also contain this sweetener as a flavor. These are clear projections that answer the big question – ‘is aspartame safe?’
Products Containing Aspartame
- Beverages – Aspartame is used in soft drinks including Pepsi, Coke, flavored syrups, sweetened ice tea, and flavored water to name a few.
- Candies and Gums – Particularly the sugar-free types.
- Condiments – Such as barbecue sauce, maple syrup, spreads, jams, chocolates among others.
- Deserts – cake and ice-cream toppings, sugarless cookies, and pies
- Yogurt – the fat or low-dairy types.
Aspartame is also used as a table-top sweetener and is applied in several supplements. However, despite its greatness, the product isn’t ideal for baking or cooking. Unlike sucralose, its stability under heat is poor. It loses its sweetness faster.
What happens to aspartame in the body?
Aspartame contains two amino acids; phenylalanine and aspartic acid. It is broken down into these by-products as well as methanol in the body. Phenylalanine is an essential amino acid that exists naturally in foods like meat, legumes, eggs, fish, and other high-protein foods. Nonetheless, it is also obtained from aspartame in small amounts as it contains no serious effects.
Aspartic acid is another essential product that occurs naturally in many types of foods including the high-protein types as well as soy protein. Like phenylalanine, its consumption in no way raises a cause for concern.
Methanol, however, is toxic and is often likened to ethanol contained in alcoholic drinks. Fruits, coffee, and vegetables are few sources of the substance. Consumed properly and moderately, this by-product shouldn’t cause any problems. The metabolism of aspartame in the body releases only a small amount of methanol that doesn’t pose any dangers.
Is Aspartame Safe?
First off, here are facts about aspartame that you ought to know before firing the ‘is aspartame safe?’ hoax:
- Aspartame is a dipeptide with two amino acids (phenylalanine and aspartic acid) and methanol.
- The methanol contained in the product is regulated and is broken down into negligible sizes, hence isn’t harmful to the body.
- There is no conclusive, detailed and substantial evidence that links aspartame to the various health issues it has been associated with, well, except for those with phenylketonuria (PKU).
- Aspartame has high sugar content but no nutritional value.
- Aspartame is modified genetically.
- It is safe for the pregnant. Its amino acids cannot pass through the placenta; however, moderation is advisable.
That said, aspartame is safe for use. Contrary to conspiracy theories and the internet scares, which have relentlessly pointed out that aspartame risks exist, studies have proven otherwise. Studies have shown that the consumption of products sweetened with aspartame has no effect and is equivalent to eating natural foods.
For instance, an 8-ounce glass of milk contains 6 times more phenylalanine and 13 times more aspartic acid than the same amount of beverage sweetened with aspartame. Consequently, an equivalent amount of fruit juice or any other juice has between 3 to 5 times more methanol by-product than a soda with aspartame. These two examples clear the confusion whether aspartame is bad or not.
Notably, the FDA regulation of aspartame further defines its safety. The product is thoroughly tested and tried before usage. The acceptable daily intake (ADI) of this sweetener is 50mg/kg, which is 100 times lower than the amount deemed to cause potential health risks. On the other hand, the European Food and Safety Authority (EFSA) recommends 40mg/kg as the recommended ADI.
In scrutiny, the set ADI for aspartame means that an individual weighing 75kgs should consume about 3,750 milligrams daily. Still, this figure is far more than what any adult would take on a daily basis. This is a suggestion that such an adult drink close to 20 cans of diet coke since one can contain 192 milligrams of aspartame. Even if one is a serious fan of soft drinks, it is nearly impossible.
Aspartame and the cancer myth
This claim arose after the European Ramazzini Foundation published a study stating that aspartame causes cancer. However, other researchers have disputed the claims, citing inappropriate methods, which they note doesn’t relate to people. Clinical studies using human beings as the subjects, and not animals as used by the Italian researchers, have found no evidence that aspartame is associated with cancer. The EFSA, as well as the FDA, expressed concerns including the absence of substantial data that would warrant aspartame a second look.
Hundreds of studies support the safety of aspartame. Professional agencies in the U.S and beyond that have thoroughly researched the product have found aspartame safe. The National Cancer Institute found no strong evidence to support the claims of whether aspartame is bad for you.
Aspartame causes weight gain
Weight gain is another rap some people associate with aspartame. According to the fact that aspartame has no nutritional value, its usage doesn’t lead to weight gain. As a matter of fact, it serves as an impeccable product for anybody wishing to cut on sugars and calories. Its incorporation into the daily diet doesn’t increase the calorie intake, which is why it does suffice in terms of future weight gain.
Other health-related aspartame risks
>p>Other studies also claim that aspartame causes headaches, diabetes, mood swings, attention deficit disorders (ADD), birth defects, multiple sclerosis, seizures, dizziness, lupus, mental issues among others. According to numerous studies conducted to date, there is no consistent evidence or link to aspartame.</p>
Special Group Usage
Is aspartame safe for children?
Aspartame is safe for children and adults alike. As a matter of fact, food and drinks with the product constitute a healthy and a nutritious plan if incorporated into a balanced diet. Sustaining nutritious and sweet-tasting meals or snacks with few calories for the young ones may be a challenge for many parents; however, with artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, the overall health, and weight control is easily kept in check. Most importantly, consulting with dietitians goes a long way in making informed choices based on the child’s health status and nutritional preferences.
Is aspartame safe for pregnant or lactating women?
There is no serious concern as to why pregnant women or those who are nursing should eliminate the consumption of food with aspartame. It doesn’t have any effect and several studies are there to affirm the claim. One thing remains clear though, maintaining the necessary nutrients that facilitate the baby’s healthy growth is mandatory. Again, consulting with the physician should be the first thing.
Is aspartame safe for people with phenylketonuria?
Phenylketonuria (PKU) is a genetic disorder that renders the body unable to synthesize phenylalanine. Failure of the body to metabolize this essential amino acid may result in the accumulation of phenylalanine causing serious health issues including mental complications. This amino acid is contained in aspartame, which means people with PKU should consult with the doctor and limit its intake or avoid aspartame altogether. Items containing NutraSweet or Equal Classic have a conspicuous warning to phenylketonurics denoting the presence of phenylalanine.
Benefits of Aspartame
Aids in weight management
Obesity and other health-related issues are nowadays a common problem and people are constantly on the lookout for ways of finding an equilibrium between physical exercise and calorie intake. The two are key factors in sustaining a healthy body weight. Where one wants not to sacrifice the taste or savoring delicious foods, the answer lies with artificial sweeteners like aspartame.
Many studies have depicted that artificial sweeteners with low-calorie content such as sucralose and aspartame, aid in weight gain or weight loss management. This couldn’t be any truer. With no nutritional value, anyone wishing to control weight can consume foods or take beverages with aspartame or other artificial sweeteners as opposed to real sugars.
Citing a study of people involved in weight loss programs, it was found that those individuals who switched to products with artificial sweeteners lost weight. The same result also showed that aspartame was effective in long-term weight control. People battling obesity can enjoy eating as much sugarless sweets as they wish.
Aspartame is good for people with diabetes
Is aspartame bad for people with diabetes? No. It is a better sugar replacement for people who are diabetic. Compared to table sugar, this artificial sweetener has an awesome taste, is not a carbohydrate and, therefore, doesn’t increase the blood sugar levels. Consumer foods and drinks with aspartame are safe for people with diabetes and those who need to keep their carbs in check.
According to experts, aspartame helps one stay on track with a sugar-free diet. As such, those with the condition can enjoy life like the rest of the world by also consuming the many types of desserts available. But like many other products, for anyone with such a medical history, it is recommended that you consult with the doctor about the type of sugar substitutes and the recommended daily intake.
Doesn’t contribute to tooth decay
It is a known fact that all 6-carbon sugars and its disaccharides amount to acids associated with plaque bacteria, which contribute to tooth decay. Dextran, a product of sucrose creates a perfect place for bacteria to glue itself on the tooth surface causing further demineralization of the tooth. The substance also acts as a reserve for the bacteria.
Aspartame, on the other hand, doesn’t contribute to tooth decay. The American Dental Association state that artificial sweeteners with low-calorie content do not contribute to the acids linked to tooth decay. Additionally, they note that chewing sugar-free gum immediately after a meal may help one maintain good oral hygiene.
Serves as part of an ideal diet
Aspartame can be included in any diet considering its safety and regulation by several food and safety agencies. Healthcare professionals have always insistently advised people to cut on the consumption of sugar, but to many, consuming products with no sugar is almost inevitable. Luckily, aspartame is sugar-free and can be used where one wants to stay healthy, but how does it fit into the diet?
Aspartame tastes like sugar but is much sweeter and only a small amount is needed as a food additive. It doesn’t add any significant number of calories in any diet. Using it as a sugar substitute helps you eat fewer calories in a day. With this artificial sweetener, you can consume food substances without sacrificing the wonderful taste. Even better, one can choose from a plethora of low-heat, reduced-calorie recipes they desire.
Used to extend flavors
Aspartame boosts citrus and fruit flavors in many types of food products like yogurt and many beverages. In sugar-free candies or gum, it extends the sweetness longer than how natural sugars would.
So, is aspartame safe? Yes. It can be used by anyone except those with PKU. Steer clear of the internet scare that deems aspartame bad for your health. It is highly beneficial and it comes with many health advantages. Aspartame importance cannot be emphasized enough, particularly when sugar-related health issues are on the rise. You can use the product to manage weight, maintain a healthy diet, and consume your favorite foods and beverages without doing away with the sweet taste. It doesn’t raise your blood sugar levels, and is in no way a cause of great concern. Its alternatives include sucralose and stevia.