You’ve probably heard of the low-calorie sweetener aspartame or have seen it in on the nutrition label of a food you’ve purchased. In fact, you probably have consumed it without even knowing- 200 million people around the world consume this ingredient throughout the year!
It is what provides the “sweet” in NutraSweet, Equal, powdered soft drinks, weight loss bars, flavored syrups, diet sodas, gum, breath mints, pudding mixes, barbeque sauce, fruit spreads, ketchup, and more. Although the ingredient is FDA approved, it has faced controversy in recent years due to many people believing it is actually bad for a person’s health.
Aspartame is roughly 200 times sweeter than actual sugar and is used in more than 90 different countries. When aspartame is used in place of sugar or corn syrup, the number of calories in the food is reduced. It was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration back in 1996 for all foods and drinks. It is known to be one of the most tested ingredients in the food supply. However, is it safe to consume? Well, this is something that is under debate.
Aspartame is made by the joining of aspartic acid and phenylalanine, and methanol. Aspartic acid and phenylalanine are protein building-blocks found naturally in protein foods like meats, dairy and grains. Aspartame is digested like other amino acids and breaks downs and gets absorbed into the blood, and is also eliminated and so does not accumulate over time.
Per the FDA, the Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) for aspartame has been set at 50 milligrams per kilogram of bodyweight. Tests have shown humans who have consumed greater levels than the ADI have had no adverse side effects. The American Medical Association’s Council on Scientific Affairs has also reviewed research on aspartame and found the sweetener to be safe. The American Dietetic Association also has concluded that moderate use of aspartame is acceptable in a person’s diet. It has also been found safe by the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) of the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, American Heart Association and World Health Organization.
In a recent study by Harvard medical school, released last December, it was found aspartame consumption is not associated with any weight loss and in fact more weight gain. Being overweight or obese contributes to “metabolic syndrome.” Additional criteria for metabolic syndrome includes: high blood pressure, abnormal fasting glucose, high triglycerides and low HDL cholesterol levels, and increased waist circumference. People who have metabolic syndrome are at a higher risk for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
Also when aspartame is exposed to heat like the temperature of the human body, it can metabolize into formaldehyde, which is a toxic substance.
So should you avoid aspartame? This decision is ultimately up to you and your doctor. If you’re worried about the potential health risks based on studies out there, you should look for this ingredient on food labels. To avoid using aspartame, you can sweeten foods with honey, maple syrup, agave nectar, fruit juice, and molasses; all these sweet alternatives should be consumed in moderation, as well.
Since it is in many foods these days, it can be hard to avoid; your best bet may be to be more cautious about your consumption, and like all things, consume it in moderation.
If you have questions about this artificial sweetener in your diet or need general dietary help, Dr. Kordonowy of Internal Medicine, Lipid & Wellness of Fort Myers can give you a dietary assessment. To book a consult, click here or call 239-362-3005, ext. 200.