What is Aspartame?
Aspartame is a common, FDA approved, artificial sweetener (sugar substitute) used in many low-calorie food and beverages. Aspartame is said to taste about 200 times sweeter than sugar, which means little needs to be added to products; unless it is cooked or heated as it will lose its sweetness.
Aspartame was discovered in 1965 by researchers trying to come up with a new antiulcer drug. It is made by mixing phenylalanine (an essential amino acid), and aspartic acid (a non essential amino acid). These amino acids are building blocks of common foods such as protein and natural flavor molecules. It is considered safe for use except for people with phenylketnouria (a metabolic disorder characterized by the body’s inability to process a certain part of protein – phenylalanine). Some of the more common marketing names of aspartame are NutraSweet, Equal and more recently, AminoSweet.
Sugar substitutes are substances that are used instead of sucrose (regular table sugar) to sweeten foods and beverages. A sugar substitute can either be natural (such as honey) or synthetic which are also called artificial sweeteners. Some sugar substitutes are promoted because they are thought to help reduce calorie in the diet. In fact, these substances are being touted as “healthy alternatives” to white sugar although such claim is inconclusive. In addition, these substances are also said to contain fewer calories. Because of these potential health benefits, people who are conscious about their sugar and calorie intake turn to artificial sweeteners.
Over the past few years, artificial sweeteners and other sugar substitutes have become very popular as consumers are seeking lower calorie alternatives to regular table sugar without compromising their “sweet tooth”. These substances are normally found in a wide variety of food and beverages, most especially in processed foods, such as baked goods, candy, chewing gum, fruit juice, jellies, powdered drink mixes, soft drinks, ice cream, and lots more. Usually, products that contain sugar substitutes are widely advertised as “diet” or “sugar-free”.
Through the years, aspartame has found its way to the American diet. In 1981, the FDA approved it for use as artificial sweetener for food products such as breakfast cereals, chewing gum, gelatins, puddings, and tabletop sweeteners. Shortly after, it has been approved as an additive in carbonated beverages. In 1996, aspartame has been approved for use as “general purpose sweetener” which makes it a real substitute for white sugar.
Currently, it is found in more than 6,000 food products and is used as an alternative to regular sugar by people who want to get away from the effects of sugar, such as diabetics.
People who consume or use aspartame include those who wish to lose weight by lowering their caloric intake, and who are on special diabetic diets. Aspartame is also not only used in food and beverages, it has also been used to flavor children’s medications or vitamins.
Acceptable Daily Intake For Aspartame
Much like other substances, people are warned against taking too much of aspartame. As such, the FDA recommends that the daily intake of aspartame should not exceed 50 mg/kg of body weight. For example, if you weigh 90 kilograms, you aspartame intake should not exceed 4550 mg.
Below is a list of common foods and their usual aspartame content.
- Diet soda, 12 oz. 225 mg
- Powdered drinks, 8 oz. 100 mg
- Yogurt, 8 oz. 80 mg
- Gelatin dessert, 4 oz. 80 mg
- Sweetened cereal, ¾ cup 32 mg
- Equal, 1 packet 22 mg
- Equal, 1 tablet 19 mg
Usually, food labels and nutrition information found in basic food products list its aspartame content as well as other artificial sweeteners. Consumers are advised to read and learn about aspartame in their diet.
Aspartame Safety Concerns
Although is approved for use in over 100 countries and is considered safe by various regulatory bodies, including the FDA, there are some concerns over the safety of this sugar substitute.
Recent studies suggest that aspartame can cause certain cancers, such as brain cancer, leukemia, and lymphoma. It is said to be a carcinogen or a substances that can cause cancer. There are also some resources claiming that aspartame can lead to problems such as behavioral disturbances, dementia, depression, hair loss, and other conditions.
In response to mounting consumer concern, the FDA has undertaken measures to review the safety of aspartame in June 2007. After a thorough study, the agency concluded that these safety concerns are unfounded. Currently, the FDA recognizes aspartame as safe for human consumption. However, since aspartame contains phenylalanine, it may pose risk for people with phenylketonuria. As such, people with this rare genetic disorder are advised to avoid taking aspartame and food products that contain this substance.