Aspartame: What Are The Pros and Cons
Aspartame is an artificial sweetener that is composed of two common amino acids, phenylalanine and aspartic acid. Introduced in the U.S. market in 1981, aspartame has become one of the most popular and widely used sugar substitutes. It is contained in a wide variety of foods and beverages and is the preferred sugar substitute for people who want to reduce calorie and sugar in their diet.
Despite its popularity, aspartame is also highly controversial because of numerous concerns regarding its safety. Here are some of the potential benefits and risks of using aspartame.
Over the past years, aspartame has been widely marketed as the “healthy alternative” to regular sugar (sucrose) because of the following health benefits:
- Weight control - Aspartame is considered non-nutritive which means that its calorie content is negligible hence add virtually no calories to the diet. It is also 160 to 220 times sweeter than regular sugar hence only a fraction is needed for the desired sweetness. Because of this aspartame is an attractive option for people who want to prevent weight gain, lose weight, or reduce calorie intake. On the other hand, some studies suggest that consuming this artificial consumer can lead to weight gain, although the cause remains unknown.
- Prevention and management of diabetes - This sugar substitute, primarily comprised of two amino acids (aspartate and phenylalanine), is not a carbohydrate. Therefore, it is unlikely to raise blood sugar levels without sacrificing the sweetness of the food or beverage. This makes aspartame a good substitute to sugar for people with diabetes.
- Prevention of dental cavities - Compared to regular sugar, aspartame does not increase the possibility of tooth decay. Carbohydrate-based sweeteners contribute to bacterial growth in the oral cavity which can lead to tooth decay.
Although aspartame is approved by the Food and Drug Administration, there are some resources that say it is unsafe for use. Here are some of the controversial dangers of taking aspartame.
- Conflicting results of studies - Studies performed on aspartame provide conflicting results. Furthermore, its approval is shrouded with controversy. Of the 166 studies, 74 studies which were funded by the manufacturers of Nutrasweet have found aspartame as safe; while 92 studies which were independently funded found problems with regards to its safety. The FDA affirms those studies that consider aspartame as safe for use.
- Potential side effects - In a book published by H.J. Roberts, MD, it enumerates the possible side effectsof taking aspartame. It cites aspartame products as the cause of about 80% of complaints filed to the FDA about food additives. Some of the possible negative effects of aspartame include abdominal pain, dizziness, vomiting or nausea, change in mood, headache, memory loss, diarrhea, change in vision, and fatigue. Aside from these symptoms, this sugar substitute is also linked to other health conditions such as certain cancers, fibromyalgia symptoms, unexplained depression, multiple sclerosis, systemic lupus, psychological problems, and joint pain.In response to the increasing public concern, the FDA has reevaluated the safety of aspartame. After thorough studies, the agency reaffirmed its position that aspartame is safe for humans. The debate still continues while more studies are being undertaken.
- Increased hunger - A study suggests that substituting sucrose with aspartame can likely lead to increased hunger. Perhaps, this is due to the lack of calorie of aspartame. On the other hand, a different study shows that aspartame does not change hunger rating. Further study is required to prove this potential side effect.
- Contraindicated in patients with phenylketonuria (PKU) - PKU is a rare genetic disorder wherein the body is not capable of metabolizing amino acid, phenylalanine. Since aspartame contains phenylalanine, it is restricted for people with PKU. Aspartame can pose serious risks in people with this rare metabolic disorder.