Aspartame is one of the most widely used artificial sweeteners in the world. The additive is used in over 4000 food products in the United States. Aspartame is marketed as NutraSweet and Equal. It is the sweetener of choice in many diet soda sold around the world, and you may have one in your hand right now. According to data from the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention, one in five Americans consumed a diet soda every day in 2010.
Since aspartame appeared on the market in the 1980s, the sweetener, as well as many others, have been the subject of ongoing controversy over the effects of their use on the body. While many regulatory agencies in Europe and the United States maintain that aspartame poses no potential health risks, many opponents disagree and argue that the sweetener causes health impairments. However, the fact remains that there has been no conclusive or substantial evidence to prove that aspartame is injurious to the health of consumers.
Aspartame is formed by combining two ingredients, aspartic acid and phenylalanine. The two ingredients are naturally occurring amino acids. The body produces aspartic acid while phenylalanine is present in the food we eat. The body breaks down aspartame into aspartic acid, phenylalanine, and methanol. Methanol is toxic in large doses. However, the amount of methanol produced through the breakdown of aspartame is lower than the amount found in many natural foods. But phenylalanine can be harmful to people who have a condition called phenylketonuria. People with the disease are advised to stay away from aspartame to avoid the phenylalanine.
Some of the regulatory bodies saddled with the responsibility of regulating aspartame and other products in its class include the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, WHO, American Heart Association, American Dietetic Association, European Food Safety Authority, among others. All of these agencies have found no cause to ban the use of aspartame in foods. After reviewing over 600 studies on aspartame in 2013, the European Food Safety Authority found no substantial evidence to stop the sale of aspartame. According to the results of the review, aspartame does not pose any safety concerns whether consumed in normal or increased amounts.
Side effects of Aspartame
Aspartame is about 200 times sweeter than sugar, which means only a very small amount is required to make food and drinks sweet, according to the American Cancer Society. The FDA recommends an acceptable daily intake (ADI) of 50mg of aspartame per kg of body weight while the EFSA recommends 30mg of aspartame per kg of body weight. The American Cancer Society says that a 150-pound person will need to consume more than 18 cans of diet soda per day to exceed the FDA ADI or 15 cans to exceed the EFSA daily intake since a can of diet coke has approximately 185 milligrams of aspartame.
While there have been rumours of aspartame causing cancer and many other diseases, regulators disagree.
In 2007, the FDA stated that after carefully reviewing the results of a large number of studies on aspartame’s safety, the agency could not find any negative association between the intake of aspartame and the occurrence of tumours. Also, the EFSA said in 2009 that it’s Panel on Food Additives and Nutrient Sources Added to Food concluded that the available evidence suggests that aspartame has no carcinogenic properties.
Phenylketonuria is a condition where the body is unable to break down phenylalanine, causing the amino acid to build up in the body. People who have this condition must stay away from phenylalanine foods, especially protein-rich foods such as meat, egg, fish, and dairy products. Because phenylalanine is present in aspartame, it can be highly toxic when taken by people with phenylketonuria.
Tardive dyskinesia is suspected to be a side effect of medications used to control schizophrenia and the phenylalanine in aspartame may trigger the symptoms of the condition.
Opponents of aspartame use have also claimed that the sweetener may cause headaches, dizziness, mood changes, digestive problems, diabetes, congenital disabilities, seizures, Parkinson’s disease, lupus, and many others. However, an available body of evidence does not support these claims.
As research continues over the safety of aspartame, opponents continue to clamour for its ban. While there is no substantial evidence linking aspartame to the many health disorders associated with its use, people can still cut down their use of the substance if they feel uncomfortable about it. Check the labels of foods and drinks before buying to know if they contain aspartame. People with phenylketonuria must also be vigilant when buying products that use the artificial sweetener. A warning is usually displayed on the label to inform people who have the condition about the aspartame content of such products.
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