The Spin on Aspartame

Aspartame is an artificial, non-saccharide sweetener used as a sugar substitute in some foods and beverages. In the European Union, it is codified as E951. Aspartame is a methyl ester of the aspartic acid/phenylalanine dipeptide.

Aspartame is one of the most common artificial sweeteners in use today. It is sold under the brand names NutraSweet® and Equal®. Aspartame is made by joining together the amino acids aspartic acid and phenylalanine. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins and are found naturally in many foods.

Aspartame is used in many foods and beverages because it is about 200 times sweeter than sugar, so much less of it can be used to give the same level of sweetness. This, in turn, lowers the calories in the food or beverage.

Sugar has become an inseparable part of the manufacture of processed foods. Manufacturers spend hours on research and development to find just the right combination of sugar, fat and salt in their products to increase the taste value and potential addiction to their foods. This is called the bliss point.


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Claims have been made that aspartame is related to health effects ranging from mild problems such as headache, dizziness, digestive symptoms, and changes in mood, to more serious health issues such as Alzheimer disease, birth defects, diabetes, Gulf War syndrome, attention deficit disorders, Parkinson disease, lupus.

However, aspartame’s tainted history of approval and potentially toxic ingredients cast serious doubt on the safety of this sugar substitute.

While the FDA approval may signal the green light for safe consumption, 85 percent of all complaints registered with the FDA are for adverse reactions to aspartame, including five reported deaths.

A closer look at the unscientific studies, suspicious approval methods, and its harmful ingredients, reveal the hidden dangers of this artificial sweetener. In reality, aspartame poses a public health threat.

Aspartame has been extremely controversial since its approval for use by several European countries in the 1980s. A 1996 report suggested a link between aspartame and an increase in the number of diagnosed brain tumours. However, the study had very little scientific basis and later studies showed that aspartame was in fact safe to consume.

According to the American Cancer Society, aspartame is approximately 200 times sweeter than sugar. So only a very small amount is needed to give food and beverages a sweet flavor. The acceptable daily intake (ADI) recommendations are:

  • FDA: 50 milligrams per kilogram of body weight
  • EFSA: 40 milligrams per kilogram of body weight

Still, the Food and Drug Administration insists aspartame is safe.

In February the agency’s Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee reiterated its stance, although it mentioned a “possible association” between aspartame and the risk of some blood cancers, such as non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

Some effects, such as a dose-dependent effect on renal tumors, are specific to rats and do not translate to humans. Other studies are plagued by significant flaws, such as properly calculating doses (a big issue when trying to extrapolate doses from rats to humans). And still others show flat effects without a dose response curve, suggesting that a confounding factor, and not aspartame, is responsible for any observed increase in tumors.

So how do you know if a product contains aspartame?

Some of the products that contain aspartame are:

  • Sugar-free ice cream.
  • Iced tea.
  • Jams and jellies.
  • Ice cream toppings.
  • Fruit spreads.
  • Sugar-free ketchup.
  • Sugar-free cookies.

Read labels prior to purchasing children’s vitamins on the retail shelves, many of which have ‘quietly’ switched to aspartame and acesulfame K (another name for aspartame).

Also, beware of baby foods and yogurts which contain may aspartame. Be a label reader! If you find a company that does add it, let them know you are aware of this. Please consider making your own baby food, so you know what’s really in it.

The phenylalanine and methanol components increase the dopamine levels in the brain and cause a certain high. This further creates an addiction that is only made worse by the release of methyl alcohol or methanol, which is considered a narcotic. Keeping this in mind, it’s time we reconsider the “health benefits” aspartame is supposed to give.

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