The information below was taken from a presentation by Suheir Khalil, Clinical Dietitician
This article is meant to put your mind at ease about the notorious artificial sweetener Aspartame. I have discussed this substance with health professionals and come to the following conclusions based on scientific facts. I will begin with the definition of Artificial Sweeteners; these are synthetic sugar substitutes derived from naturally occurring substances, including corn, herbs, or sugar. Artificial sweeteners are also known as intense sweeteners because they are many times sweeter than regular sugar. Artificial sweeteners were designed to be a lower calorie alternative to sugar. These substitutes mimic the flavor of sugar but with virtually no caloric energy.
Well-known artificial sweeteners are Aspartame and Saccharine; these low-calorie sweeteners are used to sweeten a variety of low- and reduced-calorie foods and beverages such as diet sodas, chewing gum, powdered soft drinks, candies, gelatins, dessert mixes, puddings and fillings, frozen desserts and yogurt. These include low-calorie tabletop sweeteners such as Tropicana Slim, Sweet n Low, and Equal. Artificial sweeteners are approximately 200 times sweeter than sugar; they taste like sugar, can enhance fruit flavors, save calories and do not contribute to tooth decay.
Believe it or not products sweetened with Aspartame can be useful as part of a healthful diet. Aspartame is composed of amino acids, aspartic acid, phenylalanine, and methyl ester. Amino acids are the building blocks of all proteins. Aspartic acid and phenylalanine are found naturally in protein containing foods, including meats, grains and dairy products. Methyl esters are also found naturally in many foods such as fruits and vegetable and their juices.
The safety of Aspartame has been the subject of several political and medical controversies; there have been Congressional hearings and Internet deceptive claims since its initial approval for use in food products by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1974. These accusations vary from causing hyperactivity in children to causing diseases such as cancer, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s. A 2007 medical review on the subject concluded that due to the weight of existing scientific evidence that indicates that Aspartame is safe at current levels of consumption it is considered a healthy and acceptable non-nutritive sweetener. Aspartame is safe, however only for those who suffer from the genetic condition phenylketonuria (PKU) must avoid it, because its metabolic breakdown produces phenylalanine, which increases the severity of their rare disease.
Over the years many research studies have been conducted to test a number of health effects of varying levels of aspartame; these included ingestion of large amounts that far exceed the acceptable daily intake, on animals and humans. In addition to healthy adults and children, studies also looked at effects on adults and children with diabetes, hyperactive and sugar-sensitive children, and people with Parkinson's disease and depression.
The Expert Panel's evaluation concluded the following:
· Allegations spread via the Internet and the media by a few individuals that aspartame may be associated with a myriad of ailments are not based on science. These have come to be called “urban myths.”
· Aspartame does not cause cancer according to the American Cancer Society, the FDA and the National Cancer Institute.
· There was no increase in brain tumors or any other type of cancer during research.
· When aspartame is digested, the body breaks it down into its components, aspartic acid, phenylalanine and methanol, which are consumed in much greater amounts in common foods, such as milk, meat, dried beans, fruits and vegetables.
· The body handles the components from aspartame in the same way it handles them when derived from other foods.
· Aspartame does not enter the bloodstream and therefore cannot travel to essential organs including the brain. Thus, there is no physiological reason why aspartame could cause cancer.
Rest assured Aspartame is not dangerous to consume. It has been tested for more than three decades, in more than 200 studies, with the same result: Aspartame is safe for use. In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner noted, "Few compounds have withstood such detailed testing and repeated close scrutiny, and the process through which aspartame has gone should provide the public with additional confidence of its safety."