Aspartame: Is it Safe as a Sugar Substitute?

By Becky Cannon

Aspartame is a common replacement for sugar that is 200 times sweeter to the taste. However, aspartame has always been subject to controversy because people have reported suffering from adverse effects - so we ask: is it really that safe to use as a sugar substitute?

aspartame

Aspartame is an artificial sweetener that is 200 times sweeter than regular granulated sugar. Only small amounts of it are needed to sweeten the taste of foods. Because of America’s strong obsession with dieting, aspartame is ever prevalent on the supermarket shelves where it is especially high in diet and low-calorie foods. Aspartame has always been subject to controversy because people have reported suffering from adverse effects such as headaches, mood swings, sleep disorders and confusion.

When aspartame is metabolized in the body, it is broken down into three components which include the amino acid phenylalanine, methanol and aspartic acid. People with phenylketonuria (PKU) are missing the enzyme that converts phenylalanine into tyrosine and elevated levels of phenylalanine can be toxic. So, people with PKU should absolutely be cautious of eating foods with aspartame. However, what about the rest of us?

Aspartame has been studied for over 30 years in over 200 studies, where it has been concluded that it is a safe product to use. Animal studies that have shown adverse effects in animals with high intakes of aspartame cannot be realistically compared to humans. This is because the amounts of aspartame those animals were taking are not comparable to actual human intake. It is not possible for a normal human being to eat enough aspartame to increase plasma levels of aspartames metabolites (phenylalanine, methanol and aspartic acid) to those toxic or dangerous levels. However, there are people who are sensitive and have allergic reactions to many products, so they should avoid aspartame if they feel it is causing any type of allergic reaction.

It is also important to note that aspartame is found in a lot of processed and pre-packed foods, which are foods that we should ideally be avoiding anyway. Furthermore, we can just avoid the controversy of aspartame all together by eating a diet that is rich in whole foods including whole grains, fruits and vegetables. These foods are naturally sweet and do not have artificial coloring or added preservatives and are full of nutrients that are beneficial for our health.