There are numerous on-going discussions on the aspartame side effects and whether it is safe for human consumption or not. Aspartame is a very popular artificial sweetener in current times that is about 200 times sweeter than regular sugar, sucrose. This is why you only need to use a small amount of this “chemical” to sweeten your food or beverages. It is usually marketed under brand names like Equal and NutraSweet.
Aspartame is a combination of two amino acids (L-aspartic acid and L-phenylalanine). Upon ingestion, it breaks down into aspartic acid, phenylalanine, methanol, formaldehyde, and formic acid. While the aspartic acid and phenylalanine are amino acids that are not that harmful to the body, it is the last three components that we need to be concerned about as the methanol molecule that is then transformed into products like formaldehyde that is believed to be a cancer-causing agent.
The Aspartame Controversy
There is however many confusion related to this debate as healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables contain methanol. As per Wikipedia, methanol consumed in large quantities metabolizes to form a formic acid that could lead to blindness, coma and death but scientist say that in small amounts, there are no harms associated with methanol. Further, as per the American Cancer Society, the amounts of methanol that results from the breakdown of aspartame is less than those found in other natural foods such as fruit juices.
However, based on separate studies carried out, aspartame has been associated with increased risks of cancer although this issue has been heavily debated since some scientists and even the FDA have stated that the methods used in the research are flawed. As such, the conclusion at this stage remains unclear.
Nevertheless, the American Cancer Society has recommended that people who have a condition called phenylketonuria (PKU) should restrict the use of aspartame. PKU is a rare genetic disorder in which the body can’t break down phenylalanine properly. If the levels of phenylalanine are left to build up in the blood, it could prevent important chemicals (like amino acids) from getting to the brain and could cause children with PKU to have abnormal brain development.
Since aspartame contains phenylalanine, it should be avoided by people with PKU. Products containing aspartame are usually labeled as “containing phenylalanine”.
Aspartame Side Effects
Over the years, many websites and independent reports have reported various side effects of consuming aspartame besides cancer. I have listed some of them below for your reference:
Products with Aspartame
As people start to be more health-conscious, the tendency to opt for low-sugar or sugar-free foods has become more popular. If you are not already aware, it is important to note that most products with the label “sugar-free” normally means that the product manufacturers have used an artificial sweetener instead of real sugar.
Artifical sweeteners are present in a variety of processed and packaged food. Below are some examples of items containing aspartame:
Sugar-free ice cream
Sugar-free fruit jam
Sugar-free bottled fruit juices
Is aspartame a safe sugar substitute?
The questions often asked of aspartame or sugar substitutes are “How safe are sugar substitute?” and “What are the long-term effects of using it?”
It is claimed that due to the high level of obesity in USA due to the increased consumption of sugary food, the benefits of using sugar substitutes are apparent. However, there are also proponents that argue that the effects are not proven and the consumption of this artificial “chemical” may prove to be more detrimental to your health in the long run.
Some have even claimed that consuming aspartame is worse than consuming regular sugar as sugar substitutes actually cause you to gain more weight since they are not natural and your body does not know how to process their elements. The debate continues and the conclusion remains uncertain so why should you take the risk of consuming this non-natural product?
I believe our taste buds can adjust and adapt over time, so it is a good idea to train yourself to consume less sugar or have no processed sugar at all. The daily food we consume provides us enough sugar to carry out our day-to-day activities and there is no value to adding more teaspoons of sugar to your food or beverage throughout the day.
I stayed off processed sugar and artificial sweeteners many years ago and prefer to natural sweetness from fresh fruit juices. Besides being healthier doing so, I feel my coffee and tea today taste so much better without sugar.
There is no point in taking the unnecessary risks when the conclusion on sugar substitutes is uncertain at this point. You can make the right decision for your health by choosing to stay as natural as possible with what you consume on a daily basis to avoid any aspartame side effects.