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Aspartame is Safe!

Fitness for mind and body.

Any weight-conscious consumer will frequently encounter the sweetener aspartame as a sugar substitute. Beyond dieters, controlling sugar intake can be vital for people with or at risk for diabetes. So it's natural to consider the safety of an ingredient found in a growing array of foods and beverages, from low-calorie desserts to breakfast cereals.

Government agencies, health organizations and respected centers of science have been involved in these studies. Their conclusions are remarkably uniform -- aspartame poses no health risks to the general population.

Rigorous Study

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reports that it has reviewed over 100 toxicological and clinical studies on aspartame. That's a worldwide point of view. Also pronouncing aspartame safe are the European Union's Scientific Committee for Food; the United Nations' Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives; the World Health Organization; and many, many more (some are listed at end of this article.)

In all, more than 90 countries have approved aspartame.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Clinical Research Center has studied whether aspartame consumption leads to any physical and psychological effects different from the effects of sugar or a placebo.

The conclusion:

Even large amounts of aspartame -- much more than consumers typically take in during a day -- showed no adverse impact on the health and well being of people in the study.

Experts agree that a small group of people with a rare hereditary condition called phenylketonuria (PKU) should restrict or avoid the ingestion of the amino acid phenylalanine, which is found in aspartame. This recommendation covers all sources of this common amino acid, which includes many foods that have no aspartame. The incidence of PKU is estimated at 1 in 16,000 among Americans. PKU can be detected by a blood test at birth, which is routinely administered to newborn babies in the U.S. It would be exceedingly rare for someone to have this disease and not be aware of it from birth.

Sweet Without the Sugar

When it comes to adding sweetness, just a little aspartame goes a long way A 12-ounce serving of diet Coke has less than one calorie, yet still provides a satisfying sweet taste. That's because aspartame is about 180 times sweeter than sugar. So calorie-conscious consumers can indulge their sweet tooth without disrupting their diet.

Many use aspartame to comply with a doctor's order to limit their carbohydrate intake. The American Diabetes Association has said that it considers aspartame to be an acceptable sugar substitute and a safe part of a diabetic meal plan.

Metabolic Action

Protein foods The name "aspartame" might sound a little exotic, but the main ingredients are two common dietary components known as amino acids. One is phenylalanine, mentioned above, and the other is aspartic acid. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins and therefore play an essential role in nutrition for people of all ages. The two amino acids found in aspartame occur naturally in a number of meats, grains and dairy products. For example, eight ounces of milk will contain over 400 mg of phenylalanine, and 3 ounces of chicken will have more than 1,000 mg. In comparison, eight ounces of diet Coke will contain only 62 mg.

In recent years unfounded rumors have been spawned and spread, mainly through anonymous Internet messages, that wrongly associate aspartame with various health conditions.

If methanol is mentioned as a culprit, note that in large doses it is toxic however, the small amount present in aspartame and a number of other foods, such as tomatoes and oranges, is easily metabolized by the body without any problems. Many of the foods we safely eat all the time contain small amounts of naturally occurring substances, like methanol, that in much larger amounts would not be safe.

The real danger is in the rumors themselves. They can cause consumers needlessly to forego the health benefits and enjoyment of foods and beverages that meet their requirements for reduced sugar and calorie consumption. They also cause needless worry and confusion, and provide incorrect health information to many in the greatest need of accurate information.

Numerous health organizations have published statements supporting the safety of aspartame. Information about aspartame safety can be found on the websites of many of these organizations.

Here are just a few of those organizations:

  • American Heart Association
  • European Food Information Council
  • International Food Information Council
  • Mayo Clinic
  • United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
  • Aspartame Resource
  • Aspartame-Experts.com -- Aspartame has been proven safe through extensive study in animals and humans for more than two decades. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner, upon approving aspartame, 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."

UPDATE: No Change in FDA Position Following Aspartame Study
08-07-2007: A new study on the low-calorie sweetener aspartame, conducted by the European Ramazzini Foundation (ERF) in Bologna, Italy, was published in June in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. The study, which has been widely critiqued by both government and academic experts, attempts to draw a link between consumption of aspartame and certain types of cancer. This study is ERFs second study on aspartame and, like the first study, was conducted on rats. The FDA and European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) dismissed the first study based on their assessment of the partial data provided, as well as the results of several previous studies that have negated a link between aspartame and cancer. Regarding this second study, the FDA has indicated that it will review the data; however, it reasserted its position following the release of the study, stating, "At this time, FDA finds no reason to alter its previous conclusion that aspartame is safe as a general purpose sweetener in food."

UPDATE: EN Reports in January 2009 edition:
The evidence seems quite clear that small amounts of aspartame (NutraSweet) are not harmful. A comprehensive review of more than 500 reports and studies concluded that the ubiquitous sweetener is safe, dismissing earlier worries linking it to cancer, neurological damage and other health problems like enlarged prostate.

April, 2010: Officials still report no danger in use of aspartame.

2011 Update: Dr. Gupta reports that current evidence does not support the idea that aspartame causes cancer, despite many reports of concern from consumer groups and some scientists. ...the conclusion remains that the product is safe to use in moderation for most people.

2012 Final word. The FDA Commissioner, upon approving aspartame, has said that "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."

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