- Aspartame can be found in breakfast cereals.
- Stevia has been touted as the new best artifical sweetener because it is naturally derived from a plant.
- The number of children consuming low-calorie sweeteners jumped 200% between 1999 and 2012.
Aspartame is one of the most controversial food additives. The artificial sweetener, originally sold as Nutrasweet, was first approved for use in food products in th early 1980s and is now found in more than 6,000 products like diet soda, reduced-calorie fruit juice, and sugar-free items like ice cream, gum, yogurt, and candy.
It is 200 times sweeter than sugar, so only a very small amount is necessary to add a sweet kick to "diet" foods and beverages.
Food authorities like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, World Health Organization, and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency consider aspartame to be safe. In order to exceed the FDA's recommended daily intake of aspartame, a person would have to consume more than 18 cans of diet soda in 24 hours.
However, although not scienifically confirmed, some have called out aspartame for causing cancer, weight gain, headaches, and seizures, as well as affecting mental function. Studies have been done to prove or debunk these claims, though the jury is still out in many cases.
5. Claim: It causes cancer
It's become one of the most common assertations about the effects of aspartame, but to-date scientists worldwide have found virtually no links between the consumption of the artificial sweetener and cancer or brain tumours. Some animal studies performed at the European Rmazzi Foundation suggested it may cause cancer, but have been ridiculed by others in the science community for using poor methods and conducting tests irrelevant to humans. Overall, evidence of aspartame leading to tumours in humans is inconclusive and not likely a real threat.
4. Claim: It causes weight gain
Aspartame is intended to sweeten foods without a major impact on the waistline, hus its use in so-called "diet" foods. But some claim is actually has the opposite effect. In fact, some reviews and studies have indicated aspartame and other low-calorie sweeteners aren't effective for weight loss and some have reported an increased body weight, body mass index, and waist circumference with regular intake. Some theories pose artificial sweeteners fool the body because it no longer expects caloric intake in response to sweet taste, so the body may not be prepared to handle sugars properly and this could have a negative impact on metabolism and even result in glucose intolerance, a risk factor for type 2 diabetes.
3. Claim: It causes headaches
Many anecdotal reports of headaches cause by aspartame have circulated blogs and social media channels for some time, and as a result several studies have put those claims to the test. For the most part, scientists have found no link between aspartame consumption and headaches. One study did note digesting aspartame increased how often people suffered from headache, but gave no indication of how long the headaches would last or their severity. However, because these results varied widely from person to person, the results were deemed unreliable.
2. Claim: It causes seizures
Generally, science disputes the argument that aspartame causes seizures. Clinical studies have been performed by medical researchers, and no links have been confirmed between the sweetener and instances of seizure. One study in particular was conducted on adults and children who had claimed to experience seizures after consuming asparame. The subjects were given a large single dose of aspartame some days and a placebo on other days, and were monitored by EEG, which revealed seizures were no more likely with aspartame as they were after consuming the placebo.
1. Claim: It affects mental function
Aspartame critics have long questioned the dangers of its metabolites, or the chemicals produced within the body when it digests the artificial sweetener. These metabolites are methanol and phenylaline. Over time, methanol can produce formaldehyde, but it has been proven the body actually produces 1,000 times the amount of formaldehyde naturally than one could consume through aspartame alone. The body's formaldehyde helps make important proteins and then transforms into formic acid, which is expelled through urine and poses no threat.
The more concerning metabolite is phenylaline, according to critics of aspartame, who claim it can seep into the brain and cause depression. However, scientific evidence shows milk contains eight times the amount of phenylaline than aspartame and the amount found in the sugar substitute is not concerning.