Aspartame. Sweet or Poison after all?

1 min reading time

What is aspartame?

Aspartame is a sweetener made from the union of two amino acids, aspartic acid and phenylalanine, and a small amount of methanol.

It is used as a substitute for sugar and is included in many foods and drinks (soft drinks, desserts, sweets, chewing gum, yogurts, etc.). It has the same caloric value as sugar, (4 calories/gram), but it is about 200 times sweeter than sugar. That is why a minimum amount is required to impart the same sweetness to a food or drink. This fact means that essentially the amount used has no calories and is thus characterized as "non-caloric".

It is classified as a food additive under European food legislation and has the number E951.

Can anyone consume aspartame?

People who suffer from a rare inherited disease called phenylketonuria (PKU) as these people have a reduced ability to metabolize phenylalanine should control their intake of phenylalanine from any source, including aspartame. EU legislation requires that all products containing aspartame as a sweetener must state that aspartame is a source of phenylalanine so that the consumer is aware.

Is it safe to consume?

The scientists of EFSA (European Food Safety Authority), as well as the Committee on Carcinogenicity of Chemical Additives in Great Britain have evaluated many scientific studies and data concerning aspartame and confirm that its intake is safe and non-carcinogenic when consumed within the permitted limits.

The concern about the possible carcinogenic effect of aspartame has arisen from some limited number of studies in experimental animals (mice), but given very large amounts of aspartame.

The permissible intake limit is 40mg/kg body weight for Europe and 50mg/kg body weight for the USA. These limits apply to healthy adults and diabetics. Consider that this quantity corresponds to 15 cans of light soft drinks or more than 50 aspartame sweetener tablets.

Experts point out that children, as developing organisms, as well as pregnant women, are not recommended to consume light products with artificial sweeteners. After all, there are no studies on the basis of which it is recommended that children and pregnant women take aspartame.

Stelina Vassiliadis

Dietitian-Nutritionist, MSc Medical School, University of Glasgow

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