Aspartame is a chemical used in artificial sweeteners like “Equal” and “NutraSweet” sweeteners. These sweeteners may be added to foods or it can also be found in many diet drinks and low-calorie foods.
Although these products have been available for decades, there is still a lot of controversy regarding the safety of aspartame. Aspartame was approved for use in the U.S. in 1974 and despite the myriad of diseases and conditions attributed to the consumption of aspartame, no evidence has been produced to prove this association. In fact, the FDA claims that aspartame is one of the most studied and scrutinized food additives ever evaluated by that agency. So why does the controversy continue?
Conspiracy theories, political pressure, and faulty research are a just a few reasons why this is still a problem today.
Recently, a report published by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) regarding the safety of aspartame indicated that the study undertaken by the agency was the most comprehensive ever undertaken. All the scientific information on aspartame, involving published and unpublished reports from animal and human studies, was considered.
What the assessment revealed that there was no evidence that aspartame could cause cancer or that its consumption could harm the brain of adults, children, or cause any mental or cognitive problems. In the United States, the National Cancer Institute has also proclaimed that there is no evidence linking the use of aspartame with cancer development in humans.
The product assessment also indicated that the chemicals which compose aspartame (phenylalanine, methanol, aspartic acid) could not harm any human during its metabolism except people suffering from phenylketonuria, a rare genetic disease. The EFSA also could find no evidence that aspartame could cause any harm to a fetus or newborn.
In my opinion, the use of aspartame is considered safe as far as human risk is concerned, but from a personal perspective, it tastes terrible. This product is also not very suitable for cooking as the rather bitter after-taste of aspartame cannot be masked.
I have no problems consuming sweeteners in moderation but I much prefer sucralose (Splenda) as an alternative to aspartame. It tastes like sugar and you can use it in baking without the unpleasant taste associated to aspartame.
Broyd, N., “Artificial Sweetener Aspartame Deemed Safe by EU Agency,” Medscape December 11,2013; http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/817687, last accessed December 16, 2013.
“Aspartame Controversy;” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aspartame_controversy, last accessed Dec. 16, 2013.