Aspartame is an artificial sweetener that has been around since the 1960s. You can find it commercially sold as Equal® or NutraSweet®. Phenylalanine and aspartic acid, two amino acids which are the foundation for proteins in the body, come together to create aspartame. It is used as a substitute for sugar either to reduce the calories in popular foods and beverages or for diabetics who must limit their intake of sugar. It’s much sweeter than sugar and only a small amount is needed to act as an effective sweetener.
Where is Aspartame Found?
You can buy aspartame by itself. It is typically sold in single serving packets that can be added to your beverages or food, although it can be sold in larger amounts to be used for cooking. Otherwise, it is already added to many diet or low-sugar products that are available in stores.
Diet sodas are one of the most popular beverages that contain aspartame. It’s important to understand that aspartame will break down with heat. Therefore, it is not an ideal substitute for recipes that require high temperatures.
When you eat or drink anything that contains aspartame, it will break down into aspartic acid and phenylalanine, as well as methanol. Methanol can be a concern as too much of it is toxic to your system.
The amount of methanol that you typically consume from foods and beverages that contain aspartame is not dangerous in itself. However, if you take in a large amount on a daily basis, along with other foods that contain methanol, it could lead to health problems. If someone has phenylketonuria, they should avoid aspartame because it contains phenylalanine.
The Food and Drug Administration has rated it as a safe product. As an added note, there have been no studies that link aspartame with any other major health issues. It is only a problem for those with Phenylketonuria because they cannot break down phenylalanine in their bodies, which can lead to serious problems.
Should Aspartame Be Avoided?
There is no proof that aspartame is dangerous to a person’s health, except for if they cannot have increased amounts of phenylalanine in their system. Some experts suggest that using an artificial sweetener will only make a person crave more foods and beverages that are sweet, prompting them to eat more. The result may be weight gain rather than losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight.
If your patients are like many others, they may choose aspartame because they are trying to be wise about what they eat. In the same way that sugar should be consumed in moderation, use the same rule of thumb with aspartame.