Aspartame: The “Good” Sweetness or the “Bad” Sweetness?


It is not surprising to come across artificial food sweeteners on most tabletops these days. The reason? A world driven by heightened health awareness! Artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, saccharin, neotame, and sucralose have long ruled the world of diabetics. But they are now increasingly being consumed by the calorie conscious too. Of these artificial sweeteners, aspartame today has become an integral part of weight management regimes that advocate the reduction of calorie intake. Aspartame was discovered way back in 1965, and was approved by the FDA in the early 1980s. It brings two hundred times more sweetness to food than regular sugar, with almost no calories.

However, in spite of extensive research affirming the safety of aspartame, there are several queries which have clouded the minds of consumers about it triggering side effects. That leads us to the question:

Is it safe to regularly consume aspartame as an artificial sweetener?

Much of the panic caused these days about aspartame’s positive and negative effects is seldom supported by a proper understanding of what aspartame is really composed of. Going with the flow of events and allegations, people are often mislead into thinking that aspartame can eventually cause cancer or prove to be fatal. A number of research studies negate this belief.

As per a research study conducted by the National Cancer Institute which entailed ascertaining the cancer rate in more than 500,000 adults concluded that those who consumed aspartame-based beverages did not exhibit a high risk of brain tumors, certain types of cancers, leukemias, and lymphomas as against those who did not consume such beverages.

What validates assurances of aspartame in moderate levels being safe?

For one, the components of aspartame are found even in natural food products that are consumed by human beings. Here’s how: Aspartame essentially comprises methyl ester and amino acids. Amino acids are integral components of proteins. Interestingly, these substances are also present in protein-laden foods such as dairy products, meats, fruits, and vegetables. Methyl esters refer to oleochemicals (plant and animal fat derivatives) which are also naturally occurring components often found in vegetables and fruits.

The breakdown of aspartame in the human body takes place in the intestine into phenylalanine, methanol, and aspartic acid. The presence of methanol, however, is negligible. As per observations and laboratory tests, none of these aforementioned substances are retained in the human body. These are in fact, absorbed, utilized, and dispelled from the human body like any other nutrient.

What do studies say about aspartame?

There is no strong evidence that supports a direct link between the consumption of aspartame and the rising incidence of cancer. However, aspartame may exhibit certain allergic effects in some people (this would depend to a marked extent on the body constitution of the person consuming it), which would perhaps make the consumers more inclined towards natural organic sweeteners such as stevia and agave.

As per investigations carried out by the Food and Drug Administration, it cannot be concluded that aspartame is linked to health problems like seizures, headaches, cognitive and behavioral disorders. The Alzheimer’s Association, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, and the National Parkinson Foundation, have ascertained that aspartame does not pose any serious health negativities to aspartame consumers, thereby dismissing unfounded concerns. Furthermore, the safety of consuming aspartame has been supported by global food safety authorities such as the European Food Safety Authority, the French Food Safety Agency, and the U.K. Food Standards Agency.

The “Aspartame Culture” is here to stay!

The biggest irony today, is that the fast food culture is coupled with the low calorie intake culture, wherein the latter drives the consumption of artificial sweeteners like aspartame. Going by the current scenario, it can be inferred that the “aspartame culture” is here to stay.

Excessive consumption of anything can have adverse effects. The same can be stated for aspartame as well. Hence, the solution lies in moderate consumption, which the human body can effectively respond to and adjust with. The human body as a matter of fact, derives way more harmful components from other food items as well. Aspartame, in most instances, forms a rather small portion of a calorie-conscious person’s dietary structure.

Sanjana Roy
Sanjana Roy is a content writer with Transparency Market Research, a market intelligence firm based in the U.S. While her job profile entails writing on various global industry segments, her area of interest is food and beverages. She is especially interested in exploring trend-setting ideas that will define the food industry of the future, with a focus on health issues, new consumption trends and patterns, and the “food culture” that prevails today.