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People who are watching their calories may be happy that they eat only those food items which are labeled as sugar free. But often they are completely unaware of the fact that the food which they think as safe for their health is loaded with aspartame.

Labels can be misleading. The manufacturers of so called “sugar free food items” often fail to mention on the labels that to maintain the sweet taste of the substance, they have replaced the sugar with aspartame.  There have been so many reports about the hazards of consuming aspartame that, given a choice, most of the people would like to avoid it. But, more often than not, these people are taken for a ride. The manufacturers fail to mention on the labels the amount of aspartame the food product contains.

Aspartame is a food additive and comes under the class of “Artificial Sweeteners.” It is used as a non-nutritive sugar substitute. This implies that the calorific value of aspartame, when used as a sweetener, is almost negligible. It is said to be 200 times sweeter than sugar. It was approved for use by the FDA in 1981 and at present, it is used in over 6000 products.

Because of its sweet taste and almost zero calorie content, it seems to be a perfect sugar substitute for people on a diet. However, studies done in the recent past have shown that aspartame is associated with a horde of side effects including migraine, tumors, and even cancer.

In fact, the U.S. FDA has come out with a list of 92 symptoms which can be attributed to aspartame.

Yet, no re-investigation into its toxicity has been ordered by any major food regulatory body anywhere in the world.

Aspartame is sold under the brand name of NutraSweet and Equal. Its marketing agents say that it is completely natural and made up of two amino-acids, namely phenylalanine and aspartic acid. However, they fail to mention that these amino-acids are held together by a methyl ester bond which forms 10% of the molecule. Aspartame dissociates within 20 minutes, when kept at room temperature, releasing phenylalanine, aspartic acid and methanol. Methanol can cross the blood brain barrier and there it is further broken down to form formaldehyde and formic acid, both of which are toxic metabolites.

Methanol can damage myelin, the protective material around the nerves leading to demyelinating symptoms, commonly seen in diseases like multiple sclerosis. It can also lead to migraines with inconsistent visual field disruptions. Formaldehyde, the major by-product of methanol, is immensely neurotoxic and acts as a carcinogen. All other animals can detoxify methanol before it can cause any damage to the body. But humans lack the requisite enzymes to do so. Once absorbed, methanol gets accumulated in the body because of its slow rate of excretion.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the maximum dose of methanol should not exceed 7.8 mg/day. 

However, using diet sodas and soft drinks containing aspartame to replace the fluid loss taking place during exercise or physical exertion, can result in an intake of methanol amounting to 250 mg/day. This is almost 32 times the recommended dose.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • “Gain weight by “going diet?” Artificial sweeteners and the neurobiology of sugar cravings”, by Qing Yang, published online June 2010 in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, accessed on November 26, 2012.
  • “Life-span exposure to low doses of aspartame beginning during prenatal life increases cancer effects in rats”, by Soffritti M, published in the September 2007 issue of Environmental Health Perspectives, accessed on November 26, 2012.
  • “Consumption of artificial sweetener- and sugar-containing soda and risk of lymphoma and leukemia in men and women”, by Schernhammer ES, et al
  • published in the December 2012 issue of American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, accessed on November 26, 2012.
  • Photo courtesy of Andrew Morrell by Flickr : www.flickr.com/photos/andrewmorrell/3891410208/
  • Photo courtesy of stevensnodgrass on Flickr: www.flickr.com/photos/stevensnodgrass/5608101779