Chances are you have consumed the sweetener aspartame without even knowing it. As the most widely used non-nutritive sweetener in the world, aspartame, sold as NutraSweet or Equal, can be found in thousands of foods, personal care products, and pharmaceuticals.
Though aspartame has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, many nutritionists and others believe it to be far from safe. In fact, the FDA has received more complaints about adverse reactions from the artificial sweetener than for all other food additives combined.
While the FDA admits it has received thousands of complaints about aspartame, they also note that only one percent of those who experience a reaction to a product ever report it. In other words, millions of people may have experienced headaches, mental confusion, seizures, depression and even blindness and brain cancer, as well as gastrointestinal symptoms related to aspartame without reporting it.
Is it really hazardous to our health?
Some researchers say ingesting aspartame is much like drinking a “formaldehyde cocktail.” When the sweetener breaks down inside the body, it is absorbed as methanol. Methanol can spontaneously break down to formaldehyde, which can accumulate in your cells and cause health problems. Formaldehyde, which is used in paint remover and embalming fluid, is a poison several thousand times more potent than ethyl alcohol.
Formaldehyde creates the waste product formate. An accumulation of formate in your body can cause excessive acidity in your blood, which can result in blindness, fatal kidney damage, multiple organ system failure, and death.
And if it doesn’t maim or kill you, says researchers aspartame may still make you fat. The two main ingredients in aspartame, phenylalanine and aspartic acid, stimulate the release of insulin and leptin. These are the hormones that tell your body to store fat.
Do studies prove it to be safe?
But the supporters of aspartame say that the sweetener has been tested for more than three decades in more than 200 studies by more than 90 countries and found to be safe for human consumption. In fact, when the FDA commissioner approved aspartame, he noted: “Few compounds have withstood such detailed testing and repeated, close scrutiny, and the process through which aspartame has gone should provide the public with additional confidence of its safety.”
Whether to use aspartame or not is a decision you have to make for yourself. If you’re concerned about using artificial sweeteners, but you are also concerned about losing weight or want to cut back on sugar, it may be best to stay with natural sweeteners such as raw honey or maple syrup, or try a natural low-calorie sweetener such as Stevie, which has been safely used for more than 400 years as a food additive according to the American Herbal Products Association.
Learning to live without sugar or sugar substitutes may be the better way to solve the sweetener dilemma.