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How safe is aspartame

Published by The Nation on Sun, 21 Jul 2019


First and foremost, aspartame is a widely used, low-calorie, artificial sweetener and one of the most popular sugar substitutes in low-calorie food and drinks, including diet sodas. It is also a component of some medications.Aspartame is also available under the brand names NutraSweet and Equal.Despite its extensive use and popularity though, aspartame has become a source of controversy in recent years with several studies claiming the sweetener has adverse side effects.The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved aspartame for use in food and drink back in 1981. Agencies in Europe, Canada, Nigeria and many other countries also approve its use. Furthermore, the following authorities endorse it: World Health Organisation, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, American Heart Association, American Dietetic Association, National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control [NAFDAC].In 2013, theEuropa journal conducted a review of hundreds of studies looking into the effects of aspartame.The EFSA ruled aspartame safe for human consumption and set an Acceptable Daily Intake or ADI of aspartame at 40 milligrams (mg) per kilogramme (kg) ofweight.The EFSAs acceptable daily intake for aspartame is 10 mg lower than the amount the FDA consider safe.However, the amounts set by both the EFSA and the FDA are far lower than most people consume in a day.A can of diet soda, for example, contains only about 190 mg of aspartame. A person would have to consume more than 19 cans of soda to reach the ADI limits. I do not know how many people in Nigeria consume as much as 10 cans of soda in a day.Effects on body weightAspartame contains four caloriesper gram (g), similar to sugar. It is, however, around 200 times sweeter than sugar.This means that only a tiny amount of aspartame is necessary to sweeten foods and drinks. For this reason, people often use it in weight-loss diets.Pros Weight control Aspartame is considered non-nutritive, which means that its calorie content is negligible, hence adds virtually no calories to the diet. It is also 160 to 220 times sweeter than regular sugar hence only a fraction is needed for the desired sweetness. Because of this, aspartame is an attractive option for people who want to prevent weight gain, lose weight, or reduce calorie intake. On the other hand, some studies suggest that consuming this artificial sweetener can lead to weight gain, although the cause remains unknown. Prevention and management of diabetes This sugar substitute, primarily comprises two amino acids (aspartate and phenylalanine), is not a carbohydrate. Therefore, it is unlikely to raise blood sugar levels without sacrificing the sweetness of the food or beverage. This makes aspartame a good substitute to sugar for people with diabetes. Prevention of dental cavities Compared to regular sugar, aspartame does not increase the possibility of tooth decay. Carbohydrate-based sweeteners contribute to bacterial growth in the oral cavity which can lead to tooth decay.ConsAlthough aspartame is approved by the Food and Drug Administration, there are some resources that say it is unsafe for use. Here are some of the controversial dangers of taking aspartame. Conflicting results of studies Studies performed on aspartame provide conflicting results. Furthermore, its approval is shrouded with controversy. Of the 166 studies, 74 studies which were funded by the manufacturers of NutraSweet have found aspartame as safe; while 92 studies which were independently funded found problems with regards to its safety. The FDA affirms those studies that consider aspartame as safe for use. Potential side effects In a book published by H.J. Roberts, MD, it enumerates theside effects of taking aspartame. It cites aspartame products as the cause of about 80 per cent of complaints filed to the FDA about food additives. Some of the possible negative effects of aspartame include abdominal pain, dizziness, vomiting or nausea, change in mood, headache, memory loss, diarrhoea, change in vision, and fatigue. Aside from these symptoms, this sugar substitute is also linked to other health conditions such as certain cancers, fibromyalgia symptoms, unexplained depression, multiple sclerosis, systemic lupus, psychological problems, and joint pain. In response to the increasing public concern, the FDA has reevaluated the safety of aspartame. After thorough studies, the agency reaffirmed its position that aspartame is safe for humans. The debate still continues while more studies are being undertaken. Increased hunger A study suggests that substituting sucrose with aspartame can likely lead to increased hunger. Perhaps, this is due to the lack of calorie of aspartame. On the other hand, a different study shows that aspartame does not change hunger rating. Further study is required to prove this potential side effect. Contraindicated in patients with phenylketonuria (PKU) PKU is a rare genetic disorder wherein the body is not capable of metabolising amino acid, phenylalanine. Since aspartame contains phenylalanine, it is restricted for people with PKU. Aspartame can pose serious risks in people with this rare metabolic disorder.By contrast, acontentof the latest research found no evidence that the low-calorie sweeteners aspartame, sucralose, and stevioside, were effective for weight management.Afull textpublished inTrends in Endocrinology and Metabolismcites several animal studies that report a link between regular intake of non-nutritive sweeteners and increased food intake.Further research on human participants might lead to a better understanding of the link between aspartame consumption and appetite control.Though I am not canvassing support for aspartame, note that the Acceptable Daily Intake [ADI] of aspartame is 40mg per kilogramme of body weight.Meanwhile, a can of diet soda contains only about 190mg of aspartam. A person would need to consume more than 19 cans of soda daily to reach the ADI.Additional reports from Anna Duggett.
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