Aspartame (L-alpha-aspartyl-L-phenylalanine methyl ester) is a low-calorie sweetener used to sweeten a wide variety of low- and reduced-calorie foods and beverages, including low-calorie tabletop sweeteners. Aspartame is composed of two amino acids, aspartic acid and phenylalanine, as the methyl ester. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Aspartic acid and phenylalanine are also found naturally in protein containing foods, including meats, grains and dairy products. Methyl esters are also found naturally in many foods such as fruits and vegetable and their juices. Upon digestion, aspartame breaks down into three components (aspartic acid, phenylalanine and methanol), which are then absorbed into the blood and used in normal body processes. Neither aspartame nor its components accumulates in the body. These components are used in the body in the same ways as when they are derived from common foods.
Further, the amounts of these components from aspartame are small compared to the amounts from other food sources. For example, a serving of no-fat milk provides about 6 times more phenylalanine and 13 times more aspartic acid compared to an equivalent amount of diet beverage sweetened 100% with aspartame. Likewise, a serving of tomato juice provides about 6 times more methanol compared to an equivalent amount of diet beverage with aspartame.
The overwhelming body of scientific evidence clearly demonstrates that aspartame, even in amounts many times what people typically consume, is safe and not associated with adverse health effects. However, over the years, some consumers have reported symptoms, which they believed were associated with aspartame. The FDA has investigated these allegations and concluded that there is no “reasonable evidence of possible public health harm” and “no consistent or unique patterns of symptoms reported with respect to aspartame that can be causally linked to its use.” In 1984, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reviewed 517 of these anecdotal reports and stated, “the majority of frequently reported symptoms were mild and are symptoms that are common in the general populace” and that ?focused? clinical studies would be the best way to evaluate these complaints.
As a result, numerous scientific studies ?focused? on the allegations were conducted by expert researchers at major academic institutions. The results of these studies overwhelmingly demonstrated that aspartame is not associated with adverse health effects, including headaches, seizures, changes in mood, cognition, or behavior, or allergic reactions.
Despite the overwhelming documentation of aspartame?s safety, unfounded allegations that aspartame is associated with a myriad of ailments, including multiple sclerosis, Parkinson?s disease, Alzheimer?s disease, and lupus, have continued to be spread via the Internet and the media by a few individuals who have no documented scientific or medical expertise. Recently, several governments and expert scientific committees (including the Scientific Committee on Food of the European Commission, the United Kingdom?s Food Standards Agency, the French Food Safety Agency and Health Canada) carefully evaluated the Internet allegations and found them to be false, reconfirming the safety of aspartame. In addition, leading health authorities, such as the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation, The National Multiple Sclerosis Society, The National Parkinson Foundation, Inc., the Alzheimer?s Association, and the Lupus Foundation of America, have reviewed the claims on the Internet and also concluded that they are false.
Aspartame has established itself as an important component in many low-calorie, sugar-free foods and beverages and is primarily responsible for the growth over the last two decades in the sugar-free market. The safety of aspartame has been affirmed by the U.S. FDA 26 times in the past 23 years.
Currently, aspartame is consumed by over 200 million people around the world and is found in more than 6,000 products including carbonated soft drinks, powdered soft drinks, chewing gum, confections, gelatins, dessert mixes, puddings and fillings, frozen desserts, yogurt, tabletop sweeteners, and some pharmaceuticals such as vitamins and sugar-free cough drops. In the United States, all food ingredients, including aspartame, must be listed in the ingredient statement on the food label.
Several tabletop sweeteners containing aspartame as the sweetening ingredient can be used in a wide variety of recipes. However, in some recipes requiring lengthy heating or baking, a loss of sweetness may occur; this is not a safety issue - simply the product may not be as sweet as desired. Therefore, it is best to use tabletop sweeteners with aspartame in specially designed recipes available from the manufacturers of these tabletop sweeteners. Aspartame tabletop sweeteners may also be added to some recipes at the end of heating to maintain sweetness.
The BENEFITS of Aspartame and Low-Calorie Sweeteners
Low-calorie sweeteners provide consumers with many benefits, both psychological and physiological. Health professionals and consumers believe low-calorie sweeteners are effective for the following purposes: weight maintenance, weight reduction, management of diabetes, reduction of dental caries, and reduction in the risks associated with obesity.
For more than 163 million adult Americans, low-calorie sweeteners offer a means to enjoy good-tasting foods and beverages without the calories. Research shows that consumers of low-calorie, sugar-free foods and beverages have incorporated these products into an overall healthy lifestyle. Staying in better overall health is rated as the number one reason for using low-calorie products. For many low-calorie product consumers, staying in better overall health includes achieving and maintaining a proper weight.
People use low-calorie foods and beverages for many reasons other than dieting. Seventy-three percent of low-calorie product consumers are not on a diet. For these people, “calorie consciousness” does not mean a commitment to weight control or weight reduction. Instead, these “non-dieters” use low-calorie products as part of a healthy lifestyle.
Allegations have been made that the benefits of low-calorie sweeteners are not well documented. In fact, scientific evidence supports the benefits of low-calorie sweeteners, particularly regarding weight control. The role of low-calorie sweeteners in weight control can be summarized as follows:
For many, low-calorie sweeteners offer a means to control caloric intake, allowing the substitution of low-calorie foods and beverages for their higher calorie counterparts. The increased availability of good-tasting, low-calorie products has made “calorie juggling” a popular method for maintaining weight.
Health professionals agree that the key to losing weight is to burn more calories than are consumed, either by increasing physical activity or consuming fewer calories – or preferably, both. As part of a sensible weight-control program, low-calorie sweeteners can help consumers reduce caloric intake and therefore help them lose weight.
Low-calorie sweeteners provide weight-conscious individuals with a greater variety of food and beverage choices in their diets. Also, low-calorie foods and beverages are easily incorporated into a lifelong, sensible weight-control program.
“Successful” weight reduction – losing weight and keeping it off – involves many factors, such as eating habits (including a balanced diet, eaten in moderation), exercise and long-term commitment. Allegations that one component of a person’s diet, in this case low-calorie sweeteners, is responsible for weight-loss failure cannot be supported, especially when other dietary and lifestyle factors are not controlled. In fact, the majority of those who use low-calorie sweeteners to lose or maintain weight do not rely solely on these products.
Though low-calorie foods and beverages can play a key role in successful weight loss, they cannot be held responsible for weight-loss failure. The ultimate success of any weight-loss program depends on the individual – not any particular product.
Human and animal evidence exists which supports the effectiveness of low-calorie sweeteners in controlling caloric intake.
Opinion research has revealed that the vast majority of U.S. health professionals judge a low-calorie sweetener to be of benefit for weight control.
Claims by some that low-calorie sweeteners cause people to gain weight are essentially speculation and are not well founded scientifically. In fact, scientific evidence points to the opposite conclusion. Speculation that low-calorie sweeteners make people eat more has been generally contradicted by laboratory and clinical studies. Additionally, extensive clinical research shows that low-calorie sweetener use does not result in increased caloric intake or lead to weight gain.
In any discussion of low-calorie sweeteners and their role in weight control, it is important to note that these sweeteners are not drugs designed for the purpose of weight reduction. There are no miraculous weight loss claims made in the marketing of these products, as they are tools that can be used as part of an overall healthy diet.
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