Aspartame (Nutrasweet/Equal) is one of the most controversial food products ever produced. Some claim it as an amazing sweetener for those who need to limit their sugar intake, and some claim it as a horrible poison responsible for a multitude of ills. So which is it?
The actual truth of the matter is really quite simple. We’ll start with what it is chemically. Aspartame is a “di-peptide”, or two amino acids bonded together. There are 20 amino acids in our body that are the building blocks of all proteins in humans. (Examples of protein are hair and muscle). Two of these 20 are L-Aspartic acid and L-Phenylalanine. When brought together, they form Aspartame, and it happens to be sweet. So when you ingest Aspartame, you are ingesting two of our normal, naturally occurring amino acids that our body actually needs and uses on a daily basis. This is similar to eating any protein, such as nuts, fish, or corn. Only with most foods, many more amino acids, in the form of “poly-peptides”, are ingested. Your digestive tract recognizes the Aspartame, breaks it down into its basic two amino acids, and metabolizes it just as it would any protein/amino acid. That’s it, and it’s pretty simple and actually, quite natural.
But an unfortunate internet hoax complete with conspiracy theories which began in 1995 has spawned numerous web sites and unfounded reports of all sorts of ills. In addition, several countries have considered banning it, and several supermarket chains in the UK have banned it. This has been done despite the overwhelming scientific evidence of its safety, including approval from over 100 regulatory agencies and extensive scientific studies and scrutiny. In fact, people who swear that Aspartame causes symptoms such as headaches were enrolled in a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. When the participants KNEW they were getting Aspartame, 100% of them got headaches. When they didn’t know if they were getting Aspartame or Placebo (a fake pill), only 35% of participants getting Aspartame got headaches, compared to a rate of 45% headaches with the placebo. In other words, Placebo (fake meds) caused more headaches than the actual study drug!
The bottom line is this: Aspartame is a safe, calorie free product that is composed of two naturally occurring amino acids, broken down as any food is. There is no reason to avoid it, unless you have a rare disorder known as “Phenylketonuria”. If you think it is bad for you, or you don’t care for it then don’t use it. But don’t take away my Diet Coke!!