It is packed in sugar-free chewing gum, low-calorie yogurts and many other diet products. aspartame is a chemical sweetener that promises low-sugar diet, but its side effects are controversial. While critics accuse aspartame of carcinogenic ingredients, experts give the all-clear - despite to be considered side effects.
Aspartame: discovery and approval
Already in 1965 aspartame was discovered by chance by the chemist James L. Schlatter. In search of a remedy for ulcers, he came across the sweetener. This is produced by means of a chemical process and consists of protein building blocks. As a result, aspartame, like sugar, contains four calories per gram. However, the sweetening power of aspartame is about 200 times that of traditional sugar, so far fewer doses of the sweetener are enough to sweeten a food.
Scientists have long disagreed with the compatibility of aspartame, which is why it was only approved in the USA after a long series of tests in 1983 for use in carbonated drinks. Ten years later, the release for other drinks, baked goods and confectionery followed. Since 1996, there are no more restrictions on the use of aspartame in the US.
In Germany, the sweetener was approved in 1990. Since then, studies have repeatedly been published that describe aspartame as a poison and Aspartame side effects attributed to be carcinogenic and harmful.
Aspartame: side effects and studies
Most recently, in 2005, a study by the European Ramazzini Foundation in Bologna caused a sensation. In a long-term study, scientists had fed rats with low doses of aspartame and observed them until their natural death. The researchers found that the animals that ate aspartame were more likely to suffer from lymphoma and leukemia than those who did not receive aspartame. However, this study contradicted numerous other studies that had already refuted the association of aspartame and cancer.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which is responsible for providing scientific advice on risk issues in the food sector in the EU, has also shown no cause for concern following an investigation by an independent body. Aspartame was last evaluated scientifically in 2002 by the Scientific Committee on Food (SCF), which concluded that aspartame is safe for human consumption.
Criticism of aspartame
Critics warn against the three components in which aspartame decomposes after ingestion in the intestine: the two amino acids aspartic acid and phenylalanine and the alcohol methanol. However, the amino acids are also found in many other foods, here even in larger doses. Six times more phenylalanine and 13 times more aspartic acid are in a glass of low-fat milk, for example, than in a glass of Diet Coke sweetened with aspartame.
The poison methanol is also found in many foods such as vegetable juices or fruits. Only in high doses can the components of aspartame and its side effects be harmful to humans. However, the acceptable daily dose of 40 milligrams per kilo body weight would have to be exceeded, which corresponds to about ten doses of Light Cola.
Aspartame: to be used with caution
Although experts give the all-clear, the sweetener - as well as the natural sugar substitute called stevia - should still be consumed with care. Especially for people who live with the inborn metabolic disorder phenylketonuria, aspartame is poison. Since the sweetener contains protein, those affected can suffer as much damage here as they do when they eat milk or eggs. Of the inborn metabolic disease, however, only one in 10,000 people affected.
However, healthy people should not consume aspartame without thinking. After all, as with the sweetener acesulfame, it is a purely chemical product that has nothing to do with a natural diet. In addition, the use of sweetener generally does not necessarily contribute to a lower calorie diet.
Artificial sweetener leads to about 90 minutes after consumption to a ravenous cravings and eating attacks. The sweetener is held by the body for sugar, which leads to a lowering of the glucose level. This creates after a short time the burning desire for more food. This principle is occasionally used also in the animal fattening.
If you want to play it safe, avoid aspartame and always pay attention to the list of ingredients when buying food. There, the sweetener is labeled either as "aspartame" or with the EU standard E number E-951.