Aspartame – sweet poison?

It’s in sugar-free  chewing gum , low-calorie yoghurt and numerous other diet products. Aspartame  is a chemical sweetener that promises a low-sugar diet, but its side effects are controversial. While critics accuse aspartame of carcinogenic ingredients, experts give the all-clear – despite the side effects to be considered.

Aspartame: discovery and approval

Aspartame was discovered by accident in 1965 by the chemist James L. Schlatter. In search of a remedy for ulcers, he came across the sweetener. This is created with the help of a chemical process and consists of protein building blocks. This means that aspartame, like sugar, contains four calories per gram. However, the sweetening power of aspartame is around 200 times that of conventional sugar, which is why much smaller doses of the sweetener are sufficient to sweeten food.

Scientists have long disagreed about the safety of aspartame, which is why it was only approved for use in carbonated beverages in the United States in 1983 after a long series of tests. Approval for other beverages, baked goods and confectionery followed ten years later. Since 1996 there have been no restrictions on the use of aspartame in the USA.

The sweetener was approved in Germany in 1990. Since then, studies have repeatedly been published that describe aspartame as a poison and  attribute side effects to aspartame  that are said 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 fed rats small doses of aspartame and observed them until they died of natural causes. The researchers found that the animals that had eaten aspartame were more likely to  develop lymph node cancer  and  leukemia  than those that were not fed aspartame. However, this study contradicted numerous other studies that had already disproved the connection between aspartame and cancer.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which is responsible for scientific advice on risk issues in the food sector in the EU, also found no reason for concern after an investigation by an independent committee. Aspartame was last scientifically assessed in detail in 2002 by the Scientific Committee for Food (SCF), which came to the conclusion that aspartame is safe for human consumption.

Criticism and aspartame

Critics warn of the three components into which aspartame breaks down after absorption 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, sometimes even in larger doses. For example, a glass of low-fat  milk  has six times more phenylalanine and 13 times more aspartic acid than a glass of Diet Coke sweetened with aspartame.

The poison methanol is also found in numerous foods such as vegetable juices or fruit. The components of aspartame and their side effects can only be harmful to humans in high doses. To do this, however, the acceptable daily dose of 40 milligrams per kilogram of body weight would have to be exceeded, which corresponds to around ten cans of light cola.

Aspartame: Use with caution

Even if experts give the all-clear, the sweetener – like the natural  sugar substitute  called stevia – should still be consumed with caution. Aspartame is poison, especially for people who live with the congenital metabolic disease phenylketonuria. Since the sweetener  contains protein  , those affected can suffer just as serious damage as when consuming milk or  eggs . However, only one in 10,000 people is affected by the congenital metabolic disease.

However, even healthy people should not consume aspartame thoughtlessly. After all, like the sweetener acesulfame, this is a purely chemical product that has nothing to do with natural nutrition. In addition, the use of sweeteners in general does not necessarily contribute to a reduced-calorie diet.

Artificial sweeteners lead to unbridled  cravings  and binge eating about 90 minutes after consumption. The sweetener is mistaken for sugar by the body, which leads to a drop in glucose levels. This creates a burning desire for more food after a short time. This principle is also occasionally used in animal fattening.

If you want to be on the safe side, you should 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 uniform EU E number E-951.

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