Aspartame - Sweet enough without?
There are low calorie versions of many foods in the supermarkets, and low-calorie drinks and yoghurts are especially very common. But maybe you should be checking what sweetener is used in place of sugar. Whilst too much sugar is unhealthy, at least it is clear what it is. Low-calorie artificial sweeteners are just that: artificial.
There has been concern about the use of the artificial sweetener Aspartame for some time. This stems from its components: phenylalanine (50%), aspartate (40%) and methanol (10%).
These three chemicals may affect the function of nerves in the body. The consumption of Aspartame has been reported to cause neurological and behavioural disturbances in people who are sensitive to it.
Phenylalanine and aspartate can influence the regulation of chemicals that transmit messages through nerves. Methanol is converted in the body to formic acid, which can either be excreted or give rise to formaldehyde, and a number of other highly toxic derivatives.
A recent study looked at the direct and indirect effects of aspartame on the brain cells. This research suggested that ingesting high levels of aspartame could be implicated in the development of certain mental disorders and in compromised learning and emotional functioning.
The researchers highlighted that aspartame disturbs amino acid metabolism, protein structure and metabolism, integrity of DNA material, the function of neurons, the balance of hormones and affects brain levels of important neurotransmitters.
Although Aspartame is licensed for use in food, this research and other material suggestion to me that much uncertainty surrounds this ingredient. For this reason, I recommend looking for alternatives that do not contain Aspartame. The list of ingredients may not mention Aspartame, but if it is in the food, the food must be labeled “contains a source of phenylalanine”, so avoid these foods too. If there isn’t a version with no Aspartame, then look for another type of food to serve the purpose. For instance,
- Coke contains aspartame, as do many other fizzy drinks and squashes
For a diet drink – mix 1/3 pure fruit juice with 2/3 still or sparkling water.
- Canderel and NutraSweet contain aspartame
- Try fructose or Xylitol instead (available from health food shops or on-line)
- Some of the cheaper diet yoghurts contain aspartame – buy natural yoghurt and stir in fresh fruit puree to sweeten.
- Some cold and flu remedies contain Aspartame. Choose ones that don’t.
- Some chewing gum contains Aspartame – eat an apple!
- Jellies and other desserts often contain Aspartame. Try making your own with gelatine and fruit juice.
Humphries et al. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2008) 62: 451-462