We have all heard the plethora of reasons why sugar is bad for you and why you should avoid it.
However, while you should always keep your intake of white sugar to a minimum, eating foods or drinking beverages with aspartame in them to maintain some sweetness may not be the best alternative.
This is because aspartame is a chemical product made up of phenylalanine, aspartic acid, and methanol. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, large amounts of methanol can cause devastating medical issues from headaches to blindness to even death. The good news, consuming products with aspartame will not produce enough methanol to cause any side effects.
Cancer.org states, "the amounts that result from the breakdown of aspartame is lower than with many “natural” foods. For example, drinking a liter of diet soda would lead to consumption of 55 milligrams (mg) of methanol, as compared to as much as 680 mg of methanol from a liter of fruit juice".
Dozens of studies have been completed on the safety of aspartame. Though people report side effects such as headaches, nausea, fatigue, complications in diabetics, heart palpitations and more - studies done to date have not found any evidence this is the case.
Health Canada, European Food Safety Authority and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have determined that aspartame and its breakdown products are safe for general population (including infants, children and pregnant women).
Health Canada has permitted aspartame for use as a food additive in Canada since 1981. Health Canada (similar to the EFSA) has determined the acceptable daily limit for aspartame is 40 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. Considering that a can of Diet Coke contains about 180 mg of aspartame, and the average adult weighs about 70 kilograms (or 154 pounds), a quick mathematical calculation will reveal that you can drink about 16 cans per day without worry. In fact, the EFSA said that aspartame becomes toxic only once you consume 4,000 mg/kg of body weight – or about 1,600 cans of Diet Coke a day.
That is not to say that aspartame is 'good' - it is a synthesized chemical product.
Aspartame should not be consumed by those with the genetic disease phenylketonuria (PKU), those with advanced liver disease, and pregnant women with hyperphenylalanine (high levels of phenylalanine in blood). People with these conditions have problems with aspartame because they cannot effectively metabolize the amino acid phenylalanine, one of aspartame's components. Brain damage can result when high levels of this amino acid appear in body fluids. [source: U.S. Department of Health & Human Services]
Many people use products containing aspartame in an attempt to loose weight. We know that in order to loose weight a person must consume less calories than they burn thereby creating a caloric deficit.
However, an article published by the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine cited several large scale studies which found a positive correlation between artificial sweetener use and weight gain. Experiments have found that a sweet taste, whether delivered by sugar or artificial sweeteners, enhanced human appetite. Foods sweetened with aspartame cause the body to expect the arrival of glucose (sugar) in to the bloodstream. When the body does not receive an increase in glucose levels, it can start to crave sugar, leading to a desire for sweet foods or increased appetite.
If you decide that aspartame isn’t the way to go, you still have to be extra mindful of it when you go grocery shopping. A surprisingly number of everyday food products contain aspartame including yogurt, cookies and soft drinks, so read the labels before you purchase anything.
If you decide to avoid aspartame but want to avoid excessive sugar - there are alternatives. If you are someone who loves to bake, or has a sweet tooth, you can try using natural sweeteners in food, beverages and baked goods, like natural honey, stevia or dried fruits that have their own sweetness.
A good rule of thumb is to avoid any product that has more than five ingredients listed on the package. The less ingredients listed means the less chemicals, additives and preservatives are in the product you are purchasing.