Artificial Sweeteners

  • Author:
    Betty Kovacs, MS, RD

    Betty is a Registered Dietitian who earned her B.S. degree in Food and Nutrition from Marymount College of Fordham University and her M.S. degree in Clinical Nutrition from New York University. She is the Co-Director and Director of nutrition for the New York Obesity Research Center Weight Loss Program.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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Aspartame: What are the pros?

Aspartame was discovered in 1965 by a scientist trying to make new ulcer drugs and approved by the FDA in 1981 for dry uses in tabletop sweeteners, chewing gum, cold breakfast cereals, gelatins, and puddings. It was able to be included in carbonated beverages in 1983. In 1996, the FDA approved its use as a "general purpose sweetener," and it can now be found in more than 6,000 foods.

Aspartame is also known as Nutrasweet, Equal, and Sugar Twin. It does provide calories, but because it is 160 to 220 times sweeter than sucrose, very small amounts are needed for sweetening so the caloric intake is negligible. The FDA has set the acceptable daily intake (ADI) for aspartame at 50 mg/kg of body weight. To determine your ADI, divide your weight in pounds by 2.2 and then multiply it by 50. For example, if you weigh 200 lbs., your weight in kg would be 91 (200 divided by 2.2) and your ADI for aspartame would be 4550 mg (50 x 91). Here is the amount of aspartame in some common foods:

  • 12 oz. diet soda - up to 225 mg of aspartame
  • 8 oz. drink from powder - 100 mg of aspartame
  • 8 oz. yogurt - 80 mg of aspartame
  • 4 oz. gelatin dessert - 80 mg of aspartame
  • ¾ cup of sweetened cereal -- 32 mg of aspartame
  • 1 packet of Equal - 22 mg of aspartame
  • 1 tablet of Equal - 19 mg of aspartame

Aspartame has been approved for use in over 100 countries. An editorial in the British Medical Journal states that the "evidence does not support links between aspartame and cancer, hair loss, depression, dementia, behavioral disturbances, or any of the other conditions appearing in web sites. Agencies such as the Food Standards Agency, European Food Standards Authority, and the Food and Drug Administration have a duty to monitor relations between foodstuffs and health and to commission research when reasonable doubt emerges. Aspartame's safety was convincing to the European Scientific Committee on Food in 1988, but proving negatives is difficult, and it is even harder to persuade vocal sectors of the public whose opinions are fuelled more by anecdote than by evidence. The Food Standards Agency takes public concerns very seriously and thus pressed the European Scientific Committee on Food to conduct a further review, encompassing over 500 reports in 2002. It concluded from biochemical, clinical, and behavioral research that the acceptable daily intake of 40 mg/kg/day of aspartame remained entirely safe -- except for people with phenylketonuria."

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