What is aspartame?
Aspartame (or APM, E951) is an artificial sweetener, composed of 50% Phenylalanine, 40% aspartic acid and 10% methyl alcohol . Phenylalanine and aspartic acid are important amino acids and can be consumed naturally by the human body, but the high concentration of these elements within aspartame's formation makes for a much more arduous task. A relatively new man-made additive, it got discovered by accident in 1965 in the US by Dr. James M. Schlatter for science-lab based organisation G. D. Searle & Co. whilst he was aiming to create a drug to prevent ulcers.
How did aspartame get into the food industry?
In 1980, the US department, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) denied a petition by G. D. Searle & Co. for aspartame to be approved and included in food stuffs. CEO and President of G. D. Searle & Co. from 1977-1985 was none other than Donald Rumsfeld; whom after his tenure there became a part of US President Ronald Reagan's transitional administration. Upon being appointed into office; Rumsfeld abused his position by promoting acquaintance Arthur Hull Hayes from Commissioner to Head of the FDA, and subsequently gave aspartame approval for usage in food.
Soon after getting the green light, the advertising aspect for aspartame-inclusive products went into overdrive; with its unique selling point being that it's the ideal alternative to sugar in all of your favourite drinks. From teas and coffes to soft drinks, you can have sweet drinks without the calories and weight-gaining attributes sugar can give. All hail that which is aspartame!
Ajinomoto is currently the largest manufacturer of aspartame, whom bought its APM business from GMO-food (Genetically MOdified food) giants Monsanto in 2000 for $67M. Aspartame has various brand names, such as NutraSweet, Equal and Candarel. Ajinomoto is currently rolling out products under the newly added brand of AminoSweet.
Pro's/Con's of aspartame
- Aspartame has virtually no calories. This aspect really appeals to the health-conscious that are interested in having a very nutritious eating lifestyle.
- Approximately 200 times sweeter than sugar, aspartame appears to a be an abundantly tasty substitute to sugar.
- Great substitute for those suffering from diabetes - they can enjoy foods with a sweet taste without having to worry about affecting sugar level intake [on the surface, that is - see Con #1].
- Where sugar is stored as fat deposits for energy reserves and can be burned through movement (i.e. exercise) - aspartame is stored within the tissues of the body and remains in place for a much longer time. Aspartame simultaneously slows down the sugar/fat burning process, thus often causing a build up of fat in the body.
- Whilst in the body, the methyl alcohol in aspartame turns into formaldehyde - which is well-known for its embalming (preserving) of dead bodies. Known for being carcinogenic (a product that can greatly increase the chance of getting cancer), formaldehyde is also linked to other nervous-system diseases such as leukemia and lymphoma.
- High levels of phenylalanine and aspartic acid within aspartame can seriously lower dopamine production levels, an important substance in brain function. The neurocerebral disease Parkinson's is associated with the breakdown of a fully working brain that's lacking in essential substances like dopamine.
So; what food products contain aspartame?
Featuring in excess of 6,000 food products, aspartame can be found in an ever-increasing spectrum of items. Initially heavily promoted and connoted with all that is "sugar-free", its now being slowly infiltrated into regular sugar-included foodstuffs too. One can find aspartame in soft drinks and sodas, juices, instant coffees, teas, frozen desserts, yoghurts, cereals, chewing gum and breath mints to name just a few various examples. Some countries even offer it as a table condiment in cafés and restaurants.
Here's a small insight into the kinds of items that have aspartame in them - you migh recognise some of them...
(for an extensive list of products that have aspartame in them; please check out the Supersweet blog, FoodEssentials and Boycott Aspartame .)
Next time you're doing your grocery shopping, have a look to see if "aspartame" or “Phenylketonurics: Contains a source of Phenylalanine” is labelled on some of your favourite foods and drinks. Having now being informed about what this sugar-substitute can do to your body, is having that sweet taste really worth the risk?