Today I bought some cough drops that contain aspartame. Because I had a vague recollection of some controversy surrounding the safety of aspartame, I decided to look up some details to see if it was really Satan’s own sweetener. Here’s some of what I learned:
When eaten, aspartame breaks down into phenylalanine, aspartic acid, and methanol.
Phenylalanine – This an essential amino acid that you can buy in pill form at health food stores. It’s found in soybeans, cheese, nuts, and meats. It should be avoided by people with a genetic disorder called phenylketonuria (PKU).
Aspartic acid – Another amino acid; also available as a supplement in health food stores. It’s found in soy, fish, lentils, peanuts, meat, and eggs.
Methanol – This is a wood alcohol. It’s naturally produced in the human body during metabolism. It’s toxic in large enough doses. Fortunately, the amount generated by aspartame is tiny — there is much more methanol in a liter of 100% fruit juice or tomato juice than in a liter of aspartame-sweetened soda pop. Your fear of aspartame should be considerably less than your fear of fruit and tomato juice.
In other words, if you don’t want these three substances in your body, for god’s sake, stop eating nuts and drinking fruit juice! You would have to drink somewhere between 16 and 19 cans of aspartame-sweetened soda in a day to reach the daily limit set by the FDA. Tomato juice is more potent, however, so keep that in mind when you’re guzzling V-8.
The Food and Drug Administration and the European Food Safety Authority have approved aspartame as safe, and the American Cancer Society agrees. By the way, there have been hundreds of studies, so the safety is pretty solidly backed up. And, since there have been hundreds of studies, it would be very suspicious if you didn’t have a few that suggest that it might be unsafe. So if you delve into the research, be smart – look at the whole picture, the cumulative evidence, and look at exactly what the study says and how rigorous it is.
Yet there are scare websites that talk about “aspartame poisoning,” shocking stories about aspartame damage, “aspartame detoxification” programs, and more. But when it comes to down to actual hard evidence that it causes harm, it’s pretty thin. What the heck is wrong with people and their crazy scary stories, anyway?
If a chemical name makes you scared, go ahead and use stevia, even though it’s not as well studied as aspartame. It’s also considered safe if you don’t eat tons of it. But beware, the active ingredients of stevia are chemical compounds, stevioside and rebaudioside. Everything you put in your mouth is a chemical. Your spit is made of chemicals.
A day is coming when we won’t have to eat or breath chemicals, and that is the day after we die.