Sugar Tax – The Truth About Aspartame

What Is Aspartame?

Aspartame is an artificial sweetener that is 200x sweeter than sugar. This synthetic chemical consists of the amino acids phenylalanine, and aspartic acid. Methyl esters are added which gives it a sweet taste. 

When aspartame is consumed it is broken down to form the 2 amino acids aspartic acid and phenylalanine, which are absorbed and enter our body. The phenylalanine is released in the gut to form methanol. Methanol is also absorbed by the body and is used to produce energy.

Since this sweetener was introduced in 1974 there has been a growing number of concerns about its health effects, yet it is still considered as being safe by the food authorities and manufacturers. However, all the scientific studies to date have shown that the breakdown of aspartame in the gut is very quick and that it is safe to consume.

Typically Aspartame was used in drinks because it is low in calories but can also be found in a large number of other products labelled as having no added sugar or diet including Snacks, Yoghurts, Chewing gum, Condiments, and cooking sauces.

Recommended Intake

Europe  Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) for Aspartame is 40 mg per kilo of body weight. 

For a person weighing 70 kg, this equals 2800 mg of Aspartame, so if an average can of Diet Coke contains 180 mg of Aspartame an adult would have to consume 15 cans (or 5.1 litres) of Diet Coke daily over a lifetime before reaching the ADI

USA  Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) for Aspartame is 50 mg per kilo of body weight.

For a person weighing 68 kg, this equals 3,400 mg of Aspartame which would mean a person would have to consume more than 95 individual packets of Aspartame daily over a lifetime before reaching the ADI

How the Sugar Tax has Affected the use of Sweeteners

The sugar tax was introduced in April 2018 as part of the government’s childhood obesity strategy. The aim was to try and persuade companies to reformulate their high sugar brands and to avoid paying the levy of 24p for drinks containing 8g of sugar per 100ml and 18p for those with 5-8g of sugar payable directly to HMRC.

The sugar tax has forced these manufacturers to replace the sugar in drinks with artificial sweeteners such as Aspartame, Sucralose, and Acesulfame-k. 

The sugar content is now reduced but at what cost to the consumers?

Sugar is harmful if overused yes but do we really know what the extent of using these chemicals long term is? 

Health Claims

It is claimed that the use of Aspartame can cause negative side effects including:

Cancer, Seizures. Headaches, ADHD (Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), Dizzy spells, Weight gain, and Birth defects 

However, there is not much evidence to support these claims.

Aspartame should be avoided by anyone with Phenylketonuria (PKU) which is a rare genetic condition that causes an amino acid called phenylalanine to build up in the body. 

What the Research Claims

Aspartame accounts for over 75% of the adverse reactions to food additives reported to the FDA.

Prof Millstone, a University of Sussex expert on food chemical safety says “Our analysis of the evidence shows that, if the benchmarks the panel used to evaluate the results of reassuring studies had been consistently used to evaluate the results of studies that provided evidence that aspartame may be unsafe then they would have been obliged to conclude there was sufficient evidence to indicate aspartame is not acceptably safe.” 

(Read more here)

Despite its widespread use, aspartame remains one of the most controversial food additives (Magnuson, 2010). Although some researchers have proposed that aspartame metabolites are responsible for adverse effects, such as headache, compromised memory, mood changes, and depression, others have not identified adverse effects of Aspartame consumption.

Michael Lean, and Catherine Hankey state wrote an article about Aspartame and its effects on health and give this artificial sweetener a clean bill of health, “However, it seems they have ignored or dismissed a wealth of evidence, which shows that aspartame can provoke a wide range of symptoms such as headaches and depression” according to Walton RG, Hudak R, Green-Waite RJ from Biol Psychiatry.

(Read the full article here)

It may sound like a healthy switch, but sometimes people who drink diet soft drinks put on more weight and develop chronic disorders like diabetes. 

(Full article found here)

Food manufacturers claim sweeteners help prevent tooth decay, control blood sugar levels and reduce our calorie intake, but they still increase appetite and can cause weight gain.

My Conclusion

Plant-based sweeteners and natural sugars are always going to be healthier and if used in moderation are the key to a successful healthy life.

There needs to be a lot more research into Aspartame with the results shared with the public as we just don’t know enough about this sweetener and what the long-term effects of using it are.

If you are looking for alternatives to sweeteners and sugar then why not use:

Manuka honey, Fresh fruit juices, or Agave nectar.

(All in moderation of course)

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