Everyone has an opinion on what you should or should not eat when you are pregnant, it seems. Recently, a man at the grocery store told me I should not buy a certain light yogurt since “it contains aspartame which is toxic for the baby, you know”. I tried to pleasantly smile and show him where it says on the front of the package that the yogurt contains no aspartame. This made me stop and think more about aspartame.
Aspartame is a very common artificial sweetener. Commercially, it is known as Nutrasweet and Equal. It can be found in some sugar free products as well. It is not found in products that have been heated to a high temperature however, since it is not very heat stable.
Aspartame is about 200 times sweeter than regular sugar. It is made by combining two amino acids – aspartic acid and phenylalanine. When we eat aspartame, it is broken down to these two amino acids and methanol. The amino acids are clearly safe to have in our bodies, unless you have a special medical condition. Methanol can be toxic in high amounts, but the amount generated in the breakdown in the regular consumption of aspartame is less than the amount of methanol created by digesting some natural foods.
Research to this point has not shown any adverse health effects from consuming aspartame, although it has been accused of causing cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, ADD, and many other issues. While research is ongoing, it is considered safe to consume in moderation.
The FDA has a set a recommended upper limit for consuming aspartame at 50 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. Few people would ever consume that much. For example, a 200 lb person could consumer over 4500 mg of aspartame in a day. That would be 23 cans of diet soda or 129 packets of tabletop sweetener. Hopefully, you can see there are health consequences of consuming those amounts of these products beyond any concerns about aspartame.
What is my opinion? I don’t like putting a lot of fake ingredients into my body, for sure. However, I also know there are detrimental effects of consuming excessive sugar – such as excessive weight gain which can lead to diabetes and a multitude of other health problems. I drink diet soda, on the rare occasions I drink soda. I also see the benefit of sugar free products for those with diabetes. As always, I think moderation is key.