Among artificial sweeteners, one of the most common and controversial is aspartame. This zero-calorie sweetener, typically used in a number of foods and beverages as a sugar substitute, has been the subject of intense scrutiny in recent years. There is a multitude of reasons for this, many of which should give you pause for thought the next time you reach for a can of sugar-free Coke.
Aspartame has been linked to all kinds of health conditions
Weight gain: Although aspartame is said to curb cravings, it actually does anything but. Numerous studies have pointed to aspartame actually increasing waist circumference and weight. The science behind isn’t totally clear yet, but several theories have been put forward. One possibility is that the sweetness tricks your body into expecting a set number of calories to come with the taste. The confusion results in your body responding through fluctuations in your weight. Another theory suggests that aspartame negatively impacts gut flora composition, in turn changing how your body stockpiles fat. Yet another theory states that this may be due to aspartame making it difficult for you to control your appetite. Whatever the exact mechanism, aspartame won’t be doing your waistline any favors.
Diabetes: On top of causing weight gain, aspartame also puts you at higher risk of diabetes. This isn’t just caused by the additional weight but also by the effects on your gut flora. Unbalancing the ratio of good-to-bad gut bacteria causes inflammation and encourages glucose intolerance. Additionally, another bodily response brought on by the aforementioned confusion is that your body produces way too much insulin.
Cancer:As per Care2.com, aspartame is a “multipotential carcinogenic agent,” or substance that encourages the growth of many kinds of cancer. In an experiment where rats were given the equivalent of four to five bottles of diet soda a day, the animals developed cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma. Dr. Morando Soffritti, the researcher behind this shocking experiment, stated that the cancer was the result of methanol production. When broken down, the methanol turns into the carcinogen formaldehyde. Even low doses of aspartame can increase the chances of this occurring.
Aspartame is made from genetically modified bacteria
Or, to be more precise, the fecal matter of genetically modified Escherichia coli. According to GreenMedInfo.com, creating aspartame involves feeding and cultivating cloned E. coli until the required byproduct is excreted. This byproduct, proteins containing aspartic acid-phenylalanine amino acid segments, is treated with methanol or wood alcohol before being debenzylated. Essentially, every time you take a swig of diet soda or drizzle on sugar-free ketchup, you’re exposing yourself to GMOs. (Related: Aspartame withdrawal and side effects explained - Here's how to protect yourself)
How can I avoid aspartame?
One easy way to tell if a product contains aspartame is to look at the label. If a food product touts itself as being “sugar-free,” then it has aspartame. You should also make it a point to check the ingredients list, as smart manufacturers will include aspartame under names like “NutraSweet.” Some products that usually have aspartame in them are:
Yogurt and yogurt drinks
Meal replacement bars and shakes
Additionally, you can also turn to natural alternatives to sweeten your meals. Raw honey and maple syrup are popular choices, though coconut sugar has been steadily rising in popularity too. For a truly healthy and fresh sweetener, simply purée your favorite fruits.