Food Additives to Avoid – Aspartame

One of the biggest food additives to avoid is Aspartame, (E951) (better known as Equal or Nutrasweet). It’s used in products tagged “diet” or “sugar free”. Aspartame has been linked with cancer and accounts for 75% of reports of harmful reactions compared to other additives. Aspartame is a harmful neurotoxin and carcinogen. Recent research indicates it may even cause us to GAIN weight. The opposite of what we are trying to do. This post is part of our ‘Food Additives to Avoid’ series.

What is Aspartame and why is it one of the food additives to avoid

Aspartame was found in 1965 by scientist James Schlatter when he spilled the compound aspartylphenylalanine-methyl-ester, on his fingers. He didn’t notice until he licked his fingers and they tasted sweet. Aspartame tastes like sugar but is 100-200 times sweeter. It’s made from three elements:

food additives to avoid - image of a bottle of aspartame

  • Phenylalanine (50%) – Phenylalanine is an amino acid used to make excitatory neuro transmitters that energize you and speed up body functions.
  • Aspartic acid (40%) – Aspartic acid is an amino acid also. It is an excitotoxin, meaning it overstimulates your nervous system similar to MSG which is another additive in our food additives to avoid series.
  • Methanol (10%) – When consumed by humans, methanol is metabolized into formaldehyde which is a “known human carcinogen”. Methanol is commonly used to make resin adhesives, paint, disinfectants, and embalming fluid.
  • Aspartame has a strong excitatory effect on the brain that can lead to health problems, including anxiety, depression, dizziness and headaches and cancer. This is one of the main reasons it should be classed as one of the food additives to avoid.

    If you’re a parent, you may recall a test done on your child soon after birth where they jab their foot and put drops of their blood on a little card which they send off for testing. They are testing for phenylketonuria. Any child who has this potentially life threatening disease needs a strict diet that excludes aspartame because they are allergic to phenylalanine.

    Clearly, aspartame is NOT safe. So why is it legal? Because of Sneaky legal tactics.

    In 1973, G.D. Searle Pharma approached the FDA to approve aspartame for use. They tried to prove it was safe with studies that showed daily use, even in high doses, was safe. But the studies were too short term, mostly 1-3 months, and didn’t show the effects of long term use.

    Compare this to cigarettes. If you gave 20 people two packs per day and none had cancer after six weeks, would you consider them safe? Hardly, but in effect this is what Searle did.

    Aspartame was briefly approved for use in dry goods on July 26, 1974. But concern over issues in studies about genetic mutation, public outrage and concerns from Dr. John Olney, who linked aspartame with brain lesions in mice caused the approval to be revoked by the FDA until further studies could be done.

    After a long series of legal and political sparring, the FDA changed its mind and in March 1979 decided to consider Searle’s studies.

    In 1980, the Public Board of Inquiry rejected aspartame pending more studies into aspartame and brain tumors.

    Searle applied for approval again in January 1981. The matter was brought before a panel of six and the result was a tied vote, three for, and three against. Based on this stalemate, FDA commissioner, Arthur Hull Hayes, Jr., approved aspartame for use in dry goods on July 18, 1981. Two years later, it was approved for use in diet soda.

    In 1996 the FDA gave aspartame blanket approval as a “general purpose sweetener,” despite on-going concerns about the side effects of long-term use.

    This is very strange since 75% of all reported adverse reactions to food additives are caused by aspartame.

    The FDA has a list of 92 reactions and side effects related to aspartame including:

    • Death
    • Headaches and migraines
    • Vision loss
    • Seizures
    • Hearing loss
    • Joint pain
    • Fibromyalgia
    • Breathing issues
    • cancer
    • brain tumors
    • Parkinsons disease
    • Alzheimers
    • Lymphoma
    • Diabetes
    • Multiple Schlerosis
    • Chronic Fatigue
    • Depression
    • Anxiety attacks
    • dizziness
    • Nausea
    • Mental Confusion

    To top it off, recent evidence shows that aspartame may not aid in weight loss. In fact, it very likely may have the complete opposite effect!

    The January 1997 issue of the International Journal of Obesity, revealed that aspartame may cause weight gain. Researchers studied a group 14 women split into three groups. One group drank four aspartame-sweetened lemonades per day; one drank four sugar sweetened lemonades per day, and the third group drank carbonated mineral water on three separate days.

    Even such a short study found that the group who drank the aspartame-sweetened lemonade ate more calories the next day compared to those who drank regular lemonade and water. Worse still, most of those calories came from carbs. So much for ‘diet’. It actually stimulated their appetite for the following day.

    If you’re still wondering why aspartame is on the list of food additives to avoid an excellent 90 minute documentary can be found at Sweet Misery (2004)

    Clearly, we should not use aspartame. It’s main purpose is as a low calorie sugar option to help with weight loss but since it doesn’t really help use of this deadly cocktail should be scrapped. It’s one of the worst food additives to avoid for those who don’t want to risk their health.

    So what can we do? We can use stevia instead. This toxin free, sweet herb comes in powder and liquid forms and is the only substance that can be used to replace sugar that improves insulin sensitivity rather than decrease it (i.e. reduce blood sugar levels). Stevia has been used in South America for hundreds of years and definitely does not belong on the list of food additives to avoid.

    If you would like to see the other posts in our ‘food additives to avoid’ series go to this post.

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