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Artificial Sweeteners, Diet and Weight Loss

August 9, 2011 |

by Dr. James Long

Aspartame – (NutraSweet, Equal, AminoSweet) – It is a Non-saccharide (non-sugar), dipeptide (linkage of two amino acids, aspartic acid and phenylalanine).  It has intense sweetness and provides calories similar to a protein, but with the amounts used to sweeten foods, the caloric value is negligible.

Limits of use:  at high temperatures or high pH, aspartame breaks down.  It is therefore better in more acidic foods and not good for baking.  The half-life of aspartame (amount of time for ½ of the product to breakdown) is 300 days at an acid pH, but only a few days at a neutral pH.  This is why it has been used successfully in the acid environment of sodas.

There are numerous controversies about aspartame although it has passed the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) muster.  The internet is replete with these controversies.   The concern is that the by-products of metabolism or breakdown of aspartame can be toxic.  The by-products of concern are formaldehyde, formic acid and methanol.   Metabolism of aspartame yields Phenylalanine, Methanol, and Aspartic acid.  The methanol (a known nerve toxin) is rapidly converted to formaldehyde (a known carcinogen) and then converted to formic acid which is excreted efficiently by the body in the urine.   The evidence suggests that the amounts of methanol and formaldehyde are too small to have a significant impact on health.  But one study by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) showed that female rats fed high doses of aspartame showed a higher incidence of Lymphomas and leukemias.   This has not been seen in human studies however.

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