Chances are high that you have several foods or beverages in your pantry and refrigerator that contain the sweetener aspartame. Approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1981, aspartame can be found in approximately 6,000 foods as an artificial sweetener. Unfortunately, a lot of controversy surrounds the additive, leaving many medical professionals and health food experts alike claiming that aspartame allergy or aspartame toxicity truly exists.
Most of the controversy surrounds the chemicals that aspartame breaks down into when digested, which includes methanol, formaldehyde, formic acid, aspartic acid and phenylalanine. Methanol breaks down into formic acid and formaldehyde and is a carcinogen and some claim, is “neurotoxic.” Aspartic acid has been shown in some studies to cause hormonal disorders, headaches, nausea and anxiety disorders. Those who have PKU, or Phenylketonuria, cannot metabolize the phenylalanine, which may result in toxic levels in the body.
Many of those who believe in an aspartame allergy claim that the additive should have never been approved by the FDA, and have claimed that conflicts of interest interfered with a process that should’ve been based on science, and not profits. FDA officials, after completing an internal investigation, claim that the process was handled correctly, and that there are currently no conclusive scientific studies that prove that aspartame is dangerous to humans.
Although the FDA stands by the safety of aspartame, in 1995, Thomas Wilcox, Epidemiology Branch Chief of the FDA issued a report that 75% of reports of reactions to ingredients in food were due to aspartame from 1981 to 1995. In 1992, the US Air Force recommended against drinking beverages containing aspartame before flying to their pilots.
To date, there are 92 reported symptoms of aspartame allergy, from a variety of sources. While many of these claims are anecdotal, many medical doctors and health professionals have seen cases of aspartame allergy that have been resolved after removing it from the diet.
The difficult aspect of aspartame allergy is that it is not universally accepted by the medical community as even truly existing. Couple this with the fact that people who suffer from aspartame allergy may have dramatically different symptoms, diagnosing the sensitivity may be nearly impossible and more of a process of elimination than any other thing.
The following are common symptoms of aspartame allergy:
- Headaches and Migraines
- Menstrual disorders
- Weight Gain
- Anxiety attacks
The following are diseases that are often mimicked or triggered by aspartame allergy:
- Epstein Barr
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Lyme Disease
- Graves’ Disease
- Restless Leg Syndrome
- Bladder Cancer
- Parkinson’s Disease
It is not known if aspartame allergy is caused by long term use, or can cause reactions with short term use. A person’s sensitivity to aspartame is difficult to determine, and can vary from person to person. Even if you suspect that any medical symptoms you are having are related to an aspartame allergy, you should consult a doctor to rule out illness caused by other disease or factors.
What Are Some Common Side Effects of Aspartame?
Side effects differ from allergic reactions. Side effects are typically mild and disappear after a while. It’s possible to experience unpleasant side effects after consuming aspartame without experiencing an allergic reaction.
Some studies suggest that aspartame can cause severe side effects like seizures. However, mild side effects like dizziness, weight gain, or headaches seem to be more common.
If you notice these side effects after consuming sugar-free products, it might be best to reduce your aspartame intake.
When To Seek Medical Care for an Allergic Reaction to Aspartame
You should go to the ER if you experience a serious allergic reaction. Delaying treatment is a severe mistake that can result in death, especially when a child is experiencing an allergic reaction.
Some symptoms might not seem serious at first, but they will typically progress, and more symptoms will appear if you have a severe reaction to aspartame.
A serious allergic reaction or anaphylaxis can cause you to become unable to breathe. Other common symptoms include hives, itchiness, coughing, fainting, confusion, a drop in blood pressure, heart palpitations, and more.
If you experience any of these symptoms after consuming aspartame, it’s best to seek medical care immediately.
Which Foods Should You Avoid If You’re Allergic to Aspartame?
Staying away from foods that contain aspartame is your best option if you think you have an allergy or food intolerance. However, identifying foods that contain this artificial sweetener can be challenging since it’s extremely common.
You’ll typically find aspartame in diet soda and sugar-free products, including juices, candy, and yogurt. Some brands of gum also use aspartame.
Weight loss products like meal replacement bars or shakes also often use aspartame to introduce a sweet taste without increasing the calorie content.
However, sugar-free products can use other artificial sweeteners that might not trigger an allergic reaction. It’s best to always check the list of ingredients to determine which foods contain aspartame.
You should also know that the FDA recommends consuming up to 50mg of aspartame per kilogram of body weight a day.
In other words, a 180-lbs adult can consume up to 4 kg of aspartame a day or 0.14 oz. However, your tolerance might be lower if you have a food sensitivity or allergy.
Other Reasons To Cut Aspartame From Your Diet
Aspartame is an FDA-approved sweetener, but there is a lot of research that raises questions and suggests this sweetener isn’t a healthy alternative to sugar.
Three separate studies have found a link between cancer and aspartame in rodents. Other studies have found a connection between aspartame and conditions like brain tumors, cardiovascular disease, strokes, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease.
It’s possible that choosing foods with aspartame can help you reduce your caloric intake, but it’s not the only way to lose weight or get your blood sugar levels under control.
Are There Any Benefits to Aspartame?
Aspartame is a popular sweetener because it tastes extremely sweet with few calories. It doesn’t contain any carbs, and it’s a sweetener you can eat without worsening your risk of tooth decay. It can also enhance the flavor of some foods, especially fruity flavors.
Some people report getting good results with weight loss since they’re able to reduce their sugar intake while eating the foods they love. However, some research suggests that aspartame could actually prevent weight loss by blocking enzyme activity.
Alternatives to Aspartame
Is replacing sugar with aspartame really worth it? Aspartame and sugar have a similar calorie content with four calories per gram. However, aspartame tastes much sweeter, which means you can get the same results with a small quantity.
Aspartame can be beneficial for controlling your blood sugar level and reducing your caloric intake while satisfying your sweet tooth.
However, there are other sweeteners to consider. Stevia can be a good option. It comes from Stevia leaves and contains virtually no calories. This sweetener can also help with regulating your blood sugar levels, and there are no studies that suggest harmful side effects or allergic reactions.
Sugar alcohols like erythritol and xylitol can also be a good alternative to aspartame. You can use natural sweeteners like Yacon syrup, monk fruit, honey, or molasses, as well. Options like honey and molasses aren’t ideal for managing diabetes, but they can be a good alternative if your goal is to reduce your caloric intake.