Aspartame: Five Surprising Facts You Never Knew About This Chemical Sweetener

You’ve surely heard of aspartame. In our restaurants and in our homes, it’s a controversial ingredient that some shrug their shoulders at, others angrily defend, and many wholeheartedly oppose.

In America’s war against obesity, consumers have become more than just health conscious; they are demanding low-calorie alternatives to their favourite foods to ensure they don’t pack on the pounds even when choosing to indulge. The market’s desire for these products has grown exponentially, making it more and more acceptable for restaurants and brands to offer lower calorie meal and drink options, and for people to take advantage of them, too.

Aspartame is one of the biggest artificial sweeteners on the ingredients list of diet drinks and sugar packets like NutraSweet and Equal to allow people to essentially have their cake and eat it too. But, paradoxically, amidst this war against obesity and the introduction of low-calorie alternatives is rising a massive concern that these sugar substitutes may be damaging our health. Zevia Zero Calorie Sod... Buy New $24.99 (as of 08:15 EDT - Details)

The biggest hurdle that seems to keep people from understanding aspartame is the FDA’s approval of it as a safe sugar alternative. However, the truth about aspartame is so much more than this acceptance. From how it first gained market approval to how it affects the body and the brain, it’s important to uncover the truth to help you rethink including it in your diet.

Here are five things everyone should know about aspartame:

1. The body converts aspartame into formaldehyde, which is a cancer-causing chemical.

In a world struck by cancer at every turn, it is important we continue to understand what is causing its rise in the first place. This chemical sweetener is among the list. When consumed, aspartame, a dipeptide molecule produced by joining phenylalanine and aspartic acid, is completely broken down by the enzymes in the digestive system into the two amino acids and a type of alcohol known as methanol, which eventually converts in the body into formaldehyde. Alone, aspartic acid, phenylalanine, and methanol are toxic to the body, and together they become even more so. Formaldehyde is so widely known to cause bodily harm that even the EPA has classified it as a “probable human carcinogen,” while various studies have concluded this, too.

The methanol in aspartame, for instance, is not accompanied by ethanol like it is of alcoholic beverages and many fruits and vegetables. The problem with this is that ethanol serves to protect against methanol poisoning, so when you consume aspartame, you are no longer being shielded from methanol’s harms to the body, which includes embalming living tissues and damaging DNA. Research has even found that it can cause lymphoma, leukemia, and other forms of cancer.

2. Aspartame leads to obesity and metabolic syndrome.

People often turn to diet drinks and sugar alternatives because they have been taught that sugar causes weight gain. But worse than sugar, a number of scientific studies have discovered that aspartame promotes weight gain unrelated to caloric intake, and is even more damaging to the body than consuming good old sugar is. One study compared it to sucrose and concluded that aspartame is worse in terms of causing weight gain. And another study discovered that aspartame modifies the body’s natural production of hormones, resulting in increased appetite and sugar cravings. Research also suggests that aspartame worsens insulin sensitivity, which is bad news for diabetics.

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