Aspartame. What is it and is safe to consume?

There has been a lot of Press recently about aspartame and the potential dangers of it so I thought I would do a bit of research into it to find out a little bit more about it. The reason for me being interested in aspartame is that it is contained in Muller lights and other low fat/sugar foods which I have started to consume since being on my diet and it is also in diet soft drinks such as diet cola etc.

What is Aspartame?
Aspartame is an intense sweetener, approximately 200 times sweeter than sugar, which has been used in soft drinks and other low-calorie or sugar-free foods throughout the world for more than 25 years. It is also referred to as E951.

Safety Evaluations
In the UK Sweeteners and all other food additives are tightly regulated and may only be used once their safety has been rigorously assessed.

Aspartame was first approved in the UK in 1982 following the review of its safety by the UK’s Committee on Toxicity, Consumer Products and the Environment (COT), a committee of independent experts that advises the Government on the safety of food chemicals. This was reaffirmed in 1988 by the European Commission’s former Scientific Committee on Food (SCF).

Following the publication of a number of anecdotal reports, which cast doubt on the safety of this sweetener, the SCF reviewed more than 500 papers published in the scientific literature between 1988 and 2001 on the safety of aspartame, including studies supporting the safety of aspartame and others pointing to potential adverse effects, which concluded, in 2002, that there was no evidence to suggest a need to revise the outcome of their earlier risk assessment or the Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) previously established for aspartame of 40 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day (40 mg/kg bw/day).

A study published by the Ramazzini Foundation in Bologna, Italy, in July 2005 claimed to have shown that rats given dosages of aspartame equivalent to the Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) may develop tumours. EFSA assessed the study and raised a number of concerns regarding it. They concluded, that ‘there is no need to further review the safety of aspartame nor to revise the previously established ADI’.

The Agency supports the conclusions of these reviews and also reiterates that all approvals of food additives should be kept under review as and when new scientific information becomes available. As part of its systematic re-evaluation of all food additives mentioned above, EFSA has started to re-evaluate the safety of Aspartame (see link below for further information). As part of this, EFSA announced a call to all stakeholders requesting the submission of any available documentation on aspartame.

Intake of Aspartame
Like many food additives, the safety assessment for aspartame has led to the setting of an Acceptable Daily Intake, or ADI. This is an estimate of the amount of an additive that could be routinely consumed every day over a lifetime with no appreciable health risk. In the case of aspartame, the ADI is set at 40 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. This is equivalent to 2800 milligrams for an average British adult. For an average 3-year-old child the amount is of the order of 600 milligrams.

The ADI applies to all sections of the population, including children and infants from the age of 12 weeks. The only exception is for people suffering from a rare genetic disease phenylketonuria (PKU) (see below).

It is not necessary, however, for each person to calculate their intake of additives in order to make sure that they keep within the ADI. Indeed, it would be extremely complicated and time-consuming to do so. Instead legislation on food additives specifies the categories of foods in which aspartame can be used and the levels that can be added.

These levels are set after considering food consumption patterns and the likelihood of exceeding the ADI, combined with knowledge of the amount that is actually needed in the food to have the desired sweetening effect. In the case of aspartame, an adult would have to consume 14 cans of a sugar-free drink every day before reaching the ADI, assuming the sweetener was used in the drink at the maximum permitted level. In practice most drinks use aspartame in combination with other sweeteners so that the level is considerably lower.

Labelling
As well as the general requirement for foods to carry a list of food additives and other ingredients, products containing sweeteners such as aspartame must show the statement ‘with sweetener(s)’ on the label close to the main product name.

Foods that contain both sugar and sweetener must carry the statement ‘with sugar and sweetener(s)’. In addition, foods that contain aspartame must be labelled with a warning ‘contains a source of phenylalanine’. This warning is specifically to aid individuals who suffer from phenylketonuria (PKU), so that they can avoid such foods (see above).
Source: The food standards agency

Conclusion
It seems from reading the information above provided by the Food Standards Agency that you need to consume a large amount of aspartame on a daily basis to be at any health risk. However it is concerning that it can cause some types of cancer if a large amount of it is consumed.

My personal conclusion/view is that in my current circumstances I am happy to continue to consume foods containing aspartame but at the same time I will be aware of the amount of it I am consuming. I do not consume 14 cans of diet drink a day (in fact I probably consume about 5 cans of diet drink a week and the maximum amount of Muller light I consume is 3 x pots a day so I know I am not consuming a dangerous amount. It has made me more aware of what foods contain and I will be studying labels more in the future. If I cut out aspartame from my diet I would struggle to find a substitute for it and Muller Light seem to be my comfort blanket at the moment (my chocolate and crisp substitute). Once got used to my lower calorie intake then I will look at other foods that I can consume instead of Muller Lights etc and so avoiding aspartame but for the time being I don’t think I need to panic.

What are your views and opinions on aspartame?The link below will direct you to useful websites with more information on aspartame.
http://www.aspartame.info/links/links.asp

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One thought on “Aspartame. What is it and is safe to consume?

  1. This is really interesting stuff, I always try to avoid it at all costs mainly because I can’t bear the taste it tastes artificial because it is.

    I use Agave Nectar instead of sugar it’s a low GI organic sweetener from a blue webber agave plant. You can use it on fruit, drinks or cereal. It’s seriously sweet so you only need a tiny amount.
    Being low GI it stops sugary highs and lows. And tastes like golden syrup great on porridge!

    I get it from Ocado but is also available in Sainsburys. Check it out at http://www.groovyfood.co.uk

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