I might be kicking a hornet’s nest here, but given the ever-growing aspartame controversy, the scientific facts are becoming more and more difficult to discern.
Aspartame (commonly marketed as Nutrasweet®, or Equal®) is an artificial sweetener that is used in many non-caloric drinks and diet sodas. One of those diet sodas is Diet Pepsi. The aspartame issue once again hit the fan when PepsiCo announced in April that it would discontinue using aspartame for its diet line. What is perhaps most interesting, is that PepsiCo does not believe aspartame is harmful in any way, rather, they are making the adjustment because the public thinks it is. “Aspartame is the number one reason consumers are dropping diet soda,” said Seth Kaufman, vice-president of Pepsi.
Despite the fact that “Aspartame is one of the most exhaustively studied substances in the human food supply, with more than 100 studies supporting its safety,” I have had many patients and friends (not professionals, mind you) dogmatically inform me that aspartame is very unhealthy and despite its non-caloric nature, causes people to gain more weight than regular sugar does.
So is aspartame healthy or not? In the minds of many, it just makes sense that putting some strange and foreign chemical in your body is not healthy. However, and this is extremely important, the reality is that it is not a strange and foreign chemical at all, but rather a combination of two amino acid: phenylalanine and aspartic acid, along with a methyl group. All the controversy surrounds the safety of the methyl group (methanol). According to the American Cancer Society, which deems aspartame safe, a 12 oz can of diet soda contains about 21 mg of methanol, whereas a 12 oz glass of ordinary fruit juice can contain up to 250 mg of methanol.
Despite the availability of the above information, any google search will reveal that many still believe there is a conspiracy cover-up afoot and that aspartame is really poison. If so, it’s a better cover-up than JFK’s assassination with more than 90 countries deeming aspartame safe for human consumption. If some wish to believe there are deleterious effects from this sweetener, it’s not because any consistent studies have shown it. That said, people are free to purchase whatever they want: your body is your own responsibility so do your homework and make the choices you believe are best. For you diet soda drinkers out there, the reformulated Diet Pepsi will start hitting shelves in August. The change will affect all varieties of Diet Pepsi and only applies to the United States market, presumably because we’re the only ones convinced the old formula was unhealthy.
For more information visit the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services site.