The Most Studied Low Calorie Sweetener Turns 35 This Year
Robyn Flipse, MS. MA, RDN
Consultant to the Calorie Control Council
The global population is aging at a faster rate than ever before in human history. Right now the number of people throughout the world over the age of 65 makes up 8.5 percent of the total population, or 671 million people, according to International Population Reports. That number is projected to jump to 1,566 million people by 2050, making 16.7 percent of the world’s population over 65 years of age!
If you’re wondering what this has to do with aspartame and other no- and low-calorie sweeteners, there is a connection. Knowing you may live well into your 80s or 90s can provide the motivation for living better now to extend the quality of your life as you get older. That’s where aspartame can help.
Benefits of Aspartame
Since the introduction of aspartame into the food supply in the 1980s as an artificial sweetener 200 times sweeter than sugar, a growing body of research has demonstrated its role in a healthy lifestyle, including help with:
- Weight maintenance
- Weight reduction
- Reduction in the risks associated with obesity
- Diet satisfaction with less added sugars and fewer calories
- Eating a greater variety of healthy foods
- Management of diabetes
Knowing low-calorie sweeteners can support weight management is significant because, along with getting older, the World Health Organization reports we are also getting heavier. In fact, obesity has more than doubled in the global population since 1980. Today overweight and obesity are the leading risk factors for noncommunicable diseases such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some cancers and are now linked to more deaths worldwide than being underweight.
If you want to prevent the chronic diseases that can strip away independence as you age, achieving a healthy body weight is one of the most important steps you can take. Using aspartame in place of sugar can help by providing a sweet taste to foods and beverages with few or no calories. And it can be used by the entire family, not just those trying to lose weight, although any unintended weight loss should always be brought to the attention of your physician.
Aspartame cannot produce weight loss without making other behavior changes, but it can be a valuable tool in maintaining a balanced and satisfying diet — and that can add more healthy and happy years to your life.
Safety of Aspartame
The safety of aspartame has been closely monitored since it was first approved for use as a food additive more than three decades ago.
New research from human and animal studies is continually evaluated to uncover any potential risk to the population based on changing usage patterns and the Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) levels established by food regulatory agencies. The ADI represents a very conservative estimate of the amount of aspartame a person can safely consume every day over a lifetime without risk. In the United States that amount is 50mg/kg body weight per day. For a 150 pound person that would be the amount of aspartame in 17 cans of diet soda or 97 packets of the sweetener. While that is much more than anyone could possibly consume every day over a lifetime, it is reassuring to know they would not be adversely affected even at that high a level.
Food safety experts report aspartame does not cause damage to the genes or induce cancer, does not harm the brain or nervous system, and does not affect behavior or cognitive function in children or adults. They also have found no risk to the developing fetus from its use during pregnancy at the current ADI levels (except in women suffering from PKU).
Regulatory agencies representing more than 90 countries have conducted their own scientific reviews of the research on aspartame and approved it as safe for their populations. This list includes the United States, Canada, the member countries of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), France, Australia, New Zealand and Brazil. In 2013, the EFSA re-issued its Scientific Opinion on the safety of aspartame as a food additive and found no new safety concerns and no reason to revise the ADI of 40mg/kg body weight per day.
It is reassuring to know there is a consensus among so many experts about the safety of aspartame, especially when conflicting reports are in the news. Living well into our nineties is a big enough challenge without having to worry about that!
Robyn Flipse, MS, MA, RDN is a registered dietitian, cultural anthropologist and scientific advisor to the Calorie Control Council, whose 30+ year career includes maintaining a busy nutrition counseling practice, teaching food and nutrition courses at the university level, and authoring 2 popular diet books and numerous articles and blogs on health and fitness. Her ability to make sense out of confusing and sometimes controversial nutrition news has made her a frequent guest on major media outlets, including CNBC, FOX News and USA Today. Her passion is communicating practical nutrition information that empowers people to make the best food decisions they can in their everyday diets. Reach her on Twitter @EverydayRD and check out her blog The Everyday RD.