Aspartame found safe for human consumption
Consumers who love aspartame can heave a sigh of relief now that the artificial sweetener, also sold under the brand "Equal", has been deemed safe for human consumption by a panel for the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
According to Dr. Alicja Mortensen, who chairs the EFSA Panel on Food Additives and Nutrient Sources Added to Foods, the opinion that aspartame is safe at levels approved for human consumption was based on one of the most rigorous and comprehensive studies ever on the sugar-free substitute.
Dr. Mortensen said that the panel’s conclusion is "a step forward in strengthening consumer confidence” as it pertains to food safety and the regulation of food additives.
As an artificial sweetener that contains no saccharine, aspartame is about 200 times sweeter than regular sugar. It has been used all over the world as an additive to sweeten food and beverages for over a quarter of a century.
From diet sodas and sugar-free desserts to yogurt and ice cream, aspartame can be found in a wide range of foods, including chewing gum and diabetic candy.
In foods and drinks containing aspartame, a person would have to consume large quantities each and every day over the course of their entire lifetime to exceed current acceptable daily intake (ADI) levels.
However, aspartame is not safe for everyone, especially those with phenylketonuria (PKU), which is a serious metabolic disorder.
Although PKU affects only around .01 percent of the population, it is an inherited disorder that can cause major brain damage if left untreated.
The reason aspartame is unsafe for those with PKU is because it contains amino acid phenylalanine, which their bodies are unable to metabolize. Therefore, if a person with PKU consumes aspartame, the artificial sweetener builds up in their bodies over time, resulting in dangerous levels that can be especially toxic for a developing fetus in the womb of a mother with PKU.
Accordingly, warning labels that aspartame is unsafe for those with PKU are now required on the packaging of the products containing it in most countries around the globe.
For the remainder of the population, however, the EFSA panel concluded that aspartame is safe for human consumption, despite previous studies suggesting the food additive may cause cancer after a study published in 2005 claimed aspartame caused cancer in rats that were given amounts equivalent to humans.
Nevertheless, the panel concluded that aspartame is safe at acceptable levels, and that the artificial sweetener does not harm the brain or the nervous system, nor does it have any effect on the mental status or behavior of humans – both adults and children alike.
"The contribution of breakdown products of aspartame to the overall dietary exposure to these substances is low," concluded the EFSA in a press statement.
SOURCE: Scientific Opinion on the re-evaluation of aspartame (E 951) as a food additive; EFSA Panel on Food Additives and Nutrient Sources added to Food (ANS); EFSA Journal 10 December 2013, 11 (12):3496; DOI: 10.2903/j.efsa.2013.3496.