Dr. Gupta Discusses Aspartame Safety on CNN Health

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Last week on his blog “Paging Dr. Gupta”, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta discussed the safety of using aspartame as a sugar substitute. The blog, a part of CNN Health.com, offers expert doctor advice to reader questions.

Aspartame is an artificial, non-caloric sweetener that was first discovered in 1965. It was first approved by the FDA in 1974, but the agency issued a stay on that decision in 1975 until a committee could review its safety. It was finally re-approved in 1981.

Aspartame is marketed under a number of brand names. The most popular are Equal and NutraSweet. It is an ingredient in approximately 6,000 consumer foods and beverages sold worldwide, particularly those marketed for weight loss and diabetics. It is 200 times sweeter than sugar, but contributes no calories to the diet.

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In the US, all food products containing aspartame must clearly identify the ingredient on the label.

Dr. Gupta reports that current evidence does not support the idea that aspartame causes cancer, despite many reports of concern from consumer groups and some scientists. A comprehensive research into aspartame’s safety was conducted in 2007 and the conclusion remains that the product is safe to use in moderation for most people.

The FDA Commissioner, upon approving aspartame, has said that “Few compounds have withstood such detailed testing and repeated, close scrutiny, and the process through which aspartame has gone should provide the public with additional confidence of its safety.”

In addition to the FDA, aspartame has been reviewed by the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) of the Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization, the Scientific Committee on Food of the European commission, and the regulatory bodies of over 100 countries. All determine the ingredient to be safe for consumer use.

Because aspartame contains the amino acid phenylalanine, it must be avoided by people with a rare genetic condition called phenylketonuria, or PKU. The FDA requires the informational statement “Phenylketonurics: Contains Phenylalamine” on the food product label.

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