Does Aspartame Pose Any Real Health Risks?

Aspartame, a compound comprising aspartic acid and phenylalanine (two amino acids), is an artificial sweetener that’s commonly used in diet soft drinks and various sugar-free foods. Over the years, aspartame has been accused of causing all sorts of health problems, from brain tumours to allergies to multiple sclerosis.

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Why the bad rap? Simply put, when aspartame is metabolized, it turns into methanol. While it’s true that methanol is a highly toxic substance, it’s only dangerous with prolonged exposure to enormous doses. Aspartame produces only a tiny amount of methanol, which is quickly eliminated by the body. Furthermore, various fruits and vegetables also produce methanol — for instance, when a cup of tomato juice is digested, it creates about six times more of the chemical than a cup of diet pop.

According to both Health Canada and the World Health Organization (WHO), aspartame — which has been approved for use in more than 90 countries, including France, Canada, the U.S. and New Zealand — is completely harmless. The only people who should closely monitor their intake are those who have phenylketonuria, a rare disease that hinders the body’s ability to metabolize phenylalanine.

Finally, Health Canada has placed the acceptable daily intake (ADI) — the maximal quantity that a person can ingest each day without any health risks — at 40 milligrams of aspartame per kilogram of body weight. This amounts to roughly 10 cans of diet pop a day for the average adult. Surveys have demonstrated that Canadians’ aspartame consumption is far below the ADI.