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.


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.