Are artificial sweeteners dangerous?

If you crave sugar, consuming drinks and foods sweetened by aspartame or another sugar substitute appears to be a bargain. Diet soda, for example, tastes almost like normal soda, but has a negligible number of calories. Aspartame, approved for usage in the US by the FDA, is found in thousands of food items. Yet a quick search on Google for aspartame yields websites claiming aspartame is a poison, responsible for a long list of ailments including headaches, depression, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, and ulcers. Is the consumption of aspartame actually harmful to your health?

Fortunately, the scientific consensus is that aspartame is not harmful. Other artificial sweeteners such as saccharin or sucralose have also provoked controversy but are also recognized as safe at normal intake levels. Though there are a few studies that show a correlation between cancer and aspartame at dosages far above equivalent normal human intake, many more studies contend the opposite. More importantly, longitudinal studies of human subjects have not found links between aspartame and cancer or any of the other supposed ailments or diseases some websites allege.

A molecule of aspartame is simple, composed of a methyl ester of the amino acid, phenylalanine, connected by a peptide bond to another amino acid, aspartic acid. The body metabolizes aspartame into methanol and aforementioned amino acids. However, the amount of methanol produced is not enough to be harmful. But there is one reservation: phenylketonurics, people who cannot metabolize phenylalanine, must avoid products containing aspartame.

Keep in mind that products containing artificial sweeteners are often processed foods, and lack a wealth of nutritional value. That Diet Coke displaces a glass of milk or water. That chewing gum replaces an apple. Although you might not be harming your body by consuming artificial sweeteners, you aren’t helping it either.