Aspartame: Safety in Numbers

Jamie Oliver recently shared his idea of labelling high sugar foods with the number of tea-spoons of sugar contained in a drink to allow parents to make better decisions on their children’s behalf when deciding what to provide as an occasional treat. He estimates Ribena to have a shocking 13 tea spoons in half a litre bottle, just behind regular Pepsi with a staggering 14 in half a litre.

The risks of a high sugar diet are well established. They include an increased risk of diabetes, obesity and heart-disease. Whilst the public is divided on legal reforms surrounding the taxation of high sugar foods, Jamie can only be commended for increasing public awareness in this area. Whilst responses are largely positive, some are worried and greatly highlight the need for a better standard of nutritional education. One Facebook user didn’t disapprove per se about Jamie’s efforts but expressed an issue critical in her mind “I want them to inform people of the dangers of false sugars like aspartame! Promoting diet drinks to children in the way they do is dangerous”. This would perhaps not be so worrying if it hadn’t garnered 543 seals of approval, in the form of Facebook ‘likes’ from those presumably interested in their children’s nutrition.

However it is not just that a number of Facebook users hold this view, the lack of education about Aspartame is endemic: students have the university have been told by their tutor that aspartame is harmful. Furthermore certain mathematics students, who trained to solve problems of the highest complexity, biology students educated in the relevant fields, at the University of Nottingham have taken the harmful properties of this sweetener on hearsay. Unlike the science behind it, the companies who utilise this product do pander to our collective misinformation; in 2007 Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer’s announced they would stop using aspartame in their own label products. In April of this year Pepsi also buckled under the pressure that has aggregated around this controversial product.

What are the facts about Aspartame? 

It is a compound that is formed from the combination of the amino acids L-aspartic acid, Phenylalanine with a methyl ester added to it. There’s no obvious reason this should be harmful, amino acids are extremely important as they are what make up all the proteins in our body, they are in all the fruit, vegetables and meat that we eat. It’s about 200 times sweeter than sugar (meaning you need 200 times less to get the same taste), and containing only about 4kcal (colloquially described as calories) per gram, it seems like a great way to get sweet tasting food without any of the health risks. However, its benefits are no guarantee of its safety, and in science the final arbiter is observation and experimentation. In 1965, the sweet quality Aspartame was discovered by accident by James M.Schattler who licked his finger during an experiment, it was patented and in 1993, after 28 years it was approved for use in carbonated drinks and baking goods. In 1994 it gained EU wide approval, in 1996, a full 31 years after the accidental discovery the FDA (U.S Food and Drug Administration) lifted all restrictions on what food it could be used in. These 31 years involved numerous studies, some convened by the company, others by independent bodies including the CDC; a Public Board of Inquiry (PBOI) was convened by the FDA. In 2002 European Food safety authority reviewed the available data and concluded that Aspartame remains safe to consume.

Are there risks with aspartame?

Yes. If you have a genetic disease that occurs in 1 in 14300 new-borns in the UK, called Phenylketonuria, which results in the inability to metabolise phenylalanine, the phenylalanine will build up to toxic levels very quickly. However, infants who are identified to have this condition have special dietary requirements from birth, requiring special milk as even human breast milk as a main diet would contain too much phenylalanine. Ignoring this can result in serious brain-damage and eventually death. It is not a medical condition you will discover from a surreptitious diet Sprite one afternoon.

Aspartame is one of the most tested compounds in the food industry, and although it has been the target of hoaxes, self-proclaimed natural health experts and even an entirely discredited study, no scientific evidence of harm has ever been presented for an average healthy person. Although there are other medical arguments against excessive consumption of fizzy drinks, aspartame is not something to invest any effort in trying to avoid. It could be argued that it allows us to enjoy our favourite fizzy drinks without a well-established increased risk of heart-disease, obesity and diabetes and deserves to be thought of as a meaningful discovery as opposed to a healthcare pariah.

Dale Claridge    

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Science editor for the University of Nottingham student magazine IMPACT
5 Comments on this post.
    6 November 2015 at 17:16
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    9270 River Club Parkway, Duluth, Georgia 30097

    Whoever wrote this did no research. Aspartame was never proven safe by science. It was marketed due to the political chicanery of Don Rumsfeld. Go to and read the Aspartame Resource Guide. Obviously after more than 30 years of controversy, medical texts, congressional hearings and petitions to ban the facts are known. If aspartame were was safe then why was it listed with the pentagon in an inventory of biochemical warfare weapons submitted to Congress. (Ecologists – 2005, aspartame. Today there is no question any longer. Companies are cleaning up their act now because the public won’t buy their poisons. The French aspartame industry was sold for $1.12 or 1 Euro. Dr. Betty Martini, D.Hum, Founder, Mission Possible World Health Intl – – warning the world off aspartame.

  • Mary Nash Stoddard
    7 November 2015 at 01:24
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    This notification is to inform you of your unauthorized use of our official Aspartame Consumer Safety Network Logo. Please remove our copyrighted Logo from this article and any other site you may publish.

    Thank you for your prompt attention to comply with this Notice.

    Hon. Mary Nash Stoddard,
    Appointed Judge State of Texas
    (Editor Original Toxicology Sourcebook Syllabus)
    *Author: Deadly Deception Story of Aspartame (Odenwald Press 1998)
    Aspartame Consumer Safety Network & Pilot Hotline (1987)
    *Award winning Journalist & Talk Show Host
    *Inducted into Radio Hall of Fame
    *Expert Medical Witness (Court Qualified 1992)

    • Beth Rowland
      7 November 2015 at 12:18
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      Thank you for alerting us to this misuse Ms. Stoddard, we are sorry to have used the image incorrectly. We have now removed the image from our website. Kind regards, Beth Rowland – Online Editor

  • Sweetener Council
    1 December 2015 at 21:20
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    Great job recognizing the facts about aspartame safety!

    Like you have mentioned, aspartame has been extensively studied and is perhaps one of the most studied ingredients in the world! Hundreds of studies ranging from lifetime animal studies to observational human studies have consistently demonstrated the safety of aspartame even at levels much higher than what is currently suggested for consumer use.

    As you have recognized, aspartame is made up of components that are found in foods that are part of a balanced diet like fruit, vegetables, milk and meat products. Whether these components are obtained from a naturally occurring food source or from an aspartame sweetened product, they are metabolized and quickly excreted from the body with no build up. As a result of this, aspartame has been recognized by major regulatory authorities around the globe as a safe alternative to sugar.

    For more information about aspartame and other sweeteners, check out these helpful websites:
    European Food Safety Authority:

    Health Canada:

    Calorie Control Council:

    Keep up the great work!

  • Beth Rowland
    5 February 2016 at 11:01
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    This article was an acknowledgement of the controversy, however merely insisting the medical evidence exists doesn’t conjure said evidence into existence. Whilst a conspiracy theory is always enthralling, the burden of proof would, as you know be on you to explain exactly how you’re asserting Don Rumsfield fits into this picture, and how his influence spread so far, and persisted to such a degree that he managed to bully the FDA in 1983, then again in 1996, let alone the European Commission Scientific Committee on Food in 2002 or The European Food Safety Authority in 2006. However, I have no doubt you’ll attempt to tackle that in a way that doesn’t appeal to fear or cognitive bias. I’m sure you know as well as I do that the fact that a company or product becomes unpopular proves very little about any actual health risks associated with it, but irrelevent, untrue and misleading information does seem to be a speciality of yourself and the founder of ‘Mission Possible’. I have no doubt it’s much easier to assert that the silly, unfounded ideas that one becomes invested in haven’t been sufficiently researched to be refuted. However, when you’ve found some real novel scientific evidence and get it peer-reviewed and published, and Aspartame is immediately withdrawn by every supplier, I suggest you prepare for your Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement and I be there at your acceptance speech.

    Dale Claridge

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