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About Aspartame

Context:

The cancer research arm of the World Health Organisation (WHO) will list the popular sugar substitute aspartame as “possibly carcinogenic to humans”.

Relevance:

GS II: Health

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About Aspartame
  2. Safety and Regulation

About Aspartame

Aspartame is a chemical compound that is commonly used as an artificial sweetener in various food and beverage products. Here are the key points about aspartame:

Chemical Composition and Discovery:
  • Aspartame is a methyl ester of the dipeptide of two natural amino acids, L-aspartic acid and L-phenylalanine.
  • It was discovered by James M Schlatter, a chemist at the American pharmaceutical company G D Searle & Co., in 1965.
  • Schlatter accidentally detected its sweet taste when he licked his finger during research on an anti-ulcer drug.
Sweetness and Caloric Content:
  • Aspartame is approximately 200 times sweeter than table sugar (sucrose) according to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
  • Compared to sugar, 1 gram of aspartame has the sweetness intensity of approximately 2 teaspoons (8 grams) of sugar.
  • Aspartame is preferred by people looking to reduce calorie intake or manage weight, as 1 gram of aspartame provides only 4 calories, while 2 teaspoons (8 grams) of sugar provide about 32 calories.
Use in Food and Beverages:
  • Aspartame is present in various brands of artificial sweeteners, such as Equal and Sugar-Free Gold, and is commonly used in diet fizzy drinks.
  • Diet beverages containing aspartame often promote themselves as having “zero sugar” or “zero calories.”

Safety and Regulation:

  • Aspartame has undergone extensive scientific studies and testing for over 40 years, including investigations into its potential links with cancer.
  • More than 100 studies have found no evidence of harm caused by aspartame.
  • The safety of aspartame is widely accepted by regulatory authorities, including the USFDA, EFSA, WHO’s JECFA, and national regulators in several countries.
  • The only group advised to avoid aspartame is individuals with phenylketonuria (PKU), a rare inherited disorder that affects the metabolism of phenylalanine.
Public Perception and Controversy:
  • Some critics and studies have raised doubts and concerns about aspartame, but there is a broad scientific consensus on its safety.
  • The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified aspartame as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” based on limited evidence, but this classification has been disputed.
  • Past IARC rulings have raised consumer concerns, led to lawsuits, and influenced product formulations.

-Source: Indian Express


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