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Getting healthy and losing weight are part of the top resolutions for the new year. And every week, I have a client wondering about the safety of low-calorie sweeteners, like aspartame. And more recently, CNN published an article on the “Top 10 Reasons to Give Up Diet Soda“. How can any of us know what to believe about these low-calorie sweeteners?


Aspartame (like Equal or Nutra-Sweet) has been studied extensively. It consists of two amino acids: phenylalanine and aspartic acid. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Aspartame is 200 times sweeter than sugar, which is why it’s used in very small amounts. You might see it in diet soda, sugar-free gelatin, sugar-free pudding or sugar-free yogurt, just to name a few.

So here’s what I’ve done. I took the reasons from the CNN article and formulated them into a true or false quiz, followed by the real truth based on the most recent scientific research. So here goes!

#1: True or False: Artificial sweeteners confuse your body.
False. Low-calorie sweeteners help improve lives of patient with diabetes and help reduce calories. They have been proven safe and effective.

#2: True or False: Artificial sweeteners lead to weight gain.
False. Low- calorie sweeteners don’t lead to weight gain, they actually help reduce calories for improved weight management.

#3: True or False: Artificial sweeteners are associated with diabetes.
False. The American Diabetes Association continues to endorse the use of low-calorie sweeteners for patients with diabetes.

#4: True or False: Artificial sweeteners have no nutritional value.
Well -that’s true. Isn’t that why we use low-calorie sweeteners in the first place? This isn’t a bad thing. Diet sodas that have low-calorie sweeteners are 99% water, 0 calories and can contribute to hydration.

#5: True or False: Aspartame has been linked to headaches.
False. Countless studies reaffirm the safety of aspartame in food and beverages. In fact, the European Food Safety Authority recently completed a full risk assessment on aspartame. This assessment was the most comprehensive review to date and experts considered all available information and performed detailed analysis. They concluded that the current acceptable daily intake of 40 mg/kg of body weight per day is protective in the general population. The EFSA did not find that aspartame caused any harm to the brain or nervous system, aspartame does not affect behavior or brain function in children and there was no known risk to pregnant women at that level. There was also no risk of gene damage. And cancer? The few studies that supposedly demonstrate a link between mice, aspartame and cancer were not valid because of significant problems with the study design and interpretation. The only time aspartame needs to be avoided is in the case of a rare genetic condition called PKU (phenylketonuria).

#6: True or False: Artificial sweeteners cause effects to teeth similar to “meth mouth”.
False. Dental health is not determined by one food, beverage or ingredient. What really matters is that you are brushing your teeth twice a day, flossing, getting dental cleanings twice a year and what your family genetics are.

#7: True or False: Artificial sweeteners make drinking alcohol more dangerous.
False. There are two things that make drinking alcohol dangerous: the amount we drink and the frequency in which we drink alcohol. No one gets drunk by drinking too much diet soda.

#8: True or False: Artificial sweeteners cause depression.
False. Diet sodas are 99% water and there is no evidence currently that suggests they cause depression.

#9: True or False: Artificial sweeteners reduce bone density.
False. Again, no scientific research to back up this claim.

#10: True or False: Artificial sweeteners are bad for your heart and trigger vascular events.
False. There is no research to suggest that drinking diet soda causes heart issues.

I know it’s hard to go grocery shopping and wonder about different foods on the shelf. Well, wonder no more about the safety of low-calorie sweeteners. It’s time to lose the guilt! I know it’s been said before – but balance and moderation are really the key here. Drinking a diet soda each day isn’t going to cause any issues based on current studies.

Here’s a great resource on the safety of aspartame from the International Food Information Council. http://www.foodinsight.org/Content/3848/FINAL_Aspartame%20Brochure_Web%20Version_11-2011.pdf

Disclaimer: I was compensated for this post by Let’s Clear It Up! All statements are my own opinion.

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